Free Real Estate Tools to Help Your Search

When starting your new home search, especially if moving to a new city, you will want to make as informed decision as possible. As a Realtor®, my job is help you make the most informed decision possible. Here are some tools and tricks that I use to help in your transition:

Traffic Tools

Austin like most cities has a really bad traffic problem. Often, how long you are willing to commute will dictate what part of town you will focus your search.

Google Maps (Free, Publicly Available)

Google maps has a feature that will help you understand what your commute will look like at a certain time. Let’s say you are moving to Austin for a job at the Texas Capitol and have heard good things about Circle C Ranch. You can learn what commute to expect by clicking on the arrow next “Leave Now” and change it to “Depart At”.

Change “Leave Now” to “Depart At”
Now you can see what your commute will be like at a certain time like 8am on a Friday.
Then do the inverse for 5pm on a Friday. If you don’t want an hour commute, you may want to focus your search somewhere else.
If you want to keep your commute to 30 minutes, you may want to look at a neighborhood like Harris Branch. It is the nearly the same distance from the Capitol but on Friday at 5pm, your commute will be 20 to 30 minutes.

Inrix – Drive Time™ (Paid, Only Available to Realtors)

If a decent commute is a high priority for you, I can setup a search for you that will only show you results that are within your likely commute. For example, if you want to see what homes are available within a 30 minutes of the Texas Capital at 5pm, the Drive Time™ tool will only show you houses in that area.

All the available properties within a 30 minute drive home from the Texas Capital at 5pm.

Schools

Many of my clients have school aged children and focus their search by school instead of commute. Here are some useful tools to make an informed decision in your search.

Great Schools (Free -Public)

There are many school ratings websites to dig through, one in particular that I find useful is Greatschools.org/. Here you can search schools by ratings, test scores, or college readiness, and read reviews and school information.

Realtor Property Resource (Paid, Only Available to Realtors)

The National Association of Realtors has a really great tool called Realtor Property Resource or RPR. As a Realtor, I have access to this powerful tool and can do searches and put together a wealth of knowledge for you. If you would like an in-depth breakdown of schools that meet your criteria, let me know.

RPR Report

Successful Buyers in a Seller’s Market

Whether relocating from in town or from out of state, buyers are often surprised to find out just how strong and competitive the San Antonio housing market is. Maybe it’s because they have been watching too many HGTV real estate rehab shows that they think there are a ton of great listings out there, or maybe it’s because of the frequency with which national news outlets have reported on weaker real estate markets from around the country. Whatever the case may be, buying a great property in San Antonio isn’t as effortless a task as buyers seem to think.

Why is this the case? Well, in a word – inventory. According a San Antonio Board of Realtors’ February 2014 market report, we had just 4.1 months of inventory available in January of this year. That number probably doesn’t mean much to the average buyer, but to the real estate professional (realtors) that’s a pretty significant statistic given that anything under 6 months of inventory is considered a sellers’ market. The demand is strong, but the supply is not.

Another San Antonio trend helping to further the current seller’s market, is the disconnect between buyer and seller expectations. Generally speaking, San Antonio property owners tend to leave remodeling or updating their properties to the next guy. Their reasoning is ‘why should I risk putting more money into updating the place, when a buyer can remodel it to suite their own tastes.’ On the surface, that seems like a fairly reasonable idea. However, it’s not such great reasoning when you take into consideration the large number of buyers in San Antonio using FHA loans. Don’t get me wrong, FHA loans are great, they have enabled many people to buy homes who would have otherwise not been able to do so. However, if a buyer is using an FHA loan, 9 times out 10, it means they don’t have a lot of money for a down payment, and this means a large proportion of a property’s potential buyers cannot afford to buy a property and then remodel or update it afterwards.

So what’s a buyer to do? Well, as you prepare yourself to make offers on properties realize that the competition isn’t really between you and the seller, they have the upper hand at the moment. The competition is between you and other buyers. When inventory is low and the number of rehabbed or updated properties even lower, it’s not uncommon for the best looking properties to go under contract their first day on the market. So, buyers beware: if you want to compete with sellers, be prepared to lose; if you want to win, expect to move fast and be prepared to face your real competition – other buyers.

Commuting between San Antonio and Austin

Commuting between san antonio and austinCommuting between San Antonio and Austin is a common question from our clients. Can I live in Austin and work in San Antonio?  How long would it take me to get to work each day?  With the Texas Metro-plex exponentially growing each day, traffic and the I-35 corridor that connect San Antonio and Austin can prove to be daunting if you choose to commute from one city to the other.  Leaving SA takes at least 40minutes.  Once you get on I35 everything opens up  and is smooth all the way to downtown Austin, then it takes another 45 minutes  to get through downtown.  That is without calculating accidents, gas, and car maintenance.

