Bad Neighbors can be Hazardous to Your Property Values

It’s every homeowner’s worst nightmare:

Your new neighbor has decided to tear down the charming colonial and build a monster home. Or he’s turned his backyard into a junkyard. Or she’s having noisy parties.

Yes, having bad neighbors can be awful. And did you know they also can lower the value of your home by up to 10 percent.

A recent study by the US Appraisal Institute indicates that your neighborhood – and your immediate neighbors – can be game-changers when it’s time to sell. You may be looking at a 5-10 percent drop in your home’s value. And a lower selling price.

And it’s not just close neighbors; it’s your street and often your whole neighborhood. Barking dogs, poorly maintained properties, utility towers, and even funeral homes can make your neighborhood less desirable, and your home less saleable.

What can you do? Not much after you’ve bought, although you can approach your neighbor and/or a lawyer to try to stop the offending behavior. But you can practice due diligence before you buy.

Visit your potential neighborhood at night and during the day. Drop by on weekends. Drive around neighboring streets to get a feel for the area. Note the proximity of commercial properties. Chat with the neighbors to find out if you share the same commitment to maintaining your properties. Consider contacting the local police and checking crime stats.

Whether you’re buying for the long term, or may sell in the next few years, checking out your neighbors and the neighborhood only makes sense.

Reports Trace the History of Your Home-To-Be

A house is probably the biggest purchase you’ll make. So finding out all you can about the home-to-be is essential.

It’s all about the history of your home, and several companies have sprung up across North America to enlighten potential buyers as they begin their home search.

These organizations provide inexpensive reports that include a history of the home dating back years.

That means you can find out about additions and repairs through building permits and leaky roofs via insurance claims.

Previous selling prices and even some of the more unsavory aspects of the home, such as a history as a drug lab, are available.

Some firms also will provide names of the companies that made previous additions (such as swimming pools), so you can follow up if you like the workmanship, or if you don’t.

In the U.S., one company offering this service is BuildFax; buyers can obtain a report through their real estate agent. But if you have time and energy, you can also conduct searches yourself; virtually all the information is contained in official records, available to the public at little or no cost.

History reports like these can help potential buyers avoid unpleasant surprises at closing time or later down the road.

A track record of problems might make a house a lot more expensive to insure, but if a potential buyer knows about the issues before purchasing, he or she could decide against buying the home or at the very least will be prepared for the additional costs.

Single-family homes are still much sought after; according to NAR, almost 80% of last year’s buyers purchased a single-family detached home. It appears the American dream isn’t dead; like previous generations, families have and will continue to seek a place of their own.

Bring Home 2013 Design Trends This Spring

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz … I wonder where the plumber is.

This riff on the poem, “Spring in the Bronx,” highlights other rites of the season: renovating and redecorating.

There’s nothing quite like sunlight pouring through our open curtains to inspire us, so every year at this time we start to think about changing our surroundings.

Spring’s latest trends may be just the thing to bring new life to your old home.

And because it’s even more important if you’re thinking about selling, you’ll be pleased to know there are some inexpensive quick fixes to brighten your surroundings.

This year is all about color: Pastels are everywhere (Benjamin Moore’s color of 2013 is called Lemon Sorbet), but so are muted blues, which have been proclaimed the new neutrals.

Pastels are a great way to lighten and brighten without dominating. For the potential seller, an accent wall in soft yellow complements neutrals and won’t turn off buyers.

While summer is still months away, bring the look of the outdoors in now. Let garden furniture assume center stage, and introduce the sunshine with sheer window coverings; it’s the best way to establish a link with nature.

This year, we’re reacting to our high-tech lifestyles by connecting to all things earthy.

A “new” traditional style features classic with a twist, such as a sofa with simple lines upholstered in a strong color.

It’s a sea change from last year’s whimsical folk art and reclaimed furniture look, which nevertheless remains popular this year.

If you need new appliances, there’s a big surprise in store. Black is the new stainless steel, and even white is trending.

Lastly, you can give your home curb appeal with new door hardware in the latest metallics: brass, copper, bronze or gold. Don’t forget to paint the door in one of the new colors. Then sit back and enjoy the compliments.

Growing Out of Your Home? You’re Not Alone

Americans who are house shopping in 2013 are looking for more than granite countertops and hardwood floors. According to recent research, it’s all about the family.

Most home buyers cite growing families as the main deciding factor in purchasing a new home. According to real estate professionals, almost three-quarters of their clients are motivated to look for a new home when they outgrow the old one thanks to their growing families.

The second key motivator relates to the job market; almost 70% of respondents to a recent survey of real estate professionals cite job issues as a reason for buying a new home.

As has been the case for several years, neighborhood safety remains the top factor influencing where buyers will purchase, according to the 2012 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, recently released by the National Association of Realtors. Convenient access to work was the second top factor. Families and couples placed a high priority on the quality and location of schools, and affordability remained a concern in 2012.

