How to Prepare to Buy A Home

Considerations When Buying a Home

Homeownership is not for everyone. Some prefer the flexibility of being able to move to a new city or country every few years, while others are more focused on big projects in their career or education unable to devote the proper time to buying a home, and some simply don’t have the resources. Whatever your situation, it’s important to know the right reasons to purchase a home.

Emotional Readiness

Owning a home is a big responsibility. There are both financial and time costs associated with the ownership and the upkeep of a house. If putting in the time and money is something that you can make central to your life, then you might be ready. There can also be outside pressure to buy a home, as many see homeownership as a universal stepping stone. Make sure you are buying a home for you, and that homeownership will fit your life and life goals.

Financial Readiness

Financial readiness isn’t just whether you have enough for a down payment or not. Just because you may qualify for a mortgage, it doesn’t mean you should borrow money for one. Before you begin looking to pre-qualify, make a budget for yourself. Calculate the true costs of homeownership. Look where you stand with debt-to-income ratio.

Perhaps you need to pay down some credit card debt before considering applying for a mortgage, maybe you’re expecting a child, or looking to go back to school; all of these can be valid reasons to wait to purchase a home.

Security and Stability

If your debt is low, work life is stable, and you plan on staying in the same location for the next five years, you should be looking to purchase a home. At a certain point, the monthly rent check is money that could be better spent on building equity. If the money you spend on rent seems like it’s getting thrown away, deep down, you may be thinking of buying a home. If you already own a home, but that new promotion has started to make you feel like home maintenance is a waste, you also may be ready.

Should I Buy or Rent a Home?

The decision to purchase a home is one of the biggest choices in anyone’s life. For most, a home will be the most expensive thing they ever own. In the past, homeownership was seen as a natural progression in the course of someone’s life. But today, many people happily rent for years on end, and never find an appropriate time to make the jump to homeownership. So how do you know if you are ready to make that leap?

Setting Your Priorities

Although there may be a perfect home waiting for you in your desired area, the unfortunate reality is that many homebuyers have to make compromises during their home search process. To be prepared, understand that the perfect house in the perfect location at the perfect price, and in perfect condition may not exist. Although this doesn’t mean that you won’t find a house you can afford in your perfect location, be prepared to be flexible on:

  1. Price of the home + extras
  2. Location of the home
  3. Condition of the home

If you know what your priorities are, then finding your ideal place to call home is both possible and realistic!

Location. Location. Location.

If location is your #1 priority, yet buying in that location will price you out of several of your other priorities, then you might have to compromise in several ways:

  • Look for a different home type within the community, such as a smaller single-family home, a townhouse or condominium. Decide if you can live with one less bedroom or other features on your list.
  • Consult with a lender or a financial planner to discuss your options for increasing your budget. While no one should overspend on a home, you should recognize that going above your price range when you’re financing your purchase with a 30-year fixed-rate loan may only add a small amount to your monthly payment (e.g. $10,000 might only cost an additional $30 / month).
  • Lower your expectations about the condition of the home. While everyone prefers a move-in ready home, you can often get a better deal on a home that needs some cosmetic repairs. Do your legwork though, as cosmetic repairs might cost more than you think once you dig a little deeper.

Every homebuyer faces the same tug-of-war. Home price, size, location, commute, amenities, and many other considerations all grapple for attention. Although all features seemingly have equal importance, many could be subjectively classified as ‘nice-to-have’ over ‘must-haves.’ Often something or somebody has to make a difficult choice, but ultimately, ideal compromises can lead to a perfect (or almost perfect) home choice.

What You Can’t Compromise On

You can’t compromise on having good, qualified professionals on your home-buying team. Attempts to cut corners or compromise on this part of the home buying process will only lead to pain further down the road. Do your due diligence in selecting these people for your team, and make sure they always have your best interests in mind.

Closing Costs and the Full Price of Homebuying

In the home purchase process, the sale price of the house itself is only part of the cost of buying. Besides the down payment, there are always closing costs in any home sale. Closing cost is a singular term for a wide variety of fees and payments, paid out to a wide variety of people involved in the sale, upon which the sale depends on in order to go through.

