Do You Need Flood Insurance?

Major weather events such as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy have demonstrated the devastation that sudden flooding can cause. While major storms like these thankfully don’t happen on a regular basis, even a small amount of flooding can be a major concern for a home owner. It doesn’t necessarily take a big storm to cause trouble: Heavy rains or melting snow can lead to flooding if drainage is insufficient. Anywhere there’s rain, there can be flooding. But how do you know if you need flood insurance?

Fixing flood damage can cost thousands of dollars. Standard home owner’s insurance doesn’t typically cover flooding. The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) offers flood insurance to home owners and renters. People who live in high-risk areas are legally obligated to take out flood insurance if they have a federally backed mortgage. If you live in an area that benefits from a program like NFIP, you will need to take out flood insurance to get a mortgage. Even if you do not live in one of the NFIP communities, your mortgage provider may insist that you take out flood insurance. If none of these provisions applies to you, insurance is your choice, but it’s probably a very good decision. You can find out more about the practicalities of buying flood insurance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

You may be required to take out flood insurance if your mortgage lender specifies this in your policy. Make sure to check out any small print in your mortgage contract. Mortgage lenders often have the right to change the requirement for flood insurance even after your mortgage payments begin. If this happens, your mortgage lender should contact you to let you know that you should buy flood insurance. There are also designated flood-hazard areas defined and categorized by FEMA; these are at higher risk for flooding. It may be hard to buy a home in these areas without adequate flood insurance.

Flood risk often changes over time. FEMA updates flood hazards across the country. Flood maps, also known as Digital Flood Insurance Rate Maps, show flood risk at a property-by-property level. When new maps are issued, your risk may change, as well as whether you will require flood insurance. If your property is mapped out of a high-risk area, your insurance rates can go down. However, if you are mapped into a high-risk area, you will probably be required to purchase flood insurance, if your mortgage is held through a federally regulated or insured lender. You can check out the update schedule on the FloodSmart website

FEMA advises that even houses in low flood-risk areas should have flood coverage. According to FEMA records, since 1978 over a quarter of all flood claims have come from home owners in areas with low or moderate flood risks. According to statistics gathered by the NFIP, within a 30-year mortgage, a home owner has a 9 percent chance of making a claim for fire damage, compared with a 26 percent chance of making a flood-damage claim.

What Goes With You When You Sell Your Home?

When you are getting ready to sell one of the things you will need to consider is what stays in the home and what goes. There are certain things that are generally considered to be part of the home and others which are often negotiable. Before you put the home up for sale you will want to figure out what things you absolutely want to take with you and what might be up for discussion. If you know where you will be moving to next then you are already one step ahead of the game because you know what is in your new place. If not, or if you are moving far away, it can be trickier to decide what is worth moving or putting in storage and what is worth offering to the buyers of your home.

Generally things that are not attached go with the seller. If there are things you are absolutely certain you want to take with you that are attached, make sure you tell your Realtor and so that they are included in the listing and you don’t end up breaking any potential buyer’s heart.

Some people, especially if they are downsizing or moving far away, may choose to include the furniture as part of the package. This can be tricky because furniture will not factor into an appraisal value so if it adds significant numbers to the sale price then the sale may need to be done separately. These items can also be included as a value add for the potential buyer.

There are several areas which generally feature in this type of discussion:

Lighting: Lighting fixtures are often something that people are attached to because they often reflect personal style. In general things that are attached to the home such as lighting fixtures are generally considered to be part of the home. For example, when I bought my condo, the owners wanted to take their crystal chandelier in the dining room with them. For me this wasn’t an issue, the chandelier wasn’t my style and I was happy with having the chance to replace it with something else. However if I hadn’t known this in advance and I had my heart set on the way the dining room looked with the chandelier it  could have been an issue. Fixtures are to remain in the home unless the seller explicitly stated the item is not to be included in the sale. The seller also needs ensure that the item be removed without damage to the home. Lamps are moveable items and are considered personal items that can be claimed by the seller when they vacate the home.

Appliances: Appliances are often an area where the buyer and seller can negotiate.  In some cases, the buyer may actually prefer that the seller remove appliances because they have their own. Other times, the seller may be ready to take the appliances but could use them as an incentive to get the buyer to pay the list price because the buyer won’t have to pay for new appliances. If you are absolutely certain that you want to take the appliances with you make sure your agent notes that. If you are willing to negotiate let your agent know that too. Most appliances are moveable items that the seller would normally be allowed to remove from the home. Moveable items are considered personal items or possessions of the seller.