If you are planning to spend a significant amount of time in either city, we recommend buying a home in New Braunfels, San Marcos, Kyle, or Buda.  These are charming cities that rest in between San Antonio and Austin.  They offer abundant amenities and are only a 30-45 minute commute to San Antonio and Austin.  These cities are known for their parks and recreation, live music, festivals, tubing down the clear rivers or sailing across the deep, blue lakes.  In addition, there is plenty of affordable housing, master-planned communities, and great schools.

Commuting between San Antonio and Austin would be a lot easier and less stressful if you lived in any of these great cities.  Texas Dream Realtors has agents that are experienced in all of these bordering cities, as well as, San Antonio and Austin.  Please contact us if you are considering moving to Central Texas and we would be delighted to provide you with more information.

Appraisal Myths and Realities consumers should be aware of

Appraisal Myths and Realities

The following are Appraisal Myths and Realities consumers should be aware of.

Myth #1:  The homeowner pays for the appraisal and therefore, owns the appraisal.

Reality:  If federal money is involved in the transaction – Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, HUD, VA, or other programs, – then by federal banking regulations, the lender must be the client of the appraiser.  The entity that orders the appraisal is the client, not the person delivering the appraisal fee for the client.

Myth #2:  If a homeowner has an appraisal done with one lender, they should be able to use the same appraisal report with a different lender.

Reality:  Other lenders cannot use the report for lending purposes until they establish the client/appraiser relationship.  The appraiser will need to get permission (a release) from the original client and any/all subsequent clients before reappraising the property for the new lender.  In addition, if the effective date of the appraisal has changed, the appraiser must research any new market conditions and update the existing appraisal report, which could mean drafting an entirely new appraisal.

Myth #3:  The homeowner put $10,000 in improvements into the home so the appraisal should be at least $10,000 higher.

Reality:  Example: If you could buy a box of Tide for $100 or buy a box of Tide for $10, which would you buy?  This is the same logic that can be applied in the marketplace.  When two homes in the same neighborhood are for sale and one under duress is selling for considerably less, the home that is listed higher is now overpriced for the market.  Once the house under duress sells at the lower price, the now becomes the market value for competing homes in the area.  Remember, appraisers use the principle of substitution by determining what other homes in the market area can be purchased for the same price.

Myth #4:  The licensing of an appraiser ensures his or her competency.

Reality:  Licensing does not necessarily ensure the competency of an appraiser.  The Fannie Mar and Freddie Mac Selling Guides require lenders to review the appraiser’s education and experience.

Myth #5:  Communication between an appraiser and a real estate agent is prohibited.

Realty:  Absolutely not.  The appraiser cannot talk about value of the property.  However, they can obtain factual information about the property from the real estate agent.

 

Are we heading toward an era of small brokerages in San Antonio?

are we heading toward an era of small brokeragesAre we heading toward an era of small brokerages in San Antonio?  Just recently the 2014 Swanepoel TRENDS Report noted that there is a trend moving away from the small mom and pop real estate brokerages and more agents are working for the large real estate firms across the country.  However, the New York Times posted an article on “The Ascent of the Little Guys” stating that the credibility of the smaller firms are growing in popularity due to the attention to agent training, customer service, and low agent-to-manager ratios.

While large real estate brokerages with thousands of agents still dominate the market, I can’t help but wonder whether the clout of the smaller firms is a question buyers and sellers should consider when choosing a real estate agent.  As consumers decide between a highly visible company with lots of agents and resources, they should also consider the idea of a smaller firm that caters to a niche market and to the client’s needs.  For example, downtown living, condo specialists, luxury lifestyles, etc.  In addition, smaller brokerages in San Antonio are more creative and nimble.  They can be more responsive and customer service oriented in a changing market.

“One of the main things that any small business — whether an independent bookstore, a corner toy store or a neighborhood hardware store — would have customers believe is that service is better and personal attention greater at a little firm. Whether that is true in real estate depends — because the company name may be ubiquitous, but the client’s relationship is usually with a single person.” –HILARY STOUT, New York Times

The owners of Texas Dream REALTORS do not hire any agent looking for a place to hang their license.  We have a small professional team that services our clients for sales, staging, photography, contract to close, listing management, marketing, quality control, make ready services, and technology.  We know that you are busy, work hard, fight traffic, and have a life.  Therefore, we come to you and proudly have a paperless company that makes our agents accessible and your transaction smooth and successful.