This is not a complete list of all closing costs, but a list of the most common ones. The different fees involved to close a home sale can vary widely from state to state.

Fees to the Lender

  • Application Fee: The cost for the lender to process your application. Includes a credit check for your credit score or appraisal as well.
  • Escrow Deposit: Frequently, two months of property tax and mortgage insurance payments.
  • Homeowners’ Insurance: This covers possible damages to your home. Often the first year of insurance is paid at closing.
  • Lender’s Policy Title Insurance: This is insurance to assure the lender that you own the home and the lender’s mortgage is valid, and it protects the lender from potential problems with the title.
  • Loan Discount Points: One point equals one percent of your loan amount. This is a prepaid interest payment that lowers your monthly payment.
  • Origination Fee: This covers the lender’s administrative costs. Often 1% of the total loan.
  • Prepaid Interest: Most lenders will ask you to prepay any interest that will accrue between closing and the date of your first mortgage payment.
  • Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI): For those making a down payment that’s less than 20% of the home’s purchase price, you will most likely be required to pay PMI.
  • Property Tax: Lenders will want any taxes due 60 days within the purchase.
  • Underwriting Fee: This covers the cost of researching whether or not to approve you for the loan.

Fees to Others

  • Appraisal: For the appraisal company to confirm the fair market value of the home.
  • Closing Fee: The title company or escrow oversees the closing as an independent party in your home purchase.
  • Home Inspection: The home inspection will verify the condition of a property and recommend any home repairs that may be needed.
  • Recording Fees: Charged by your city or county recording office, to keep up to date the public land records.
  • Title Company Search Fee: Paid to the title company for doing a search of the property’s records. Ensures that no one else has a claim to the property.
  • Transfer Taxes: This is the tax paid when the title passes from seller to buyer.

How To Start a Flower Garden

Do you dream of having your own flower garden? Flowers add color and dimension to your landscaping, and a major boost to your curb appeal, too. They’re also easier to get going with than you might think. Gardening is a skill like any other—and you’ll definitely put your green thumb to work—but with some TLC, patience, and creativity, you can start a flower garden that you’ll love for many years to come.

There are reasons behind just loving flowers to invest in your landscaping. Figures show anywhere from a 100% to a 1,000% return on investment for home landscaping projects, which can increase the value of your home as high as 12.7%. It pays then to take the time to do your flower garden right, and to complement it with other landscaping features like a lush lawn and well-trimmed bushes. Below, we’ll cover everything that you need to know to start a flower garden, from choosing the right flowers to starting a garden from scratch. Get your watering can, and let’s get started.

Starting a Flower Garden

There are three phases to follow when you start a flower garden: planning, planting, and maintenance. Think of your garden like any other design project that you undertake in your home, and put together a clear vision for the space that includes all of the steps it will take to make it happen.

Ready to dig into the dirt around starting a flower garden? Follow the tips below to create a garden that’s colorful, whimsical, and all yours.

  1. Decide where your flower garden is going to go

    Are you going for curb appeal or a secret backyard oasis? Before you can start a flower garden you need to decide exactly where you want to put it, and relatedly, what you hope to achieve with it. You’ll also need to pay close attention to which areas of your home’s exterior are best suited to a flower garden, including both placement and light. Some types of flowers require full sun exposure, while others do best in partial sun—or even shade. If you have particular varieties of flowers in mind already that you’d like to grow in your garden, you’ll have to be sure that you select a spot where they’ll be able to thrive.

  2. Plan It Out

    Even before you select your flowers you’re going to want to put together a general vision for what the space will look like. Start by finding the focal point of your garden, maybe a tree or a window. You may even have more than one focal point. These are the areas that you’ll work your way out from, and that will provide structure and flow to your design.

    Don’t feel like you need to do the entire thing at once—you can certainly smart small and tackle your garden piecemeal, seeing what works and determining next steps as you go. Making sure it’s dimensionally accurate, draw your garden space and plan out your design. You can fill in the details with actual flower varieties later.

  3. Prepare the Land

    Whether you’ve decided to start a flower garden from seed or you’re going to be starting with already established plants, you need to prep your garden for the incoming blooms. Use a shovel to remove any grass from the area where your garden is going to go, including its roots. Then use a till to break up the dirt. This is an important step, since you want the soil to be primed to incorporate the additional topsoil that you’ll add on later. It will also help you find and remove any large stones that might have been hiding underneath the grass.

