September 2007 Archives

September 19, 2007

Overheard on Jay Leno's The Tonight Show

Did anyone else catch the segment of September 18th's The Tonight Show where Jay Leno shows clips from actual newspapers? I'm told it included an ad by a homeseller advertising, "View of Wal*Mart from private deck!"

Good grief. I'd love to know how many buyers show up for that one.

Ilona Bray

September 19, 2007

Universal Design a Mother-in-Law Could Love

I probably wouldn't have thought twice about Jay Romano's recent New York Times column on universal design--that is, home design that's adapted for age and disability--if it weren't for my mother-in-law's recent visit. She had difficulty opening the knobless drawers of the modern bureau in our guest room, turning on the high-tech clock-radio-CD player in the kitchen, maneuvering our dark hallway during nighttime bathroom visits, and so on.

Universal design pictureLeaving aside the rant on who designed these things in the first place, we could, without having invested too much time or money, made our house more accessible before she got here--had we realized. (Sorry, Mom-in-law.) It probably would have cost less than I spent on babyproofing the home when my kids were young. I'll be prepared next time an older relative comes to visit, and I'll certainly make sure that the next house we buy meets universal design criteria--both for our comfortable and safe living as we get older, and to enhance home resale value. (With the Baby Boom population aging, such features are more and more in demand.)

If you're buying a house or prepping one for sale, you too might benefit by looking look into universal design criteria. The AARP website has some useful checklists to help you figure out whether your bathroom, kitchen, and other areas of a house make the grade. While the term "universal design" doesn't have quite the cachet of "going green" or "staging," it may prove to have even more of a personal and financial payoff for homebuyers and sellers.

And, to learn more about what features homebuyers should pay close attention to, check out Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home, by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroeder, & Marcia Stewart (Nolo), containing expert advice about selecting your first (or newest!) home.

Marcia Stewart

September 19, 2007

What Grade to Give a House Near a School

The kids are back in school for the year--and that's an advantage if you're house hunting now. You don't have to imagine how the neighborhood will change when the students, their parents, their cars, and the buses all start coming through.

And change it will--trust me, I live within a few blocks of four, count 'em, four schools.

Living this close to a school can be both a plus and a minus. The pluses include:

  • Intense cuteness being visible from one's window, my personal favorite being the annual K-8 school's costumed Halloween parade.

  • If you've got kids yourself, they may be able to walk to school. And you'll be able to get there quickly for volunteering, sick-day pickups, and more.

  • Since few neighborhoods are perfectly quiet, you could do a lot worse than putting up with the sound of playing children.

  • If crime is a local issue, the added population that schools bring can make the streets feel safer.

But then there are the possible minuses, like:

  • Traffic congestion, including parents honking at each other because they're late dropping their kids off and are anxious to get to work, and kids trying out the maximum volume setting on their car stereo.

  • Finding pizza boxes, half-done homework pages, and other detritus in your shrubbery.

  • Depending on the ages and tendencies of the kids, more local crime (I didn't want to believe it either, but this info comes straight from our local beat cop).

  • Finding kids on your back porch looking for a quiet place to smooch or smoke.

Girl on school playground So, if you're looking at a house near a school, don't just visit during Sunday open house time. Walk around and observe the streets at the hours that school starts and lets out for the day.

Also, talk to neighbors and ask for their lists of pluses and minuses. The positive parts can be worth it, but so is knowing what you're getting into.

To learn more about the pluses and minuses of settling near a school (or four), try reading Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home (Nolo), by Ilona Bray, Alayna Schroder, and Marcia Stewart.

Ilona Bray

September 17, 2007

Staging May Fool You!

It's official: Home buyers can be fooled by home staging. Or so says the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA), which surveyed brokers and agents, and found that 82% of home buyers are likely to be distracted from important issues when they go through a staged home.

And here's the kicker -- these buyers not only fall for the house, but potentially overpay. Check out the NAEBA's irresistibly titled report, "How to not get tricked by staging, and potentially save $5,645 when you buy your home."