Buyers Are Liars. Fact or Fiction?

buyers are liars

Buyers are liars.  Fact or fiction?  In several sales professions, namely, car sales and real estate sales, you will hear sales people say that buyers are liars.  Normally, you would never hear me compare these two professions, but figuring out what a buyer really wants is something we have in common.

It is usually spoken by a resentful salesperson, as in, “Can you believe that guy? He told me he was going to show his wife, but, well, you know—once they walk out the door, they’re gone. Buyers are liars.”

Another scenario I hear about from more seasoned salespeople is that they have a pre-determined notion that the buyer is not telling them the truth.  “If the buyer says they want an open floor plan on a cul-de-sac, with a view, don’t believe it.  Buyers are liars.  One of those might be true, but the others they’ll compromise on.”

In my opinion, buyers mix their “must haves” with their “wish list” and it takes a true professional salesperson to determine what they can compromise on and what they cannot.  Many times buyers don’t know what they really want, they just saw it somewher and think they have to have it.

Salespeople hold a lot of power by virtue of expertise and this can be intimidating during the sales process.  Buyers need to feel like they are making an educated decision without being sold to.  Therefore, many buyers attempt to control the situation by limiting what they disclose to the salesperson.  They want to avoid getting screwed over, so they resort to what feels low-risk.

Buyers are liars.  However, usually it is the salesperson’s fault.  Taking the time to get to know the buyer’s lifestyle, personality, and how they make decisions is imperative to closing the sale.  Texas Dream REALTORS are trained to get to the point of mutual admission so that each party feels they are bringing something to the table in an effort to reach a common goal…homeownership.

What does a ‘Good Deal’ mean exactly?

What does a 'good deal' mean exactly

Often times I meet people who tell me they just want to get a good deal when buying or selling their home.  What does a ‘good deal’ mean exactly?  For a long time, I figured my clients just wanted to walk away with more money in their pockets.  However, after a recent trip to my hair salon, I realized that a good deal could mean different things to different people.

I told my hair stylist I wanted to remain blonde, but wanted to add golden and copper highlights for winter.  He said, “Okay.  What color is golden to you?”  I showed him a picture of a celebrity’s hair in a magazine that I thought would look nice and he said, “Honey, that’s not golden, that’s light brown with honey-colored highlights.”   I digress…

As I sat there with my head wrapped in foil, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I was not clear on what was most important to my client’s needs when they said they wanted a good deal.

What does a good deal mean exactly?  Does it mean you want to buy a home for less money than it’s worth?  Does it mean you want more upgrades?  Does it mean you want more closing costs or a lower interest rate?  Or does it mean you want a colonial, not a ranch style house?  Would a good deal mean closing in two months versus two weeks because the kids will be on spring break?  I could go on and on.

Since my salon experience, I am determined to dissect and investigate what a good deal means to each of my clients.  If I were to ask you what a good deal means to you when buying or selling your home, could you answer me?  Is your idea of a good deal different from your spouses?  Because what is golden to me, could be light brown with honey-colored highlights to you.

What Makes Your Home Hard to Show

What makes your home hard to sellSellers, here are some tips on what makes your home hard to show.  If you want to sell your home quickly, avoid these What Makes Your Home Hard to Show no-n0’s:

No-no #1)  Restricted showing hours.  Generally, buyers have a window of when they can go house shopping.  If you have restricted hours or need a lot of advanced notice, your home may drop off the list.  If a buyer’s agent cannot get access to your home, they cannot sell it.

No-no #2)  Combo lock boxes.  I hate combo lock boxes.  If a home has a combo lock box, it tells me several things.  One, the seller’s agent is not member of MLS or was too cheap to buy a real lock box.  Two, combo lock boxes are a royal pain in the you-know-what to get into.  And three, combo lock boxes get rusty and hard to get into over time.

No-no #3)  Smells.  Most buyers can get past messiness or some clutter.  No buyers can get past smells.  With cigarette and animal smells being the most obvious,  even good smells can be bad.  You could have the best floor plan in the neighborhood, but smells will make your home hard to show.  Get rid of the wall plug-ins and for goodness sake please no Febreze!

No-no #4)  Tell a story.  Why did you buy your home in the first place?  What is it about your home that you love so much?  Be sure to highlight those areas.  Buyers can’t see your awesome game room if there is laundry all over the pool table or can’t walk into the “walk-in closet”.

No-no#5)  Overall condition.  If your home needs many updates and a lot of TLC and has several large projects that are obviously waiting to be completed, there is a very good chance that your home will be hard to show, and ultimately sell.  Projects equal money and you could cost yourself more money off the sale price than the projects are worth.

