Quiz: Should You Renovate Your Home or Sell?

Most homeowners have that one thing about their home that they wish were different.

For some, the home’s fatal flaw exists outside the four walls. Maybe the house backs up to a creek that floods whenever it rains, resulting in a squishy backyard and mosquitoes. Or perhaps the home is located on a busy street that generates too much traffic noise. It could just be that the house is too far from the homeowner’s job, and the long commute has gotten old.

If you’re feeling discontent with your home, you may be thinking about renovating … or getting out entirely. But before you knock down walls or put your home on the market, check out our quiz – it could help you think differently about your situation.

Related:

Originally published March 2018.

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/quiz-renovate-home-or-sell-225199/

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1800s Estate Proves History Is Anything But Drab

Steven Favreau is the type to go big – and go home.

When he set out to put down roots near his hometown of Boston, Favreau fell in love with an old country estate in quaint Chelsea, Vermont. It was the perfect place for this interior designer to escape from the hubbub of big city life after working with celebrity clients and more.

“It was a quintessential Vermont house in a quintessential Vermont town,” said Favreau, about spotting the house in 2012. “I hopped on a plane and bought it the next week.”

Built in 1832, the house was once owned by a man named Aaron Davis, whose family lived in it for at least 100 years. Davis’ granddaughter eventually sold the 23-acre property in the 1980s, and the new owner converted it into a bed-and-breakfast. (There’s still a portrait of Davis above one of the home’s five fireplaces.)

After Favreau purchased the 5-bed, 5-bath home, he sought to restore it to its original grandeur – at a frenetic pace. A contractor brought in a crew to rework everything from the wiring (it was a fire waiting to happen) to the wallpaper (there were eight layers throughout the house). The workers even put in a massive new beam to support the house and keep it from sinking.

Up next on the designer’s list: keeping the look, feel and integrity of the antique touches, while updating the space to accommodate today’s trends. He tore out a downstairs wall to expand the kitchen to 700 square feet; the master suite got a modern bath with a soaking tub.

Favreau painted walls in his signature bright colors and added bold wallpaper. He lined the master bathroom with tree-print wallpaper. The dining room got a splash of flamingo pink with a print of Victorian-looking cake plates – a nod to the era in which the house was built.

“What I wanted to use for inspiration was the house and the period of the house, so nodding to the period and updating it with a contemporary aesthetic,” Favreau said. “It says today, but it also says yesterday.”

Some things are distinctly New England. A wooden footbridge connects the main property to 22 secluded acres on the other side of the White River. On warm summer nights, Favreau’s family will pull a dining room table out onto the bridge and dine alfresco.

In the winter, the adjacent land allows for snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

There’s also an old wood barn, which Favreau envisions becoming an event space for weddings or storage. The possibilities for the next owner are limitless, he said.

“It’s a big glorious house, and my family is a big glorious family. We’ve enjoyed it,” he added. “I feel like I’ve loved my time being there and up in Vermont, but it’s time to find the next one. Maybe an oceanside property.”

The home is on the market for $695,000. Zoe Hathorn Washburn of Snyder Donegan carries the listing.

Interior photos courtesy of Jim Mauchly of Mountain Graphics Photography. Exterior photos courtesy of Andrew Holson with Snyder Donegan Real Estate Group.

Related:

Originally published September 2017.

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/historic-vermont-estate-221014/

7 Places in America That Will Pay You to Move There

If you’re willing to move and if you meet the qualifications, many rural American towns are offering incentives aimed at attracting new residents and reviving their communities.

At the beginning of the 20th century, rural America housed more than half the country’s entire population. While the number of Americans living in rural areas has been roughly stable over the past century – as urban and suburban America have boomed – its share of the total population has declined, falling from 54 percent in 1910 to just 19 percent in 2010.

This is due, in part, to migration to urban cores, especially by younger generations and the middle class.

This decline in population – and the accompanying social and economic challenges – is forcing rural America to come up with incentives to attract new residents back to rural communities.