    Note: If your soil is difficult to work with, you can remedy the problem by adding a raised garden bed. Find some good tips on how to do that here.

  4. Add Your Topsoil

    Topsoil is, you guessed it, the top layer of your soil—about the first five to twelve inches. To start a flower garden, you’ll want this top layer to be as nutrient-dense as possible. And to do it, many people choose to supplement their naturally occurring topsoil with store-bought, to add more organic matter and ensure that there is the right balance of silt, sand, and minerals. If you’re not super familiar with assessing soil quality, then go ahead and add a layer of commercial topsoil so you know your flowers will have what they need. This should make your garden more fertile and your efforts more productive.

  5. Buy Your Flowers

    A lot of people get overwhelmed with their options when they start a flower garden. There are hundreds of different types of flowers that can be planted in the U.S., and while not all of them are ideal for all climates, you’ll undoubtedly have a long list of flower varieties to choose from. What you decide to go with depends largely on individual preference and what your design plan is, though other key factors matter too. These include:

    Annuals vs. perennials. Annual flowers bloom for just one season and must be replanted every year, while perennial flowers are planted once and re-bloom again and again for years—and sometimes even decades. What annuals lack in convenience they tend to make up for in bounty, producing a bunch of blooms during their singular life-cycle. The advantages of perennials, on the other hand, are quite obvious: so long as you maintain them properly, you’ll get years of flowering from one planting season. Most flower gardens include a mixture of both annuals and perennials.

    Climate. Where you live plays an important role in what flowers you can plant. Your climate—including seasonal variations, temperatures, amount of sunlight, and average amount of rain—are all major factors in regards to which flowers will thrive and which may struggle.

    Maintenance. How much maintenance do you want to do? Annuals tend to require more attention than perennials, including more frequent watering and fertilizing. Perennials are usually more hardy and require less day-to-day maintenance, but their pay-off is slower and it may take at least a full year before you see the stunning results of your labor.

    If you’re not sure where to start, go talk to an expert. Your local garden store is a fantastic resource for learning all about flowers and what varieties are a good fit for your specific location and preferences.

  6. Get to Planting

    Your planting protocol is based on whether you went with seeds or established plants.

    If you’re growing your garden from seeds, start by planting them inside your home about two to three weeks prior to when you intend to plant them outside. Different flowers are planted at different times throughout the season, but in most cases go-time will be after the last frost of the spring season.

    To start your seeds, fill each hole of an egg carton with soil and bury one seed in each hole. Keep the soil moist and in a place that will get lots of sunlight but not a lot of temperature variation. If you’re using a grow light, keep it on for only about half the day. When it’s time, till your garden bed again and plant your seeds in the soil, being sure to give them room to grow.

    If you’re growing your garden from established plants, wait until after the last frost and then use a trowel to dig holes for each of your individual flower plants. Do some research to figure out how much space each plant needs. The bigger the plant is going to get, the more space it’s going to need. Water at least every other day as your flowers’ roots start to grow into the ground.

  7. Maintain Your Garden

    Planting your garden is probably the most time intensive part, but it’s still going to require lots of care as it grows. Make sure that you know what each of your flowers requires in terms of watering and fertilizing, and check in on your garden regularly to make sure that everything is healthy and stable.

A flower garden is generally an ever-evolving process. Each year, re-evaluate your set-up and determine if you want to make changes. In addition to building on to what you’ve already done, you may want to change up the types of flowers that you plant, or get even more creative in your design.

And don’t worry—all of that hard work will feel more than worth it when your flower garden starts to come to life.

What to Expect on Your Home Buying Journey

The Home Buying Process Demystified

The home buying process is filled with potential pitfalls and challenges, but when done right can be relatively painless. As champions of home buying, we’ve created this step-by-step guide to help you through the process.

Below you’ll find an overview of the home buying timeline as well as the major components of the home buying process with links to the various steps, tools, and information to educate and empower your home search, discovery, and purchase.

How Long Does it Take to Buy a Home?