But are we really so gullible that we can be fooled by puffy cushions, potted plants, and neutral paint colors? Especially when we all know what the game is, and that sellers pay thousands of dollars to have their house turned into a fantasy abode? Mary Umberger, of the Chicago Tribune, doesn't necessarily think so. She writes,"But c'mon: Most home buyers aren't helpless mopes who get all weak-kneed because somebody has placed a tray with a champagne bottle and two Baccarat crystal classes on the bed in the master suite."

I'm not so sure. Even without being a helpless mope, I count myself among the many buyers who either have trouble mentally replacing the staging with my "gently worn" furniture or can't imagine the full decorating potential of an unstaged home.

In fact, if it weren't for staging, I might not own my current home--not because it was staged, but because it wasn't. It's a 1917 Arts and Crafts bungalow--the real McCoy, with built in woodwork and leaded glass. But the buyers had moved out and left not much more than a rocking chair and some dark Venetian blinds behind. Meanwhile, a house just a block away, which was not an actual bungalow, had been decorated to look like one--Mission-style furniture, period lighting, linen curtains, the works. I was wowed myself--but backed off when that house got about 12 offers.

Ilona's living room

At least there's a happy ending to this story. My house got only six offers, and I moved in, as you can see from this picture of my living room. And there's a lesson, too: Keep an eye on the overlooked houses that aren't making other buyers all starry-eyed.

And, for more tips on how to really assess your would-be first home beneath all that glitz and never-used furniture, check out Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home (Nolo), by the authors of this blog!

Ilona Bray

September 14, 2007

About This Blog

Welcome to Nolo's Real Estate Tips for Home Buyers. This blog is for anyone actively shopping for a home, still dreaming about homeownership, or who simply loves the world of real estate. We'll offer tips and comments on the latest, greatest ways to find the best possible house at the best price. And if we see anything wacky or outrageous going on, we'll give you a heads up on that, too.

The blog is written by Ilona Bray, J.D., a Nolo editor and co-author of Nolo's Essential Guide to Buying Your First Home.

The opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of Nolo, its clients, or its partners. This blog may provide legal information, but not advice. Consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance regarding how the law applies to your situation.

September 13, 2007

The Subprime Loan: The New Scarlet Letter

It's no big secret: defaults on subprime loans are contributing to higher foreclosure rates and tougher lending criteria. But if you're looking to buy, how do you know if you are a subprime borrower? Why doesn't anyone seem to be talking to these borrowers, instead of about them? If you're concerned that you might fall into this category, here are a few tips.

Get your credit score. Though the definition of "subprime" varies from lender to lender, it appears that a credit score below 620 typically qualifies you as "subprime," which means you won't be able to get a loan at the same interest rates available to borrowers with good credit scores. Find out what your score is before a lender does, so you'll know what to expect. In every state you can get a free copy of your credit report, but it won't include your score, which you can purchase for less than $20 from any of the major credit reporting agencies.

Be suspicious. If a mortgage broker or banker says you don't qualify for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage, offers you a loan at an interest rate much higher than is generally available, or suggests you get an adjustable-rate or stated income loan, find out why. It's a red flag that you may be a subprime borrower. (These days, it's less likely to happen, given that lending criteria are tighter and interest rates on these loans aren't much lower that those on fixed-rate mortgages.)

Get preapproved. Get peace of mind by getting a loan preapproval, a lender's commitment to make the loan (subject to some conditions, like a satisfactory appraisal of the specific property you want to buy) based on an evaluation of your credit history, debt load, and income. This beats prequalification, which is just an estimate of what you'll ultimately be able to borrow. Getting preapproved forces you to make sure you finances are in order before falling in love with a home you're not qualified to buy.

To learn more about how to get your credit into shape before you start shopping for that all-important "perfect mortgage", check out Credit Repair, by Attorney Robin Leonard (Nolo).

Alayna Schroeder