Are you really a home buyer or are you just a contender?

 are you really a home buyer Are you really a home buyer or are you just a contender?  How do you know if you are a really a buyer or just a contender in today’s Austin market?  We get calls all the time of people wanting to see properties because they are “in the market to buy a home.”  My first response is usually, “How do you know you are a buyer?”

To be a true home buyer in the Austin market, you must meet the following criteria:

  1.  Stop looking for homes on bad websites.  Zillow, Trulia, and the 60+ alike are NOT ACURATE sources of information.  In fact, 14% of current Austin single family homes are not listed on these syndicated websites.  In addition, approximately 36% have outdated and/or incorrect information.  If you are a serious buyer, then you would not reduce your search to these tire-kicking websites.
  2. Get your finances in place.  I’m not talking about a pre-qualification letter.  I mean find a mortgage lender that will help you get comfortable with what your monthly payment is and prepare you to close on a home within 30 days from contract.  If you are a serious buyer, you would know exactly what your maximum price range is.
  3. Find a good Realtor®.  Most buyers don’t realize that there are real estate agents and there are Realtors®.  There is a difference.  Real estate agents are not members of their local and national associations, often do not have access to the Multiple Listing System, and most importantly, do not abide by the National Association of Realtors® Code of Ethics.  You are investing in one of the largest purchases in your lifetime.  A serious buyer invests in a Realtor® who is going to look after their best interests.
  4. Be prepared to make an offer on the first day of viewing homes.  The word on the street is correct.  Inventory of available homes in Austin have dropped right along with the weather. The homes your Realtor® is showing you are what are available within your criteria.  Currently, there is only 2.5 months of available homes for sale and homes stay on the market for an average of only 48 days.  A serious buyer is ready, willing, and able to take a home off the market.
  5. Increase your chances in a multiple offer situation.  Believe that other buyers want the same house you want.  This is not the time to low-ball.  This type of seller’s market changes the way you make offers on a home.  If you are a contender, you make an offer on a home and wait for the counter offer.  If you are a serious buyer, you compete for a home with your offer.  This includes whatever is left of short sales and foreclosures.

At Texas Dream REALTORS® we qualify our clients according to these criteria before beginning the buying process.  Why?  Because we are in the business to help our clients buy and sell their home.  We know what is involved in the buying process and set the right expectations up front.  This ensures that our clients get the home they want and the transaction goes as smoothly and our clients are happy.

“I recently purchased my home in Austin, TX through Kelea Piper at Texas Dream Realtors. I was a first time home buyer and very unsure of what to expect. I had the most amazing experience with Kelea and TDR! Everything about the process was smooth and seamless- from the beginning of the showing/selection experience to the full closing process. I always felt that Kelea had my best interests in mind and went above and beyond. Kelea is extremely knowledgeable, helpful, and professional every step of the way. I had a TON of questions since it was my first home and she made me feel very comfortable and fully educated. I highly recommend Kelea and Texas Dream Realtors to anyone looking for a top quality home buying experience. Whether it is your first home or your 5th, Kelea fully delivers on expectations plus rises above them consistently! Thank you for helping me find my dream home in Austin!”

Christina Onori, Austin Tx

Are Popcorn Ceilings a Deal Breaker? Don’t let popcorn ceilings ruin your home search.

are popcorn ceilings a deal breaker

What’s the big deal about popcorn ceilings?  Most comments I hear are:

  • “They’re dated.”
  • “They are hard to paint over.”
  • “They are dust catchers.”
  • “They are just plain ugly.”

Are popcorn ceilings a deal breaker to you?  Don’t let popcorn ceilings be a deal breaker in your next home search.  Instead of breaking the bank to try to remove popcorn ceilings, or crossing it off your list, here are a few ways to lessen their visual appearance.

#1.  Change the lighting.  Usually, people who hate their popcorn ceilings have lighting that shines upward toward the ceiling.  These are light fixtures that are flush mounted to the ceiling and cast a lot of shadows.  A better option is to change your fixtures to directional fixtures that point down instead of out.

#2.  Choose bulbs that cast a softer light or use table lamps or sconces that give a more dramatic effect to the eye.

#3.  Paint.  We’ve all seen stains and dirt on ceilings and popcorn ceilings do not hide it well.  The only way to lessen the effect of popcorn ceilings is a fresh coat of white paint.  (Of course, you will want to address why the stain was there in the first place too).  Some people ask if it is ok to paint a different color other than white.  My answer is no, however, I’m sure after you get over the initial shock painting a different color, it will be just fine.

#4.  Stop looking at them!  More often than not, you do not remember the ceilings of the last few homes you were in.  Most people only remember dirty or stained ceilings, so if you take the right steps, your ceilings are a non-issue.  Make an effort to point attention to furnishings and other exciting things in your home than your ceilings.