Solar Power & Your Home

Solar panels are appearing on roofs of homes in neighborhoods throughout the area. As systems become more efficient and government tax incentives make solar energy more affordable – and even an income producer in some cases – an increasing number of homeowners are taking the plunge into renewable energy. 

In fact, increased affordability in recent years has allowed the United States to pass Japan to its current rank of 4th in the world in solar energy production, behind major producers that include Germany, China and Italy. 

Is solar right for you? 

Rooftop solar panels, also known as photovoltaic (PV) systems, are the most common solar technology used for homes. Today, almost 450,000 homes and businesses have solar power systems, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Over the past few years, the cost of solar panel systems has decreased dramatically — more than 50% since 2010 — making this energy-producing tool a more affordable option for many homeowners. If you are installing solar on your residence, government incentives (Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit) further increase the affordability. The Federal Government offers significant tax incentives for homeowners who install approved renewable energy systems; these incentives expire in 2021. A website, www.dsireusa.org, offers local details of grants and other incentives available to homeowners. Another website, http://www.energystar.gov/about/federal_tax_credits, details Federal Tax Credits as well as instructions on how to apply for the credit.

Worried about aesthetics? 

If you don’t like the look of traditional solar arrays, you can now buy solar-powered rooftop shingles that blend seamlessly into your roof. Both Dow and CertainTeed manufacture solar shingles that are similar in efficiency to traditional solar panels. Installation costs are slightly higher for solar shingles; however, if you need to install a new roof before installing solar panels, this option may save you money.

My community has an HOA. Can I install solar?

Two dozen states, including Maryland have “solar access rights” laws that limit homeowner associations from banning solar panels. This law overrides your homeowners’ association contract that restricts you from installing the panels. This doesn’t mean your homeowner association can’t place a few community restrictions; HOAs can still enforce where to put your panels or how to install them– these laws usually say that some restrictions are still possible. But if your HOA denies your request to have solar panels installed, you can recite the law, or, in the worst case scenario, you can sue your HOA and let the courts decide.

I’ve got a long-term lease on my solar panels and now I want to move.

You have options. If you plan to sell your home, solar energy companies make it easy to transfer the lease for solar panels to a buyer. Some will also transfer your solar panel system to your new home. If you plan to transfer your panels to a buyer, speak with your Realtor® about disclosing lease costs as well as promoting energy savings. Not all buyers are familiar with the benefits of solar, so it’s important to show that the added cost of a solar lease will also allow them to reap the benefit of reduced energy costs. Most solar leasing companies will allow the lease to transfer easily to a buyer, making the process a fairly painless part of the real estate transaction.

What is the real impact of solar panel systems on a home’s value? 

The impact on home value varies from market to market. In the past, appraisers have had difficulty finding comps to properly address the added value of solar panels, but that will change as more homes adopt solar. According to a recent study by the solar energy industry, the average sales price of homes with solar in the Baltimore Metro area is 2.52% higher than those without (approx. $13,667). However, the sample studied was not statistically significant. In fact, anecdotally, solar is still a novelty and may increase a buyer’s interest in a property but not increase their desire to pay more for such a property, particularly if they will be assuming a lease for solar panels. As such, the decision to adopt solar should not be based solely upon the potential for an increased selling price.

Sources: Solar Energy Industries Association, solargaines.com, pureenergies.com

- Debbie Pavlik

5 Pros and 5 Cons of Working in Real Estate

Her Mind Magazine reached out to me back in the fall to ask about real estate as a career for their December 2015/January 2016 issue. You can read the article here: http://hermindmagazine.com/wp/grow-your-career-work-force-development/

It’s hard to talk about real estate without laughing, crying and cursing but I managed to keep it professional during the interview. The author cut all but one or two sentences so that helped make me look better. 