Tribune, Kansas, offers such a program. “If you move here, we will pay down your student debt,” explains Christy Hopkins, community development director for Kansas’ least populated county, Greeley (in which Tribune sits).

This program, called the Rural Opportunity Zone (ROZ) program, offers perks to grads from big cities for moving to underpopulated towns in one of 77 participating Kansas counties. One of the incentives? They’ll help you pay off your student loans – up to $15,000 over the course of five years.

And it seems to be working – for both the town and its new residents.

“We’re the least populated county – we’re 105th in population for counties in Kansas, and now we’re eighth in college degrees per capita. There’s a correlation to draw,” says Hopkins.

Here are five towns and three states that offer a robust set of loans, programs and/or assistance for those seeking to become homeowners:

Curtis, Nebraska

Population: 891
Median home value: $79,000

Dream of building your own home from the ground up? Curtis, Nebraska, has a sweet deal for you. If you construct a single-family home within a specified time period,  you’ll receive the lot of land it sits on for free.

Marne, Iowa

Population: 115
Median home value: $75,300

Just 45 minutes east of Omaha, Marne will give you a lot of land for free – all you have to do is build the house (conventional construction or modular) and meet program requirements. Houses must be a minimum of 1,200 square feet, and the average lot size is approximately 80 feet by 120 feet.  

Harmony, Minnesota

Population: 999
Median home value: $93,900

Dreaming of a a newly built home in the Land of 10,000 Lakes? Good news: Your dream comes with a cash rebate.

The Harmony Economic Development Authority offers a cash rebate program to incentivize new home construction. Based on the final estimated market value of the new home, rebates range from $5,000 to $12,000, and there are no restrictions on the applicant’s age, income level or current residency.

Baltimore, Maryland

Population: 616,958
Median home value: $116,300

Definitively not a rural town, Baltimore offers homeowners incentives that are too appealing to leave off this list.

Baltimore has two programs offering robust incentives for buying a home in the city. Buying Into Baltimore offers a $5,000 forgivable loan (forgiven by 20 percent each year so that by the end of five years, you no longer have a balance) if you meet certain qualifications.

The city’s second solution is a brilliant one. The Vacants to Value Booster program offers $10,000 toward down payment and closing costs when you buy one of the program’s distressed or formerly distressed properties.

New Haven, Connecticut

Population: 131,014
Median home value: $168,400

Also not a rural area, but offering an incredibly generous package of homeowner incentives, New Haven offers a suite of programs totaling up to $80,000 for new homeowners, including a $10,000 forgivable five-year loan to first-time home buyers, $30,000 renovation assistance and/or up to $40,000 for college tuition.   

Alaska

Population: 739,795
Median home value: $310,200

Alaska offers incentives for veterans and live-in caretakers of physically or mentally disabled residents. They even have a manufactured home program and a rural owner-occupied loan program. See the full list of programs here.

Colorado

Population: 5.6 million
Median home value: $368,100

Colorado offers traditional programs that assist with down payments and low interest rates, but it also has a disability program that helps first-time buyers who have a permanent disability finance their home.

The state also has a down payment assistance grant that provides recipients with up to 4 percent of their first mortgage, which doesn’t require repayment.

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Related:

Originally published October 2017. Information updated October 2018.

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/7-places-america-will-pay-move-222241/

5 Reasons to Buy a Home This Fall

Real estate markets ebb and flow, just like the seasons. The spring market blooms right along with the flowers, but the fall market often dwindles with the leaves – and this slower pace could be good for buyers.

If you’re in the market for a home, here are five reasons why fall can be a great time to buy.

1. Old inventory may mean deals

Sellers tend to put their homes on the market in the spring, often listing their homes too high right out of the gate. This could result in price reductions throughout the spring and summer months.

These sellers have fewer chances to capture buyers after Labor Day. By October, you are likely to find desperate sellers and prices below a home’s market value.

2. Fewer buyers are competing

Families who want to be in a new home by the beginning of the school season are no longer shopping at this point. That translates into less competition and more opportunities for buyers.

You’ll likely notice fewer buyers at open houses, which could signal a great opportunity to make an offer.