Your timeline may vary, but the following is a good guideline

  • Preparing to Buy a Home: 3-4 weeks
  • Initial Search for Ideas: 1-4 weeks
  • Building a Team: 1 week (overlap initial search)
  • Pre-Approval of Mortgage: 12-48 hours
  • The Home Search: 4-8 weeks (depending on criteria)
  • Contract-to-Close: 14-60 days

On average, a homebuyer will spend 30-60 days shopping and 14-60 days from contract to close. For some folks, the process can be extremely quick taking as little as 30 days total, while for others, the shopping period alone can last several months.

How Much Home Can I Afford?

The first step in the home buying process is understanding if you have the resources needed to purchase a home. This includes knowing how much home you can afford, what type of down payment and monthly mortgage payment to budget for, as well as what type of loan program you’ll use to finance your new property. Need help? Get started on your mortgage in minutes.

Buying a home is a complicated process that requires a good deal of research. In the course of it, there will be a number of professionals and specialists involved. Once you’ve done your homework and assessed your resources, you’ll need to assemble your team.

Assembling Your Team

After you have a good understanding of your own wants, needs, and goals, it’s time to assemble your team and begin the home search! Who should be on your team? Who you’ll need to find on your own may vary, but the key team members could be: Real estate agent (could be a RealtorTM but not all agents are), home appraiser, title company, home inspector, insurance agent, and mortgage lender.

When selecting the members of this team, take the same amount of care as you would in choosing a home, because these people will be by your side throughout the buying process. Trust & communication are key considerations when working with your team.

Sorting Out Your Finances

With the selection of a mortgage lender comes the application for mortgage pre-approval, a task that requires collecting the necessary financial paperwork to help obtain the approval. Once approval is obtained, the clock begins ticking as many pre-approval offers have a limited life-span before they expire.

Your Home Search

Now your search for (and discovering) your new home begins. Research, save, view and repeat. Remember, Homes.com has all the tools you need to find and keep track of your favorite properties and homes that have made it on your shortlist.

The Offer

You’ve got a mortgage pre-approval in hand and have found a property you can afford to purchase and see yourself living in. Congratulations! Now, it is time to submit a purchase offer to the listing agent or seller!

Once your offer has been accepted, the due-diligence period starts a timeline of checks and tasks for final mortgage approvals, appraisals, inspections, and other requirements that would be stated in the terms of the contract.

Assessment, Conditions & Negotiation

Many consider this to be the most difficult part of the home buying process as it includes, but isn’t limited to, inspection, obtaining the final loan, purchasing insurance, and the potentially arduous negotiation. In this part of the process, every member of your team will be utilized, and the more homework you have done in building your team, the smoother this experience will go. Those who haven’t conducted their proper due diligence could potentially see the purchase fall apart at this point.

Closing the Deal!

A successful closing requires all of the team players to come together at the same time, with the same agenda, on the same date, with numbers and figures that match. From the start of the home search to the home inspection and closing the deal, the entire home buying process can take most homeowners about three months.

 

5 Easy Painting Projects That Can Reinvigorate Boring Household Items

After weeks of sheltering in place, you’re likely to have exhausted all the obvious options for home improvement. You’ve probably disinfected the bathroom to perfection, cleaned out your makeup drawer, and organized your Tupperware drawer to the nines.

But you may still be looking for a way to keep busy and spruce up your home decor, without buying new furniture or accessories. That might mean it’s time for the satisfying task of painting household items that you already own.

Adding a splash of paint has always been one of the easiest and least expensive ways to change your environment radically. But the following projects are not big undertakings that require multiple hours and years of DIY experience.

In fact, we have faith that anyone with some extra paint and a little creativity can reinvigorate these boring household items that you were thinking of setting aside for donation.

Check out these items that you can revive with a few strokes of your paintbrush.

1. Shelves and bookcases

One way to update a room instantly is by painting the back of shelves or bookcases.

“It adds an unexpected, decorative twist to any space, and it draws the eye to the color, instead of any clutter,” says Dee Schlotter, PPG senior color marketing manager.

If you’re struggling to pick an accent color for your shelves and bookcases, there’s a simple solution.