Since most of what we discussed did not make the article, I thought I’d highlight a few Pros and Cons, followed by some advice for anyone thinking about getting into real estate: 

Pros:

1 - the barrier to entry is low

2 - the idea that you can create your own schedule is appealing

3 - you have some control over your income and your brand

4 - this is a career where you can be entrepreneurial and creative

5 - you own your business

Cons: 

1 - it can take several years to build your business (3-5 years)

2 - the market is very competitive: our Baltimore/DC community is saturated with agents

3 - it is expensive to be in this business

4 - the work can require evenings and weekends

5 - you are “on” 24/7 and it takes a lot of practice to shut it down and really rest

And bonus #6 (because who doesn’t want more “cons”): it’s getting harder to compete with big teams

Advice:

1 - join a team for faster learning and enjoy a compressed learning curve so that in 1 year, you’ll learn what normally takes an agent 3 years to learn

2 - give it time and commit to this adventure for several years

3 - at a minimum, hook up with a mentor for the first few years

Again, our local Central Maryland market is saturated with agents. It can take 3-5 years to really make the money you want, especially if you are a solo agent.

I am grateful that I get to do work that I love, but it’s not easy work. It takes commitment, stamina and patience. However, as someone who has built a successful and rewarding real estate business, I’m glad I jumped on the bandwagon 10 years ago. If you’re thinking about getting into real estate, shoot me an email and I’d be happy to share my experiences and advice.

- Wendy Slaughter

"Old School" real estate vs “New School" real estate

My buyer wrote an offer 4 days ago and we still don’t have it signed by the sellers.  

The listing agent’s sellers are on vacation and because the agent doesn’t know how to use electronic signing systems, he is taking much more time than is necessary to get this deal in place.

This delay impacts my buyer, the lender, the title company, contract time frames and of course, our confidence in getting the deal done. The seller could have been in jeopardy of losing these buyers due to frustrations and concerns.

 Let’s look at a real life example of the "old school" vs the "new school" way of working.

Imagine that your home is listed for sale and you’re on a vacation you planned months ago. You’re sitting under an umbrella by the ocean, your feet in the sand and a cold drink in your hand. You’re watching your friends and family have fun and it makes you feel happy. You deserve this down time. You glance at your phone and see that you received an email from your agent with paperwork needing your signature. Is your agent “old school” or “new school?"

 The next 3-4 hours of your vacation can play out in two ways:

#1 “Old School" 

The email says you have to print the attachment and sign and then scan back to the agent. Your blood pressure climbs. There is no printer in the vacation house you rented. You’re finally on vacation…one that you more than deserve…and you have to go back to the house, do some research about local Kinkos or UPS stores, call to make sure they are open and get directions, get their email address, send the document to them, go to the store to sign, have them scan back to you and then email it back to your agent. You’re mad. Your family is mad. You missed a great beach day. Tomorrow it will rain and you’ll be even madder.  

#2 “New School”

You gently place your drink in the sand, then click on the link in the email. The link takes you to Dot Loop and it says “click here to start signing.” You click once for each initial and signature and when you’re done, click “confirm signing.” You turn your phone off and pick your drink back up. You realize you’ve been outside for a while and it’s time to reapply your sunscreen.

 “New School” agents help their clients by using the latest technology so that deals are done faster and your life is easier. When you choose your realtor, ask about the systems, processes and technology that your agent is using. Enjoy your vacation and let your “new school” agent do the work for you.

-Wendy Slaughter

Sometimes you learn things, even when you don’t want to.....

Real Estate - Lessons Learned

Life lessons after a decade in real estate

Today is my 10 year anniversary of being in real estate. I truly can’t believe it. I was 35 when I earned my license and the year was 2006 - probably the worst year ever to get into real estate. I started out on my own and after about 3 years, I decided it was time to grow. That’s when I started The Wendy Slaughter Team. 

Over the past 10 years, real estate has taught me a ton about myself and life.

Here are my top 5 takeaways:

1 - Your values are clarified.

Do you really value your family or are you just saying that? Your health? Your home? Your friends? Look around you. What do you see? You made this life with your choices. Your priorities are reflected by what is physically around you and by the relationships you have with people you love.

Real estate asks a lot of you. You have to be firm in setting boundaries.

2 - Thicker skin is a must.

I came into this business as a “pleaser.” I had a hard time with the hard conversations. I wanted everyone to like me. I know it sounds immature and, at the same time, it rings true for many people, no matter what your age. No one wants to be disliked. 

This quality made real estate difficult for me in the beginning. It took a lot of work in the early years but I’m a much better realtor because I pressed on, learned, and grew into my thicker skin. I’m still caring and kind but I’m much better at having the hard conversations. You learn fast that you owe it to yourself and your clients. 

3 - Buddhists are right: nothing is permanent.