3. Sellers want to close by the end of the year

While a home is where an owner lives and makes memories, it is also an investment – one with tax consequences.

A home seller may want to take advantage of a gain or loss during this tax year, so you might find homeowners looking to make deals so they can close before December 31.

Ask why the seller is selling, and look for listings that offer incentives to close before the end of the year.

4. The holidays motivate sellers

As the holidays approach, sellers are eager to close so they can move on to planning their parties and events.

If a home has not sold by November, the seller is likely motivated to be done with the disruptions caused by listing a home for sale.

5. Harsher weather shows more flaws

The dreary fall and winter months tend to reveal flaws, making them a great time to see a home’s true colors.

It’s better to see the home’s flaws before making the offer, instead of being surprised months after you close. In fact, the best time to do a property inspection is in the rain and snow, because any major issues are more likely to be exposed.

Top photo from Shutterstock.

Related:

Originally published October 19, 2015.

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/fall-a-great-time-to-buy-185456/

5 Expenses Homeowners Pay That Renters Don’t

Homeownership may be a goal for some, but it’s not the right fit for many.

Renters account for 37 percent of all households in America – or just over 43.7 million homes, up more than 6.9 million since 2005. Even still, more than half of millennial and Gen Z renters consider buying, with 18 percent seriously considering it.

Both lifestyles afford their fair share of pros and cons. So before you meet with a real estate agent, consider these five costs homeowners pay that renters don’t – they could make you reconsider buying altogether.

1. Property taxes

As long as you own a home, you’ll pay property taxes. The typical U.S. homeowner pays $2,110 per year in property taxes, meaning they’re a significant – and ongoing – chunk of your budget.

Factor this expense into the equation from the get-go to avoid surprises down the road. The property tax rates vary among states, so try a mortgage calculator to estimate costs in your area.

2. Homeowners insurance

Homeowners insurance protects you against losses and damage to your home caused by perils such as fires, storms or burglary. It also covers legal costs if someone is injured in your home or on your property.

Homeowners insurance is almost always required in order to get a home loan. It costs an average of $35 per month for every $100,000 of your home’s value.

If you intend to purchase a condo, you’ll need a condo insurance policy – separate from traditional homeowner’s insurance – which costs an average of $100 to $400 a year.

3. Maintenance and repairs

Don’t forget about those small repairs that you won’t be calling your landlord about anymore. Notice a tear in your window screen? Can’t get your toilet to stop running? What about those burned out light bulbs in your hallway? You get the idea.

Maintenance costs can add an additional $3,021 to the typical U.S. homeowner’s annual bill. Of course, this amount increases as your home ages.

And don’t forget about repairs. Conventional water heaters last about a decade, with a new one costing you between $500 to $1,500 on average. Air conditioning units don’t typically last much longer than 15 years, and an asphalt shingle roof won’t serve you too well after 20 years.

4. HOA fees

Sure, that monthly mortgage payment seems affordable, but don’t forget to take homeowners association (HOA) fees into account.

On average, HOA fees cost anywhere from $200 to $400 per month. They usually fund perks like your fitness center, neighborhood landscaping, community pool and other common areas.

Such amenities are usually covered as a renter, but when you own your home, you’re paying for these luxuries on top of your mortgage payment.

5. Utilities

When you’re renting, it’s common for your apartment or landlord to cover some costs. When you own your home, you’re in charge of covering it all – water, electric, gas, internet and cable.

While many factors determine how much you’ll pay for utilities – like the size of your home and the climate you live in – the typical U.S. homeowner pays $2,953 in utility costs every year.

Ultimately, renting might be more cost-effective in the end, depending on your lifestyle, location and financial situation. As long as you crunch the numbers and factor in these costs, you’ll make the right choice for your needs.

Related:

Originally published August 18, 2015. Statistics updated July 2018.

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/homeowners-pay-renters-dont-181888/

HARP Now Extended Through 2016

Since it first launched in 2009, the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP) has helped 3.2 million borrowers across the country lower their monthly payments by refinancing at historically low interest rates. Friday, FHFA Director Melvin Watt announced this relief won’t be ending any time soon.