Landscaping: Plants, shrubs and trees are items that are affixed to the property and will remain with the home however if you have container gardens or perhaps flower-filled urns on the front porch those can be negotiable. Backyard equipment, such as lawn chairs, tables, swings and grills, are all considered personal items. The swing set may get a bit tricky because it can be claimed that it is attached to the ground in some cases. The seller may often be very willing to sell all of the backyard items for a price.

Window Treatments: Window treatments are another area that can be negotiated. Often window treatments were bought to fit the specific size and shape of the windows and so the seller may not be interested in taking them to a new home. If you are planning to leave the window treatments behind be sure to let your agent know so that it can be added to the listing. This is often a great selling point to use because it means the person can move in and not have to worry about privacy.

Six Ways To Spruce Up Your Garage

We are all aware of clutter in our homes but the garage is often forgotten as an area worth cleaning up. The garage may not be the first place potential buyers look at when checking out your home but it is an important part of the overall package.

You’ve taken great care to ensure your home is in beautiful shape when the first buyers walk through the door. Well, except for the garage. That seems to be the catch-all for the house, and not exactly the best room to make a good, first impression. Although your garage certainly won’t have the “wow” factor like other rooms in your home, it nevertheless can impress your potential buyers. Here are a few ways to take your home’s least-attractive room to one that will make buyers stop and stay awhile:

Unload the clutter – Since you will be moving soon, now is a great time to roll up your sleeves and tackle the junk you’ve been collecting in your garage. Heck, why not have a garage sale while you’re at it? You can make some money and clean house at the same time. Now is also the time to make a pile of charitable contributions, too.

Dust things off – Just because it’s a garage doesn’t mean it should have dust-filled floors and cob-web filled corners. Sweep it out and clean it up.

Add hooks – Get your larger garage items, like bicycles and golf bags, up off the floor with heavy-duty garage hooks. They will free up garage space and give buyers plenty of inspiration for extra storage.

Add more storage – From shelves to cabinetry, adding more storage in your garage will make the space appear larger and more organized. Let the buyers know the shelves and cabinets will stay with the house and get extra bonus points.

Clean the garage door – You can make your dingy garage door look like new with the help of a pressure washer. Clean the windows to your garage, too, as they likely haven’t had sunlight streaming through them for some time.

Clean up the floor – If your floors are oil-stained, apply some paint thinner to the spot. If there is any standing oil, pour cat litter or saw dust to the area, allow the oil to be absorbed, and sweep it up. Purchase a concrete cleaning solution at your local home improvement store and, with the help of a stiff-bristled push broom, get all the dirt and grime off your garage floor.

The Pros and Cons of Multiple Offers

A multiple offer is the dream scenario, right? Could there possibly be any bad news in more than one person being interested in buying your home? While there are major pros to this situation, there are also a couple of cons to be aware of:

I know you’re asking yourself what possible downside could there be from multiple offers on my home?  Sure, for the most part, getting multiple offers on your home is a dream come true. So, let’s start with the Pros:

  1. You will likely get your full asking price or very close to it.
  2. You will probably be able to avoid stressful negotiations.
  3. You are more likely to find an offer that matches your specific needs – speedy sale, getting a higher price, contract contingencies, etc.

But before we start jumping for joy, let’s look at the Cons:

  1. In a buyer’s market, buyers don’t like to get into a bidding war and are more likely to walk away and find a property they don’t have to compete for.
  2. If you come back with an over-confident counter offer, you risk alienating your buyer.

Bottom line, multiple offers on your home are a blessing, but this is a buyer’s market so tread lightly and trust your Realtor to guide you through the negotiations.

Your First Showing May Not Really Be Your First Showing!

In this Internet age, your first showing is long before the first potential buyers arrive at your doorstep: it’s actually the moment your listing appears on the MLS. The photos of your house, along with the pricing and listing description, determine whether or not your house is considered good enough for an in-person look, or placed on the “do-not-see” list.

This is why staging your house prior to the photos is so important! Your house needs to put its best (square) foot forward! Otherwise, buyers—who are much more in control today of what houses they see and which ones they don’t—will eliminate it just by looking at the photos online.