Change is a standard in this industry and in life. Regulations, technology, processes and forms change all the time. Contracts have grown to 70+ pages and we learn something new every day.

You have two choices: complain and try to fight the changes….or learn what the changes mean to your clients and the process and then adjust your systems to address the changes. Don’t waste your precious time and energy acting crazy about things that change and are out of our hands. 

4 - Life is better if you are a Lifelong Learner.

I love learning. I was a good student and I still love reading and listening to good books, attending webinars, watching TED Talks and documentaries. It sounds nerdy and I don’t care. Learning is fun. It keeps life fresh. 

One of my favorite TED Talks is about changing your body position in order to positively affect your body chemistry. This is great information for all us, especially teens.

https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en

5 - You can’t do this alone.

I spent 3 years as an independent agent: 2 years at Long & Foster and then my first year at RE/MAX. 

I realized that if I wanted to increase my production and still take great care of my clients - AND take vacations (and stay as sane as possible), I needed to build a team. I am forever grateful that Debbie Gottwals took that plunge with me when we started the Team back in 2009. 

#5 has been the best thing that I’ve learned.

Working with a Team allows me to live my work life with wonderful human beings. They are smart, funny, kind, supportive, energetic, motivated and their smiles and laughter make this work richer. My life is much more fun because I work with a really great team.

Support comes from home too. My husband, Jason, is committed to my work. He and the kids are the best squad I could ask for. 

This list could be 150 items long. I tried to stick to the important stuff. I’ll check back in when I’m 55 and let you know what else I’ve learned.

-Wendy Slaughter

Divorce and real estate: first steps

Past-Present-Future-Sign-566x198.jpg

This blog is the first in a series of 3 focused on Divorce and Real Estate

Going through a divorce is one of the toughest life experiences to navigate. During that time, it’s important to lean on your “village” for support. You’ll be entering into new territory and relying on people you may have never met including mediators, lawyers, financial planners, CPAs, family therapists and realtors.

Relying on friends and family to refer you to various professionals in the community is the best way to find trustworthy advocates and advisors. Our best advice: seek strong support from people you trust. Gathering information can reduce stress.

Real estate is usually one of the more important pieces in a divorce. Making decisions about real estate can be very difficult. In addition to the financial impact, the emotional impact is high and a move can be exhausting. Your separation agreement will dictate what will happen with your marital home. Be sure it includes language about the decision making process for hiring a Realtor.

When it comes to real estate, your first step should be to reach out to an experienced agent. Consulting with a realtor is free and you can tap into our knowledge about market conditions, the value of your home, and strategies for increasing the value. We can also help you by referring contractors for painting, flooring, and anything else you need as you prepare to sell.

Our Team has helped many families work through the real estate side of the divorce process and we are sensitive to the needs of the families. It’s never easy but we understand the unique nature of the process and help you get to the settlement table, providing support and reducing stress for all parties involved. 

The National Family Resiliency Center provides support for families going through divorce. They are doing important work for adults and children and we’re proud to be sponsoring their 5K, coming up on September 19th at the Lakefront. It’s going to be a great day, filled with good energy and celebration. Come see Tree House School of Music, Mike John, Drama Learning Center, B.Funk Dance Studio and more perform on the stage!

More info: http://nfrchelp.org/index.php/project/5k-for-families/
Register to run: http://www.active.com/columbia-md/running/distance-running-races/5k-for-families-2015?int
To sponsor the 5K or make a donation: http://nfrchelp.org/index.php/event-sponsors/

If you, a friend or a family member needs a free real estate consult, shoot Wendy an email at Wendy@thewendyslaughterteam.com.
 

Howard County Stats Update!

The local real estate market has been wild this year. Let's take a look back at where we've been so far in 2013.

For the first quarter of this year, Howard County had an inventory shortage (among our team we jokingly referred to it a a "crisis").  Even during the second quarter "spring market," the inventory only rose to less than 750 active listings.  During the the 2nd quarter, our team began to see multiple offer situations due to the shortage of housing available to buyers and outstanding interest rates. It was almost as if we had a small housing bubble.  As you can see above, the number of active listings is on the rise as we move into the third quarter.

Of the 413 properties that came on the market in July, 42% are in the $300,000 - $499,999 range. This falls in line with the fact that the median sales price for July was $414,450 and the average sales price was $452,364.