HARP will continue through the end of 2016, allowing homeowners who owe more than their homes are worth and regularly make mortgage payments to refinance. To help eligible borrowers take advantage of this program, Zillow remains the only marketplace supporting HARP and FHA Streamline refinances.

The FHFA has started a 10-day Twitter campaign using the hashtag #HARPfacts to help spread the word. They’re targeting Chicago first, where nearly 40,000 Chicago-area homeowners could save an average $189 per month or $2,300 a year with HARP.

Get answers to your HARP questions here.

Related:

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/harp-now-extended-through-2016-175787/

What You Need to Know About the Fair Housing Act

If you’ve searched for a new place to live recently, you’ve likely seen the Equal Housing Opportunity logo (an equal sign inside a house) on a landlord’s, real estate agent’s or lender’s paperwork.

But the Fair Housing Act is more than just a logo. It’s a federal law designed to protect renters and buyers from discrimination.

Here are some key points to know about the Fair Housing Act when you’re searching for a place to live.

What is the Fair Housing Act?

Also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson just days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who had championed the cause for many years.

The act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status (sex was added in 1974, and disability and familial status were added in 1988).

At the time the act was signed, overt housing discrimination was a huge problem throughout the country, including the attempted segregation of whole neighborhoods and the outright rejection of qualified renters based on race and other factors.

Today, much of the discrimination in the housing market is less obvious, but it’s still an unfortunate reality.

According to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), over 25,000 housing discrimination complaints were filed with the federal government and local and national fair housing agencies in 2017. Over half of the complaints were based on disability, followed by race at 20 percent.

But these numbers reflect only reported incidents. The NFHA estimates that over 4 million instances of housing discrimination occur annually, but many people don’t realize they’ve been discriminated against – or know what steps to take when it happens.

What does housing discrimination look like?

Most of the people you encounter in your home search, including real estate agents, sellers, landlords, property management companies and lenders, are bound to Fair Housing Act regulations and additional state and local laws, based on where you live or are looking to live.

Fair Housing Act violations can occur in all phases of buying and renting, including in advertising, while you search, throughout the application process, in financing or credit checks, and during eviction proceedings.

Here are a few examples of discrimination people in protected classes have encountered:

  • A real estate agent tries to “steer” a buyer away from a certain neighborhood
  • A landlord tries to avoid renting to someone by saying the unit advertised has been rented when it hasn’t
  • A property management company refuses to rent to a family with children or requires a higher deposit
  • A landlord evicts a person of color for a reason they wouldn’t evict a white tenant for
  • A mortgage broker asks questions or requests excessive documentation from an immigrant couple that they wouldn’t request from another buyer
  • A lender charges a single woman a higher interest rate than what her credit score should dictate
  • A landlord refuses to make reasonable accommodations for a tenant who is disabled

What do I do if I’ve been discriminated against?

If you’ve been discriminated against in any of the ways above, or if you suspect that other actions taken by a property manager, landlord, real estate agent, broker or lender may be discriminatory, there are many resources at your disposal.

  1. File a report: File a complaint with your regional Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office – find yours at HUD.gov. You can also file a complaint on the national HUD website or with local housing resources found through the NFHA.
  2. Get more info from local housing agencies: You can find a list of local housing counselors at HUD.gov. Besides answering questions about discrimination claims, these agencies provide home buyer education workshops, pre-purchase counseling and rental housing assistance.
  3. Talk to an attorney: Like any other legal issue, when pursuing a complaint under the Fair Housing Act, it’s smart to consult a lawyer.
  4. Find people you can trust: If you experienced housing discrimination from your real estate agent, mortgage broker or lender, it’s time to find a new professional to help you in your home search. Ask friends, family members and colleagues for referrals they know, like and trust. Remember – these real estate professionals are working for you, so their only concern should be finding you the home that’s right for you.

Related:

from Zillow Porchlight https://www.zillow.com/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-fair-housing-act-227310/