“Scan the room and see what colors are already in play, in your pillows, artwork, rugs, and other decor. Then choose a color similar to what you already have,” Schlotter says. “It’ll pull the room together.”

Banbury agrees that painting shelves or their backdrop is a fun, easy way to add personality to a space and to create a focus point with very little effort.

To prep the shelves for painting, remove all items from the bookshelves and lightly sand the surface to prepare for the paint. Then prime, let the primer dry, and apply the coats of paint.

“Be sure to let it dry in between, and also lightly sand between coats,” Banbury says.

2. Vases

Everyone loves fresh flowers, but according to Leonard Ang, an interior designer at AQVA Bathrooms, flowers aren’t the only things that can bring color to your interiors.

“Try repainting your old vases,” he says. Match the colors in your house, or go for something neutral, like black or off-white.

We love the idea of painting an accent stripe on a vase, like the one above.

3. Dining room chairs

Is that dining room set your grandmother gifted you looking a little run-down? Use paint to give the chairs a modern look.

“In today’s home trends, nostalgic pieces of furniture are at an all-time high, and people want to keep items with charm and character that they have a connection to,” says Ashley Banbury, senior color designer for HGTV Home by Sherwin-Williams.

Before you begin painting, remove or tape around cushions or anything you do not want to paint. You also need to prep the surface, with coarse-grit sandpaper. This is a necessary step to ensure that the paint will adhere to the chair.

Banbury suggests applying a coat of primer and letting it dry. Then, it’s time to paint.

If you’re painting wooden chairs, Banbury recommends that you paint with—instead of against—the grain, as this will produce a smoother finish. It may take more than one coat, and if so, she advises letting the paint dry between coats.

4. Mirrors

Mirrors are another small project that you can tackle with a small amount of paint.

“Just painting an old mirror can revitalize its overall appearance, without committing to painting an entire room,” Schlotter says. And just one quart of paint is enough to complete numerous smaller projects.

When choosing a color to paint the frame of your mirror, Schlotter recommends either coordinating with the existing color on your walls, for a more subdued look, or going in the opposite direction and selecting a statement color (maybe Pantone’s 2020 Color of the Year?), to draw attention to the mirror.

No paintbrushes? No problem. Spray paint is a great alternative. Just be sure to tape the edges where the frame meets the mirror, with painter’s tape.

This can be turned into a project for kids who want to redesign their bedroom.

“Allow them to connect with their creative side, and have fun turning an old mirror into a masterpiece they can be proud to show off,” says Nicole Graff, a co-owner and principal designer for Hamsa Home, a Los Angeles-based interior design firm.

5. Planters

The weather’s getting warmer, so while you’re sheltering in place, take your painting project outdoors. You might not have space for planter boxes, but if you’re determined to grow plants at home, consider putting in a vertical garden with painted wood boxes.

“Make sure the surface is clean wood, free of dirt and debris,” says Sue Kim, Valspar color marketing manager at Sherwin-Williams. She recommends using a wood cleaner first, to ensure the best results.

Sand the wood on the boxes, apply a coat of primer, and then apply two coats of paint in your chosen color.

Stuck Indoors? Try Some of These Activities

When sheltering in place, there comes a point when your old methods of passing the time go stale. Yes, once you may have reveled in the prospect of more time to bake sourdough bread, do puzzles, and binge-watch all the shows in your Netflix queue. But now, well, not so much.

So we’ve rounded up a bunch of activities that go beyond the usual suspects. To ward off boredom, keep those brain synapses firing, and maybe even accomplish something productive, give these a try.

1. Learn (or relearn) an instrument

Do you still have that old flute or violin in your closet from when you took lessons in grade school? Does your family have a piano or keyboard just waiting in the living room (or a closet), ready for you to play? Take this time to learn, relearn, or improve your skills on that instrument. You’re sure to find lots of instruction videos on YouTube.

2. Make the best Mother’s Day and Father’s Day presents ever

With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day just around the corner, why not spend this downtime making some sweet gifts? With lots of time, you could make Mom and Dad an incredible gift. Put pressed flowers in a beautiful frame, get creative and make a picture out of pasta shapes, or order some yarn and learn to knit something they can use when the weather cools down.