As inventory climbs back up, the Spring/Summer market winds down and interest rates increase, we have seen a drop in the number of properties going under contract. We would expect this to continue into the Fall/Winter market with properties taking longer to sell and possibly selling for less than asking price (keep in mind, this is a generalization about our local market. Each home is unique!).

Please don't misunderstand: we're still selling houses! The market conditions have changed so we're reacting and addressing them to help our sellers. Reach out to us anytime if you have questions or just want to chat about real estate.

Title Insurance…why bother? (Guest Blogger MD Title Works)

People ask us all the time,

 “Why should I purchase title insurance?”

 “Do I really need title insurance?”

Buying a home is most likely the biggest investment you will ever make.  It is also probably the most expensive purchase you will ever make. So why anyone would ever consider NOT purchasing title insurance is crazy! We purchase life insurance, car insurance, pet insurance, health insurance, dental insurance, insurance for our phones etc. We pay yearly and/or monthly premiums without thinking twice. We wouldn't consider NOT owning homeowners’ insurance (which protects us against the cost of physical damage to our home) and we pay a hefty annual premium for it too.  No questions asked.

The interesting thing about the title to our homes is…it CAN be defective.  Believe it or not, builders have built houses on the wrong parcel of land, owners have forged documents, bogus mortgage releases have been filed, judgments have been missed when searching the title or have been indexed incorrectly among the land records, deeds have been filed with clerical and typographical errors or properties have been transferred by the wrong parties making them invalid.  The list of possible title defects is endless.  There are years and years and years of transactions for every parcel of land.  And these transactions have involved all kinds of people who, at anytime, can make a mistake or, even worse, intentionally commit fraud or wrong doing.

 “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe”

~ Albert Einstein

That being said, because of the Title Insurance industry, regulations and standards have been created that help diminish fraud and/or human error, making title defects few and far between. Hooray, Hooray! (patting ourselves on our backs here).  However, it just takes one and,  if you are anything like Charlie Brown…it’s your property that is the one with the problem.

Title Insurance is a ONE time premium you pay at the time of purchase.  It is effective the entire time you own your home.  Most attorney fees are covered if you need to fight a claim.  In addition, it provides you with a reissue rate, meaning if you refinance your home at anytime, you will get a discount on the Lender’s Title Insurance that is required by most lenders.  That’s another thing—if the lenders require it, shouldn't you?

For the cost, Title Insurance is a no brainer.  It is what insurance SHOULD be.  It can protect you in most cases of fraud, errors and omissions and it is relatively inexpensive.  You buy the insurance ONE time and you have a policy....period.

So our answer is this:  You buy insurance, of any kind, as protection; protection against a loss that would result in a large, unforeseen expense.  Protecting the title to your home (probably your largest investment) is a must!  So we highly recommend buying it at settlement so you don't wake up one day to find there's a title problem and you end up paying thousands of dollars and spending countless hours trying to correct it. Whaa Whaa….Charlie Brown.

Maryland Title Works Unlimited

The Infamous Tax on Rain Water

In a nut shell, The Watershed Protection & Restoration Fund was enacted in order to control the amount of pollution from stormwater runoff. The tremendous amount of excess stormwater after a heavy rainfall or snowstorm is not absorbed into the ground or treated at a wastewater treatment plant. This excess water then flows directly into our streams, rivers, reservoirs (hello delicious drinking water) and the Chesapeake Bay.

This fund affects Baltimore City and 9 counties in Maryland and goes into effect on July 1, 2013. If you own property in one of these areas, you will be charged a yearly fee reflective of the amount of impervious area that resides on your property. Impervious areas are structures and areas that do not allow for the absorption of water. An area such as the roof of a house, a patio or a driveway does not absorb the stormwater runoff thereby sending it (and all of the pollutants that it picks up along the way) directly to all of our naturally occurring water systems.

Each county has (or is currently determining) a way to charge this fee. For most counties, the fee will be added to your tax bill just as most sewer and trash collection fees are currently added to tax bills. These fees will create a fund that will be used to create new stormwater management systems.

Depending on the county, the fee can be reduced by the implementation of things like rain gardens, ponds and green roofs that help thwart stormwater run off.

Here are the links that we have found so far for each affected county. Some counties have already had this fee in place and some are still in the process of determining a fee schedule.