While looking for affordable properties, families living with elderly parents or returning adult children are paying as much attention to the home’s floor plan as to its cost. According to real estate professionals, many of these buyers are looking for split floor plans to give the different generations breathing room.

Smaller homes are gaining traction. Builders are expecting the average home size will be 2,152 sq. ft. in 2015, compared to almost 2,752 sq. ft. in 2007. Part of this relates to increased energy costs; 87% of buyers now consider heating and cooling costs at least somewhat important.

Single-family homes are still much sought after; according to NAR, almost 80% of last year’s buyers purchased a single-family detached home. It appears the American dream isn’t dead; like previous generations, families have and will continue to seek a place of their own.

Gifts First-time Homeowners Will Really Use

Spring is home-buying season, and if you have friends moving into their first home, you know a housewarming gift is in order.

While flowers and candles are lovely, why not pick up something practical, particularly for those first-time homeowners? Read on for ideas that are sure to be appreciated.

Pay a visit to your local bookstore and check out the home improvement shelves. Books on do-it-yourself home projects or a first-time owner’s guide are great options. Alternatively, pick up a beautiful coffee table book on a subject your friends are interested in.

Gift baskets
Don’t pay big bucks for someone else to put one together; get creative and personalize a gift basket yourself. Try items a homeowner would find handy, such as dish towels, hand soap, linen spray, funky paper napkins and monogrammed coffee mugs. Or go with a theme, such as movies: Pick up a few classics on DVD and add some gourmet snacks.

Gift cards
Buy them a gift card for home improvement, decor, gardening or grocery stores. Or give them a break with a restaurant gift certificate or a one-time visit by a cleaning service.

A collection of essential tools is something that every homeowner will need at some point. Buy a basic toolbox and fill it with items such as a hammer, various screwdrivers, pliers, a wrench and a tape measure. Or choose one tool – a drill or a hammer – and buy the best quality item you can afford. Include drill bits or nails. 

Urban or Suburban: What’s a Home Buyer to Do?

Journalist and ecologist Lakis Polycarpou recently penned a Polis blog article titled “Is it Time to Transcend the ‘Urban-Suburban’ Divide?” An admitted city lover, he concluded that suburbia (at least today’s suburbia) isn’t so bad after all.

Then again, a recent article in Atlantic Cities spoke positively of the trend to urbanism, whereby homes in many walkable, centrally located neighborhoods have held or increased their value while that of their suburban cousins declined.

Across North America, experts are predicting a trend toward urban living sparked by immigration, economic factors, the increasing price of gasoline and “most of all” demographics, as the two largest demographic groups – baby boomers and millennials – appear to be driving the urban boom.

Some cities are welcoming the influx and making changes to make city living more appealing, including upgrading infrastructure and transit systems. However, the suburbs are changing, too, morphing from car-friendly cookie-cutter developments that excluded pedestrians and transit riders to today’s suburbs that are anything but.

While many developers haven’t lost their taste for McMansions, some innovative architects are designing smaller homes in town-like settings around greenspace. Targeted to appeal to downsizing boomers and millennials who don’t want the expense or bother of big properties, this new suburbia competes with the “urbs.”

Also competitive, new developments are arranged around golf courses, waterways and community centers – making them more livable. Even the auto is downplayed, thanks to bike paths and trails. Developments also include a mix of housing: Once the preserve of single-family homes, many suburbs now host the fastest-growing segment of the real estate market: multifamily housing.

Something to ponder. But for our confused home buyer, we point to a sentiment expressed recently by one real estate watcher: There’s only one right answer, and it’s whatever is best for you.

Buying With Help: If They Pay, Do They Get a Say?

The high cost of education, poor job prospects and rising prices in many housing markets mean more young prospective home buyers are turning to their families for help to buy their first home.

Traditionally many parents have opted to contribute toward a down payment, but in recent years, that contribution has become bigger and the practice has grown in popularity.

It’s becoming so common that house-and-home channels have a whole show – My House, Your Money – focused on buyers who can afford to buy only with their families’ help.

For the contributors, it’s not as simple as writing a check and waiting for the housewarming party. Now, in time-honored “pay the piper” tradition, many families want a role in the buying process; they attend viewings, push their ideas and even try to hijack the real estate agent/buyer relationship.

The gap between what young buyers want and what families feel the kids need can create a dramatic tug-of-war that makes great fodder for a TV show. Episodes of My House, Your Money show adult children asking their parents to take a step back and parents using their investment as a bargaining chip.

It isn’t always this way: Just because they’re investors doesn’t mean that family members can make the big decisions. As real estate agents who have dealt with these situations point out, most parents want what’s best for their kids, and while it might not be what they would pick, that condo in the sky may be what makes their offspring happy.