Monday, September 17, 2007

Quick Way to Find Out About Potential Bad Neighbors

I've just discovered a new tool for getting the real scoop on who lives in the neighborhood and what their neighbors think of them. The site?
and I have to admit it is not only useful but actually intriguing.

It runs on a simple concept: provide an online site where people can tell the truth (in detail if they wish) about their neighbors. Prospective buyers or sellers can log on to the web page and see what those in the neighborhood think.

Here is a sampling of some comments I found for areas near us but not actually on my street (thank goodness):

"Their dogs bark ALL NIGHT LONG! I don't know how THEY sleep through it...My kids get so tired during the day from lack of sleep at night"

Here is another rather curious comment:

" If you don't mind them looking in your windows and underneath a partially opened garage door, then you'll be fine. They're a mess of Granny Gangstas!"

And finally:
"This kid is not a happy camper and his mom lets him cry it out all...the...time. "

This might be one of the few areas on the web where you can get the real lowdown on your neighbors and find out what truly lurks behind their seemingly attractive walls. I don't know about you but I'd prefer to steer clear of barking dogs and snooping old ladies and find a house a bit farther down the block - or even on another street.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Creative Home Buying and Selling Techniques - Think WAY outside the box!

If you think I'm about to tell you to do the usual thing to sell your house, think again. I'm not. You can go to any website and get that info, the same info everyone else has. This site and this article will be focusing on ideas and techniques that are either cutting edge or not the "same old, same old". Feel free to write me, chime in, share your experiences, too. Together we can maximize the savings in one of our largest investments, our home - and minimize the costs.

Okay, now to today's article, listing the potential benefits and risks of various home sale techniques:

As of this writing, home sales are in a major slump in my area, a city hit by a combination of soaring property taxes which were unfortunately assessed just as the housing market took a dive. Foreclosures are at record highs and the For Sale signs are sprouting quicker than weeds. And, of course, no one is buying, not when interest rates aren't as attractive as they once were. Homeowners are getting panicky. I know this not just because I keep up with the local market (as a homeowner; I'm not an agent) but also because I go to Open Houses regularly and I've seen homes drop as much as 200K in one month. Yes, that's right - home prices are dropping quickly, almost in the blink of an eye.

This is that perfect storm situation for many homeowners, some of whom got shaky mortgages, had less than stellar credit and have barely managed to hang on to their homes once their zero interest or other mortgages converted into higher interest loans. Others have gotten job transfers and are stuck between one city and another, renting or buying another home but not able to sell the one they have. Ouch. Then there are the retired or senior citizens who always got by - until their property taxes soared as much as 100% or more in less than five years! Double ouch.

So what is a homeowner to do when faced with the reality of trying to sell a home in today's market? Get creative, very creative and start thinking WAY outside the box. Sure, you can do all the usual stuff: slap on a fresh coat of paint, add some landscaping, maximize curb appeal and clear out the clutter on the inside. But the sad reality is that isn't often enough because everyone else is doing the usual stuff too. Apples are competing with apples when you want your house to stand out from the bunch already out there.

Here's a personal example of creative buying and selling:

When we bought our current home, it was a down market too. The sellers had let the home sit on the market for nearly half a year and it was long past the point of being stale and overexposed to potential buyers. It was practically dead in the water.

When we walked in the door we had no problem seeing why. They hadn't addressed even the most minor of home maintenance issues (tiny cracks in the wall) and the home was filled to the brim with furniture and collectables. You literally couldn't see the lines of the home, the appeal, the 3500 sq feet of space just waiting to be grabbed -which we did for a bargain price.

Which brings me to my first point:
1. If you are trying to buy or sell a house, you may be better off going directly to the seller or buyer and avoid the agent ( but see the potential risks of this below) We did a "handshake deal", negotiating our offer right then and there and, luckily, our seller stuck to the price until we could get everything on paper. Unconventional? Maybe. But it worked and the seller was as relieved as we, the buyers, were.

Potential Benefit:
A lower price, since the seller isn't going to be paying an agent to tout the home and may be willing to negotiate. If you are selling a home, you want it sold by yesterday and if you are buying one, try to find a home that is acceptable to you but being sold by what those in the trade call a "motivated" seller (sometimes known as a desperate seller). Find that perfect price that both buyer and seller can live with.

Potential Risk: Real estate agents do have pull, contacts, experience and knowledge on their side. If they've been doing it a long time, they know other agents and they share information about possible clients, working out commissions and other factors. They also know the ins and outs of home inspections, deal makers and breakers and more.

2. Consider a home trade or barter
At this point, you may think I've really lost it. People share meals, they trade their work for small items, etc. But bartering homes? Huh?! But I'm not the first one to think of this. Sometimes family members trade homes with one another, working out an agreeable (and low) price to make up for differences. On our street, one family downsized and sold their home to their offspring. Worked out great for both.
In another instance, two unrelated families in New Jersey swapped homes on the same street, one family downsizing and the other moving from their three bedroom home to a larger one. (Real Estate, August 27). One family paid the other $150K to make up the difference in home value, contacted their lawyers, drew up the papers and the deal was done. So far, so good.

Potential Benefit: You get to stay in the neighborhood, may have been in the home many times, have gotten to see how well it has been maintained, perhaps on your daily walk (all those painters or landscapers you see outside the home every year).

Potential Risk: If you hate the home and regret your decision, you may end up mad at your neighbor. Sometimes it is better not to know the person who owns or trades a home. Don't be too trusting - or wary. Just make sure you do everything legally.

3. Don't overlook the possibility of Craig's list, local ads or even Ebay.
Yep, that's right - Ebay. If your home has a special feature, the benefits of getting it on a national site for relatively low prices is a major plus. If Frank Lloyd Wright designed the furniture or your home has a reputation for being special in some way or connected to a famous architect or once housed a noted author or politician, you have an edge. Even without these assets, you have the benefit of that extra exposure.

Potential benefit: National exposure and helping buyers and sellers reach people who might never know about the home. Again, if you've got special features like a historic home or one that was used for a particular movie, that may appeal to a certain buyer, even if he or she never sets foot in the home but buys it as an investment. It could happen.

Potential Risk: Buying a home sight unseen. Don't do it! If you are the seller, know your buyer.

4. Buy or sell the home that isn't officially listed for sale by checking out sites like Zillow, places where homeowners have "Make me Move" prices, some way overinflated and others right on the mark.

Potential Benefit:
Buyers can find a home that hasn't been listed and a seller who is willing to sell at a reasonable price.

Potential Risk: That part about the vastly overinflated prices, noted above? Know the comps (comparable prices) in the neighborhood.

5. Take a walk around the neighborhood and talk to the neighbors. Find out who is about to buy and/or sell and why. If you are a buyer, you can approach the "seller" and talk prices. They may not accept on the first go-round but if you leave your number, you might get a return call after their home sits awhile. If you are the seller, save the number of anyone who has expressed interest early on. You might need it.

Potential Benefit: Finding the home of your dreams before it hits the market or selling the house you are eager to unload before it sits on the market - or even officially gets there.

Potential Risk - Buying a home for more than it is worth or selling one for less than you could get. Know those comps!

So, there you have it. Five different ways to buy or sell a home by going beyond the norm. I do want to point out that these techniques may work better if you also clear out the clutter, slap that fresh coat of paint on your home and stage your home to look its best. The proven techniques do have their place. But you might not even have to get that far to have that home bought or sold.