Anne Arundel County
Baltimore City - Click on Stormwater in the top navigation bar
Baltimore County
Carroll County
Charles County
Frederick County
Harford County
Howard County
Montgomery County

Image taken from the EPA Slideshow - Using Rain Gardens to Reduce Runoff
http://water.epa.gov/learn/training/wacademy/upload/raingardens_dec10_2slides-2.pdf

Savvy Buyers: What’s up with that house?

People are always asking us how they can find more information about a particular property. Of course, the easiest way is to contact your friendly and helpful realtor who can do all of that work for you...but many people like to do their own research. So, for all of you curious people out there, here are some resources that you may find useful in your search:

State Department of Assessments & Taxation

This is the best place to start when you are seeking general information on a property. To pull a property's tax record, first select the county and then search by the address. Want to learn more about reading a tax record?   Check out our blog about it.

Permits

Interested in finding out if a house obtained permits before putting up a fence, finishing that basement or obtained a rental license before renting it out? Every county has a different online system for searching for permits. Some of the databases are only for a certain time frame, so it never hurts to call and ask about a particular property. Here are a few (click on the county to go to the website):

Anne Arundel County

Baltimore City

Baltimore County - No online search capabilities, but you can call with an address 410-887-3353

Carroll County - No online search capabilities, but you can call with an address 410-386-2674

Frederick County

Howard County - You have to create an account, it is free. You can also call them at 410-313-2455

Montgomery County

Prince George’s County

Plats & Recorded Deeds

So everyone knows (or at least Tess thinks everyone knows) that Google Maps enables you to see the lot where a property is located (you have to zoom into the map). How would you obtain the actual plat for a property? You would go to your county’s courthouse to the Land Records division (typically overseen by the Clerk of the Court). This magical place gives you the opportunity to pull recorded public information about a property like the deed and plat. Maryland put all of this information online and it can be accessed here. Of course, you can also go to the land records building to do your own search (Quick side note: Tess loves these places because she is a real estate nerd).

Market Value

I wish we could give you a link to a site that would provide accurate home values but the truth is, your best resource is a realtor (or an appraiser – see our awesome blog on how an appraisal works). There are websites that will give you an idea of the value of a home (we’re looking at you Zillow), but as a team, we do not advocate the use of these sites due to the many inaccuracies we’ve seen. Their “Zestimates” may not take into account the upgrades that a home has in comparison to other homes in the neighborhood. We too often see Zestimates that are very far from the true value. Your best bet is to reach out to a professional who knows the area.

Feel free to reach out to us anytime. We’re here to help!

How to “read” a tax record

Tax records are public information and can be pulled for any residential property. You can find them online at the State Department of Assessments and Taxation. In some areas, additional research is required and you have to do more than just plug in an address. For example, newly constructed homes often do not have the house number recorded and are listed solely under the street name.

Once you search for a property in a particular county your results will give you all kinds of juicy information. Not sure what some of the information is trying to tell you? Here’s a break-down of what each section means. We decided to highlight a few items for you below (we’ve blocked out some of the information to protect the identity of the innocent):

Tax Record Screen Shot

Section 1:

Principle Residence: This tells you if the property is owner occupied. A “No” would indicate that this property could be a rental property or it might be owned by a company.

Section 2:

Sometimes the premise address differs from the mailing address, either because the property is an investment property or the postal service guidelines require an adjustment. The legal description is how the property is described on the deed. It could be a metes & bounds description or an actual lot/block/subdivision description. It differs for every area.

The town section is only filled out if your property lies in an incorporated municipality. Ad valorem tells you which tax district the property falls under. The tax class applies to areas in Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties that are special tax areas (how special can you get?).

The enclosed area is the square footage for the property and does not include the basement. It’s technically everything that lies above ground since the lower level is not considered living space (even if it is finished). Appraisers also define the square footage in this way and they have a separate line item adjustment for finishes in a basement.

Section 3:  

This is the assessed value of the property for tax purposes. Remember that the tax assessor is not nearly as accurate as an appraiser would be in determining the value of your home. Assessments are revised on a 3 year cycle so they are always behind the current market. If your home is assessed at a value that is higher than the actual value of your home, you can appeal the taxes.