“That one looks dated”—gone off the list because there’s too much work to do. “Look at that wallpaper, yuck!”— wallpaper is too personal and doesn’t have universal appeal. “Who would paint rooms such dark colors?”—again, bright or dark paint colors can be a turnoff. “There’s only one photo! That must mean that the rest of the house looks awful!”—be sure there are enough photos to showcase your house properly and entice prospective buyers, not leave them wondering.

Consulting with a professional home stager prior to your ”first showing” can make a dramatic impact on how well your house shows in the photos. Stagers look at your house through a buyer’s eyes, as well as assessing how it will appear in photos. It’s important to follow the stager’s recommendations about furniture placement (compliment the architecture and maximize the space), accessorizing (bigger is better), paint colors (warm yet neutral, and NOT white), de-clutter (de-clutter, de-clutter—did I say de-clutter?), and decorate for the potential buyer (it’s not about you anymore!).

Stagers will also make recommendations about the best ways to update your house: new lighting, new handles on cabinets, replacing worn carpeting, painting older cabinets, replacing counters, framing bathroom mirrors, getting rid of wallpaper and borders.

Often, a house shows poorly (in pictures and in person) because of the furniture—the style doesn’t match that of the “target market”, the condition is worn or worse, or it’s just too large or overstuffed. Stagers have ideas for dealing with these issues as well, often suggesting slipcovers, or even rental furniture. Sometimes, borrowing from friends or family can be a great “temporary” solution.

Your house needs to stand out from all the competition (after all, it’s now a product on the market), and great photography can help with this. Ask your Realtor if they use a professional photographer, and look at photos of their other listings. Make sure the simple issues are addressed—no toilet seats up, no pets in the pictures, not blurry or poorly lit shots, no pictures of the photographer reflected in bathroom mirrors, etc. A moderate wide-angle lens really helps to showcase your rooms; a fish-eye lens is too exaggerated and can distort ceilings and doorways.

Buyers need to have an emotional connection with your house. There is a reason people say that they “fell in love” with a particular place. Staging addresses the emotional elements of presentation, as well as the rational ones. You are not only selling your floors, windows, counters and space—you are selling a lifestyle!

Photos can add to the emotional connection. Take an outside picture at sunset with the lights on inside the house, and the warm glow instantly says “home”. If you have wonderful views of mountains, lakes, trees, or a garden, make sure these are included. Detail shots also add to the emotional appeal—beautiful moldings, wonderful cabinetry, a fire in the fireplace, romantic bedding, candles and flowers. Use some unique angles for even more appeal, such as a lower angle (look at shelter magazines for examples) or a higher view (from a catwalk or stairway).

You’ve often heard that selling your house is all about “location, location, location.” (And lately, “price, price, price.”) But equally as important is “emotion, emotion, emotion.” Make sure your first showing allows a buyer to experience “love at first sight”!

What Are Today’s Buyers Looking For?

Every person shopping for a home has a personal list of what they are looking for. While these lists often vary greatly because of family, career, pets and hobbies, there are a few things that just about every buyer wants to see. Below is a lists of three things every home seller should keep in mind:

Value – In other words, buyers want to get as much for their money as possible; and this means you must price your home to sell. Pricing your home accurately according to its location, its features and other comparables in the area is the best way to attract the largest number of buyers. If you price it too high you can be certain you will exclude a large percentage of potential buyers.

The “wow” factor – If you are selling a three-bedroom bungalow in a neighborhood with a half dozen other three-bedroom bungalows for sale, be prepared for competition. A great way to make your home stand out from the crowd of other homes for sale is to give it the “wow” factor. Your “wow” factor may be new, stainless steel appliances, newly refinished hardwood floors or new landscaping. Whatever it is, make it impressive so that buyers will be captivated with your home the moment they walk through the door.

Maintenance issues tackled – Although not every property will be turn-key, most buyers expect basic maintenance issues to be addressed by the homeowner. For example, a buyer should never see a leaky faucet, a torn carpet or chipped ceramic tile. Even if your home is in good condition otherwise, small maintenance issues will immediately turn buyers off and make them suspect that there are a number of bigger issues in the home. Take the weekend and make sure all maintenance issues are handled, and don’t forget about the details, such as burned-out light bulbs, squeaky door hinges and dirty walls.

Specializing in properties in South Hampton Roads, Virginia.