3. Start a journal or a blog

Things may be extra stressful in this uncertain time, which is why it might be good to write your thoughts down in a journal or to even start a blog about your experience. Putting everything down on paper could help you get peace of mind. Plus, it’ll give you a creative outlet.

4. Learn a language

It’s the perfect time to finally learn a second (or third?) language. You could order some language-learning books or download an app like Duolingo to help you get started. If you have children at home, you could include them in your lessons. Who knows? Maybe you’ll all be able to speak Spanish or German by the end of all this.

5. Edit your list of contacts

It’s probably been a long time since you’ve gone through the contact list on your phone. Take this time to delete the number for your old dentist, or the gym you haven’t gone to since 2009.

While you may find yourself deleting a few numbers, you might also be motivated to reach out to friends you haven’t talked to in a while.

6. Play one of those long, complicated board games

Long days at home are made for board games like Dungeons & Dragons, Monopoly, or Risk. Don’t worry about starting a game you won’t be able to finish before bedtime. You can leave the pieces where they are and finish it tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that.

7. Daily yoga and meditation

With so much uncertainty in the world today, it’s important to be able to take time to relax. Getting into yoga or meditation can be a great way to do that.

There are so many incredible (and free!) yoga and meditation channels on YouTube, including Yoga with Adriene and Boho Beautiful. Start a challenge with a friend or family member to do some yoga every day—or maybe just every week.

8. Try new workouts on YouTube

Ballet barre? Jane Fonda videos? Kickboxing? Break out of your usual workout rut by trying a new type of workout. YouTube is a treasure trove of expert-led workout videos.

9. Host a wine tasting

Have some wine delivered to your home, and be sure to get varietals, or at least brands, that you’d never normally choose. Gather some cheese and crackers to snack on, and give your partner or other drinking-age roommates a wine tasting night like no other. Live alone? Coordinate a wine buy with friends, and hold a group video meeting to discuss.

Take your best shot at describing any underlying flavor notes like chocolate, stone fruit, or oak. For extra credit, study some wine terms to impress everyone at the virtual table. When social distancing is over, you’ll fit right in when you all take a trip to Napa Valley.

10. Learn to mix fancy cocktails

Did the fancy wine night go well? Another fun activity that also involves alcohol is making cocktails. If you can order mixers, great. If not, use whatever juices or sodas you have in the house already. There’s bound to be a drink you can make—or make up—with whatever you have in your kitchen.

If you’re not drinking right now, this could be a perfect time to find out which mocktails taste best.

11. Download all the movies you never had time to watch

Never seen “The Godfather” or “Casablanca”? Now’s the time to finally watch those classics! Rent, buy, or stream the movies you’ve always wanted to see, and load up on popcorn.

12. Have a spa day

Cutting your own hair could be risky, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep up on the rest of your beauty regimen. Take a day to do your nails and put on a face mask.

You could make it a group activity with your family or roommates, drinking some cucumber water and watching a movie as you paint your nails. Or connect with friends over Zoom to make it a virtual day of pampering.

13. Attempt a new recipe

Maybe you’re at the level where ordering one of those meal boxes is a big enough cooking challenge. Or perhaps you’re ready to learn how to make French macarons. Either way, giving yourself a challenge in the kitchen can be a fun (and tasty) way to pass the time.

14. Collect your family recipes in a booklet

If you’re not up for learning new recipes, turn your focus to the old ones. Take this time to make your family’s favorites and write them down in a keepsake cookbook. Call family members to make sure you get the measurements right for Grandma’s famous lasagna or Dad’s perfect pancakes.

15. Organize your closet and your kitchen

Now’s the perfect time to rewatch “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” to get some inspiration. You can clean out your wardrobe, organize your cupboard, and even tackle the garage.

16. Write notes

Bring back the old-fashioned handwritten note! Write letters to family, friends, and even residents in retirement homes. If you have kids, make sure they help. Stickers and crayons make letter writing extra fun.

17. Do some creative writing

If you already have your pens and paper out, try writing a story. You could get creative with your own children’s book, start writing that memoir, or even just write a fun story about your favorite outdoor activity.