Section 4:

Though this is not the case for every property, you can see that the first transfer of this home was for $6,000,000. This amount is actually not for this specific property – it was the amount the developer paid for all of the land before subdividing into individual lots. You may also see transfers with an amount of $0. This often indicates a refinance.

Section 5:

Shows any exemptions that the property may be receiving.

Section 6:

We have reminded many people to apply for the Homestead Tax Credit. This section will tell you the status of your application. More about that here.

Looking for additional information on a property? Contact us!

Smart Sellers Series: There is an invisible gas that can impact your deal

It’s not science fiction. There is an invisible gas that is in many homes and if discovered during your home inspection, it can cause issues with your contract – or even cause it to fall through.

The mystery gas is radon.

On a serious note…radon should not be taken lightly. There are health risks associated with radon including cancer. You can read more about radon and the associated health risks at www.epa.gov/radon.

If you’re a seller and you haven’t had your home tested for radon, it’s important to understand the process. A buyer will most likely include a radon inspection when he/she writes an offer. At the time of the home inspection, radon testing equipment will be placed in your home, normally on the lowest level of the house. The test runs for 48 hours and will be picked up afterward by the home inspector. Test results are usually available within a day or two.

The buyer determines their threshold for acceptable radon levels but many buyers default to the EPA recommended level of 4 picocuries per liter (or 4 pCi/L). If the levels are higher than the threshold, the buyers have a choice. They can either:

A)     get out of the contract or they can

B)      ask you to correct the issue by hiring a licensed remediation contractor to remediate and retest. New test results must be below level indicated on the Radon Inspection Addendum.

In Howard County, the buyers select option A or B when they write their offer so as a seller, you know your obligations when you accept the offer.

But here’s the catch. We’ve seen buyers – especially those buyers who are either first time homebuyers or are relocating from another area – who want out of the contract when radon results are above 4 pCi/L.

There are other, legal ways out of the contract so how can a seller mitigate this risk?

It’s important that you know ahead of time about your options and how they could impact your sale. You could have your radon tested before listing, remediate if necessary and retest. Disclosure is key here so providing the details to potential buyers is important.  Or you could let buyers go through this process once you are under contract…with the understanding that it could be an obstacle to closing later on.

Radon is serious and buyers have a right to decide how they want to handle the issue. It’s best if you understand the impact of radon prior to listing your home. Call us to learn more.

- Wendy 

See www.epa.gov/radon for more information.

                                                              Radon Mitigation System

                                                             Radon Mitigation System

A lender explains the sudden change in rates

Our guest blogger - Allen Tayman of C&F Mortgage - sent us this information about the sudden drop in rates that occurred on Friday:

A wide range of economic news was favorable for mortgage rates on Friday. The Employment data was weaker than expected, Japan expanded its bond-buying program, and tensions with North Korea increased. As a result, mortgage rates ended the week significantly lower.  This is the sharpest reaction seen to mortgage rates in months.  The market will continue to see high volatility, as traders feel out this new floor.  Now is a perfect time to jump on these low rates.

RECEIPTS RULE!

Have you ever heard the saying that “the house with the most documents wins” or gets the best value in the market? Well, it is true and here are 2 very good reasons for you to keep all of the receipts related to your home:
1) Receipts help to justify your list price to prospective buyers and
2) Receipts help to justify your contract price to an appraiser

But first, a little background information.
Keeping track of the improvements and repairs to your home can really pay off when it comes time to sell. In addition, differentiating between “improvements” and “repairs” is important. Improvements can be anything from new kitchen appliances, adding a deck, or finishing your basement. Repairs include replacing the carpet, adding fresh paint, fixing sagging gutters, replacing rotted trim around doorways – anything that is an important, but routine maintenance project. Even though these items fall into two different categories, all of these things will improve the value of your home.

Back to receipts….

#1 Helping buyers see the value of your home
Buyers want to see your home as close to model condition as possible and will form an opinion based on what they can “see.” For example, the buyers may not know that you replaced the hot water heater in the past 6 months. By documenting the date and cost of an item you replaced or repaired in your home, you can justify the list price with prospective buyers based on the value of the improvements or repairs you have completed. When we work with sellers, we ask you to provide a list of any updates or repairs along with the approximate cost and year the work was completed. We create a document based on this information and provide copies of this list for prospective buyers when they tour your home.

Buyers often decrease the amount they are willing to offer if they see the house looking run down, worn out, or out of date. If you can present an itemized list of repairs/updates/improvements in your house with the dates of completion and can provide the receipts as well, it tells a story to your buyer. It shows you were willing to invest in your home and that you cared about maintaining it. This list will help you when negotiating the contract price.

#2 Helping appraisers see the value of your home
Once you are under contract, the buyer’s lender will order an appraisal of the home. Even though appraisers work off of checklists that measure real values in a property, they also raise or lower the home value based on how sellers have cared for or neglected their properties and they credit the value based on any upgrades sellers have completed to stay in line with the market. Keeping receipts helps to quantify these repairs and improvements when it comes time to sell. When we work with sellers, we meet the appraiser at your home and we provide the itemized list and copies of the receipts. Rather than having to guess each improvement’s worth, receipts will empower the appraiser to identify the full value of a home improvement. Even if you think it’s only a small or minor improvement, you should include it.

One final recommendation: Photocopy or scan the receipts to a file so that you don’t find yourself with blank paper as the ink degrades over time.

- Debbie Gottwals

Repair Receipts

There's always something fun to do in maple lawn!

In 2008, I became a homeowner in a neighborhood called Maple Lawn located in Fulton, MD. While some may not be fond of the lifestyle, where neighbors live practically within touching distance of one another, others can't seem to imagine living anywhere else!

The opening of the Midtown West and Westside Districts this spring will bring plenty of new homeowners. Some residents such as myself, will just be moving from one part of the neighborhood to another, reinforcing the fact that once you live here you never want to be anywhere else. Why would you? With great restaurants and shopping located within the community, easy access to major highways and a great location right between Baltimore and the Nations Capital, what more could you ask for??  Well how about a great fitness center, yoga and Zumba classes, kids art classes, summer camps for kids, a beautiful pool, basketball and tennis courts and year round social events?

Maple Lawn is surely the place to be. Condos, townhomes, single family homes and estate homes offer a wide range of choices and price points for buyers in all ranges of the spectrum. Whether it's a lazy afternoon at the community pool, happy hour at one of the several neighborhood restaurants or Wednesday night book club, there's never a lack of things to do.

It's been 4 1/2 years and I can't imagine a place I'd rather call home. In a few months, my family will pack up our belongings and move down the road to another house with a little different layout….but in the same wonderful neighborhood called Maple Lawn!

- Beth

Maple Lawn Community Center

Coming soon to Downtown Columbia!

Life in “downtown” Columbia is changing fast. It’s really great to see all of this investment in our area. Howard County has a lot going for it already but here are some exciting things to look for in the near future.

Clydes
January/February 2013
Clydes is getting a $4 million face-lift and will close for 6-8 weeks starting in January.

Nordstrom Rack
Opening in spring
Ok…this isn’t located in downtown Columbia…but I HAD to include it. I’m not a shopper but many of my friends are. Nordstrom Rack will open at Columbia Crossing.

New apartment/retail complex opening next to the mall
Construction starts in spring
New retails shops and 380 luxury apartments ranging from $1500-$2800 per month.

New open-air plaza at the Columbia Mall
Construction starts June 2013
LLBean will be torn down and replaced with an open air plaza. Plans include 2 restaurants, 2 cafes and 8-10 retail stores.

New high end Columbia Association Gym
Opening late summer/early fall 2014 in the former Rouse building.

Whole Foods
Opening late summer/early fall 2014 in the former Rouse building.


How appraisers determine the value of your home

Have you ever wondered how an appraiser goes about determining your home’s market value? Contrary to popular belief, appraisers do not visit your home and then magically guesstimate a value. The methodology involved in an appraisal comes down to comparing your home and all of your upgrades and amenities to the other homes that have sold in your neighborhood. If you were not aware, appraisers are regulated and have standard appraisal practices (known as USPAP) that they must abide by. They also have several methods for determining a home’s value. Since the “Sales Comparison Approach” is the most widely used we will discuss that portion of an appraisal.

When an appraiser goes out to your property they will typically draw out your home’s floor plan, take measurements to calculate your home’s square footage (which, by the way, does not include your basement which has a different line item for adjustments) and take note of any upgrades and any repairs that may be needed. Though they may be in your home for only 15 -30 minutes, the majority of their time is spent back at their office writing the report and finding comparable homes to compare your property to (known as “comps”).