18. Learn to paint

Channel your inner Bob Ross. Make a self-portrait, paint a picture of your pets, or just work on making your best “happy trees.”

19. Organize Zoom game nights

By now, you’ve probably chatted on Zoom or FaceTime with friends and family. But have you used video streaming to play a game? You can use a social distancing–friendly party game like the Jackbox Party Pack, where you all play from your phones.

20. Make a must-do list for once we’re allowed back outside

It’s fun to have something to look forward to, especially during these tough times. While you’re stuck inside, make a list of all the things you want to see in your city once it’s safe to do so. Some things to put on your list: all your favorite restaurants, an old movie theater, unique workouts like rock climbing, etc.

21. Research your family tree

Take some time to dig in to your ancestry and build a family tree. Call your parents, grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles, and collect all the names they can remember. Be sure to ask about each relation and write down any silly stories your family members can remember about your, um, colorful relatives.

How To Show Your Home During the Pandemic: The Definitive Seller’s Guide to Virtual Tours and More

For home sellers in the era of the novel coronavirus, showing off your home to potential buyers may seem like an impossible task. As people practice social distancing to help stop the spread of COVID-19, most open houses are on hold, and in-person home showings are limited across the country.

But there are still ways to reach potential buyers and show your home in the best light—through virtual tours.

In the third part of our series, “Home Selling in the Age of the Coronavirus,” we highlight all the ways home sellers can give buyers an in-depth look at their property without actually opening their doors and risking the buyers’ health (or their own).

How virtual tours work

Virtual tours offer home buyers a remote, video-enabled walk-through of a property that will give them the sensation that they’re actually there—or at least darn close.

Real estate agents used virtual tours before COVID-19 as a unique marketing tool. Now, online tours are more important than ever, since they’re often the only easy way for buyers to check out a home without physically entering the property.

Virtual tours are recommended by the National Association of Realtors® as a way to avoid face-to-face contact while marketing homes during the coronavirus crisis.

“With the current shutdown, more and more home sellers are requesting that we offer buyers a virtual tour to help expedite the sale,” says Peggy Zabakolas, a real estate broker at Nest Seekers International in Bridgehampton, NY.

Real estate listing sites like realtor.com are featuring virtual tours on more and more listings. (Look for the virtual tour icon on the bottom of the listing page.)

Types of virtual tours

Virtual tours can be conducted in a variety of different ways, depending on time, technology, and budget.

Probably the least complicated is where sellers or real estate agents use their smartphone camera to record a video as they walk through the home, showing off each room.

A more interactive option is to livestream a one-on-one showing with the buyers. This will give them more control over where you are pointing the camera, via FaceTime or another video streaming app (“Could you take a peek inside that closet/outside that window?”).

Yet another option home sellers might consider is a virtual open house.

With gatherings of more than 10 people prohibited across most of the United States, real estate agents have been forced to cancel open houses. But many are using tools like FaceTime or Zoom to host live virtual open houses so they can show potential buyers around a home.

Buyers often enjoy seeing the “raw footage” that a virtual open house or showing can offer, as opposed to a professionally produced video, says Angela Hornburg, team leader at the Hornburg Real Estate Group in Dallas.

Buyers can also ask questions, which may help them to feel more secure that they can be fully informed about the property—or perhaps even allow them to make an offer on the spot.

What You Need To Know If You Inherit Real Estate

If you inherit a house, or any other kind of property, you may feel as if you’ve been thrown into the deep end of real estate ownership. Not only must you deal with the loss of a loved one, but you’ll also have to wade through the legal and financial repercussions of inheriting a home. While this isn’t a rare situation, being a real estate beneficiary has a lot of moving parts.

So, if you do find yourself in this position, you’ll need to take some specific steps. We spoke to experts who explained exactly what you’ll need to do if you inherit real estate.

Step 1: Meet with a probate attorney

When you learn that you have inherited a property, you should first meet with a probate attorney to determine who has assumed the various rights and responsibilities associated with the property. Doing so will help you assess the full picture of what you’ve inherited.

“Find out if there’s back taxes, liens, HOA dues, or other liabilities you’ll be assuming,” says Nate Smoyer, director of marketing at Avail. “Find out if there are any specific covenants regarding the property and its future use.”