Finding comparable homes in the neighborhood can be a fairly easy task if you live in a subdivision that has had recent sales. If not, the appraiser may have to search farther out. This may result in location adjustments if that area has historically received higher values than the subject neighborhood.

Everything from bedroom and bathroom count to the quality of the upgrades in the property is taken into consideration. The appraiser will determine what upgrades are common for your area and what adjustments should be made for differences between each property. An adjustment is then determined for each factor (i.e. an adjustment for additional bathrooms, house sizes, basement finishes, quality of upgrades, a view of a lake as opposed to a view of a busy street, etc.)

Say, for instance, your home has an in-ground pool. If a comparable is used that does not have a pool, the appraiser will not make the adjustment based on the cost of installing a pool. Instead, they will determine how much more a house in that location with a pool will get compared to one that does not have the pool.

This is an important fact to keep in mind when renovating your home to increase its market value.

Let’s say you invest $20,000 into renovating your kitchen. That does not necessarily mean you will re-coop that exact amount when you go to sell your home. It does mean that you will sell your house faster and for more money than your neighbor, who has not made those improvements.

Keep in mind though: If you over-improve your home, it would be difficult for an appraiser to justify a value higher than what is typical for your neighborhood. After all, no matter how much money you put into updating, renovating and adding to your home, you can’t change its location!

Here’s a screenshot from an appraisal of the Sales Comparison Approach:

Appraisal Comps Grid

Notice that properties with a superior feature received a negative adjustment (highlighted in red) and properties with inferior features received a positive adjustment (highlighted in yellow). These dollar adjustments are then totaled and the adjusted sales price of the comparable property is listed at the bottom (highlighted in blue). The appraiser will determine a value by weighing each comparable and how similar it is to the subject property. They may even add additional comparables or delve into one of the other means of determining value, should they feel it necessary.

P.S. Check out the Remodeling Cost VS. Value report for statistics on what repairs will give you the most return on your home remodeling projects:
http://www.remodeling.hw.net/2011/costvsvalue/national.aspx

Written by Tess Oby, Team Manager for The Wendy Slaughter Team

What's your home's current market value?

Keeping you up-to-date on current market values is just one way we keep you informed about your biggest and most important investment- your home.

Below are links to the reports detailing the market activity in 7 different zip codes in Howard County for the 3rd quarter of 2012.We've listened to your feedback and have included the 21228, 20723, 21224 and 21144 zip codes. Enjoy!

Don't have time to go through the whole report? Click on any of the links and read the short summary of statistics for each zip code.

 

21042                                                    21043

21044                                                   21045

21046                                                   21029

20759                                                   21228

20723                                                   21224

21144

 

Don't see your zip code? Give us a call or or send us an email - we'd be more than happy to provide you with a Property Market Update!

What's going on in your neighborhood?

Keeping you up-to-date on current market values is just one way we keep you informed about your biggest and most important investment - your home. Below are links to PDF copies of the market activity in 7 different zip codes in Howard County for the 1st quarter of 2012.

Don't have time to go through the whole report? Click on any of the links and read the short summary of statistics for each zip code.

21042

 21043

21044

21045

21046

20759

21029

 

Don't see your zip code? Send us an email with your zip code - we'd be more than happy to provide you with a Property Market Update!

February Stats Blog - Average Days on Market

If you keep up with us on Facebook, you know that this week is Stats Week! Each day we post the statistics for different counties in the state of Maryland. Seeing as this is not our Facebook page, we thought we'd share some interesting stats for Howard County for 2011.

Here are the average days on market in Howard County for the past five years. For all five years, properties that were listed during the spring market tended to sell faster than properties listed during other times of the year.  Notice how the trend is similar for each of the past five years.

HOCO_AVG_DOM

A little too confusing? Here's the average days on market for properties that have sold in Howard County for the past 2 years:

HOCO_AVG_DOM_2YRHISTORY

So, you'll notice that properties that sold in January were on the market for around 100 days - meaning that they were listed around the month of October. Properties that sold in July were on the market for about 70 days, so they were listed around May.

What’s the point you ask?

We wanted to show you facts to support what most people already know: selling your home during the Spring market will likely result in a faster sale.