Step 2: Hire a property inspector

Experts recommend treating inherited property as you would a real estate purchase. Before buying a house, you would have it inspected. You should do the same with a home you inherit.

“This usually costs between $400 [and] $600, but it could save you a lot of headache,” says Smoyer. “Oftentimes, a real estate agent can be a great source for finding a recommended inspector.”

Step 3: Find out what obligations, if any, are attached to the property

Ideally, the inherited property will be paid off, but that may not be the case. Real estate attorney Adam Gutin says that making yourself aware of any obligations on the property—including mortgage payments—is key.

“When a person inherits property, they are naturally going to want to know how much it is worth,” he says.

“However, the other question she should ask promptly is whether there are any ongoing or imminent obligations that need to be performed with respect to the property, such as payment of assessments or property taxes, or landlord-related obligations.”

In many cases, a family member or representative from the estate will have these answers. If they don’t, the person who inherited the property can hire professionals to help, for example, a real estate broker, property manager, or real estate attorney.

“If you inherit real estate that is subject to a mortgage, it really depends on the terms of the loan documents,” Gutin says.

“The first question is whether the death of the borrower triggers a default under the loan documents or a requirement for the loan to be immediately repaid. If the beneficiary wants to keep the property, then they need to consider whether they have the ability to pay off the loan or whether they have the credit to refinance the property.”

Step 4: Decide whether to sell or keep the property.

Once you have all of the information above, you’ll be ready to decide what to do with the inherited property.

“Determine the property’s current market value for both renting it and selling it,” Smoyer says. “Inheriting a property can give you a significant boost in building long-term wealth. It may be tempting to sell off, but consider the long-term cash-flow potentials if you were to rent it out. Talk through your options with a trusted local real estate agent.”

In most cases, experts say, people who inherit real estate ultimately opt to sell.

Terrence Freeman, an attorney with the South Florida firm Nason Yeager, says that’s because many beneficiaries don’t want to take the time and money to maintain the property.

“Most people who inherit property either aren’t local to the property, or don’t have the time, money, know-how, or desire to jump into real estate as a business, or to keep up a vacation home,” he says.

How do you know if you should sell the property or keep it as a rental?

Here are a list of factors to consider when deciding whether to sell or rent an inherited property.

  • Is your property located in a buyer’s market? If so, hold on to the property as a rental until the market improves, Smoyer advises. You might even consider renting the home out for the long run, because rentals can have significant value. You can use free rental calculators to help to determine whether keeping the property makes financial sense.
  • Is there growth potential? Do your research on the surrounding market, Smoyer says. “Does the property have appealing features, and is it in a location desired by renters?”
  • What level of involvement is realistic for you? Property managers have a lot of responsibilities, including maintaining the property and making sure that your tenant is happy. You’ll need to factor that into your decision.
  • “If you hire a manager to oversee the rental, you’ll likely end up paying so much money in management fees that it makes the investment not worth it,” Smoyer says.
  • Do you own any assets? Real estate can be a valuable asset, so keeping it for the long term might be worth it. Plus, if it comes down to it, you have the option to live in it (unlike stocks).
  • How much money can you make off a rental vs. selling? “While selling right away can be tempting, you should consider the long-term value of the property,” Smoyer says. Try to determine how much money you can make off monthly rent payments (minus expenses) over the time you want to keep the property. “Very often, you’ll find that you can make more money over time by renting the property out.”

What should you do if you inherited a property with other people?

In some cases, several people inherit a property jointly in a will. If this

happens, you’ll have three basic options. First, you can keep the property and own it together. Second, one person can buy the other(s) out and take full ownership. Finally, you can sell it and split the profits.

Usually, experts agree, the third option will prevail.

“Voluntary partnerships are complicated enough,” Bob Kaufman, a real estate attorney at Fischel Kahn, explains. “Partnerships imposed upon people through inheritance are even less likely to succeed.”

If you do decide to keep the property jointly, Gutin recommends putting an agreement in writing to clearly state each person’s respective obligations and rights to the property.

In the end, as in all real estate transactions, deciding what to do with inherited property requires a decent amount of time and careful consideration, in order to make sure that you make the right financial decision.