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Aug. 17, 2018

7 Things You Didn't Know About Radon

You found the right home. It’s the right size, energy efficient, in a great neighborhood and within your budget. You wonder to yourself, “why is this home still on the market?” Then you read the disclosures. Your perfect spot has a serious radon problem.

Hold up, not a big deal!

Radon and You: 7 Things to Know

Radon is a reasonably common problem in homes, especially in Montana, so if you come across a house that you absolutely adore, you’re not even remotely out of luck. Instead, you may reap the benefits of someone else’s lack of information about the gas. Here are seven things to know if you’re considering a home with a radon problem, or high levels as we usually call it:

Radon is a radioactive gas. You can’t smell it, see it or taste it, but it’s believed to be the second leading cause of lung cancer anyway. Of course, it doesn’t go straight to cancer right away, but long term exposure over time will increase the likelihood of lung cancer in the home’s occupants if it’s left alone.

Testing for radon is very simple. Most buyers choose a continuous test for radon levels in a building. Most home inspectors offer a radon test as an add-on service.  It usually takes about 48 hours to do the testing, and results are often available right away.

Radon is everywhere. Radon occurs naturally in the environment as a result of the breakdown of radioactive elements, such as uranium. Because of that, it’s literally everywhere, but typically in very small amounts. It doesn’t become a problem until you’re exposed to high concentrations of the gas.

Smokers are at higher risk of radon-related lung cancer. A 4pCi/L, the level at which radon mitigation is typically recommended, non-smokers have about the same risk of cancer as they do of dying in a car crash, that’s about 7 in 1,000 people. Smokers, on the other hand, are at a risk five times that of dying in a wreck and 62 out of 1,000 may develop lung cancer.

You can mitigate radon in any home.

With not a terrible amount of effort, any home can be mitigated. One in 15 homes has an unacceptably high radon level throughout the country, with homes in our area usually seeing much higher incidences since we are in a cold climate and keep our homes closed up longer than those in milder climates. 

Note to home buyers: this is one of those things you include in your home inspection contingency period.  

DIY is possible for radon control, but not recommended. Only attempt it if you’re intimately familiar with your home’s construction methods, radon gas and sampling procedures. A bad DIY radon job isn’t like a bad paint job — incorrect processes can result in higher radon levels than before.

Just because radon is everywhere doesn’t mean you have to live with it. Radon mitigation systems are very good at removing large amounts of radon from any home. Most work by literally sucking the radon right out of the crawlspace or from underneath a poured concrete slab like what you’d find in a basement. The systems are fairly simple and quite easy to install.

Slabs must be sealed and barriers installed in crawl spaces to ensure that the radon has no place to go but up and out the vacuum system. Once released into the air above your home, it’s no longer a threat and you can breathe deeply once again.

If you need a radon vacuum system, make sure yours comes with a continuous monitoring system as well (also pretty standard).  Since levels vary throughout the year, this is a good investment in your future.

Want more info? 

Just let us know, we have more to share on acceptable levels, cost of systems...whatever you need.  

 

Like this article?  Check out our Buyer Intelligence section of the blog for more info on getting ready to buy with us!

June 6, 2018

Top 12 Apps for Homeowners & Renters

                                                                                                                                                           

More than 77 percent of people own a smartphone.1 The average person checks their smartphone 46 times a day, with people under the age of 24 checking it an average of 74 times a day.1 We check it while we’re waiting in line and during our leisure time, whether we’re scrolling through social media, reading emails or getting up-to-date on the latest news.

Aaack!  With so many choices, it can be tough to be productive. 

Smartphones are not only a useful tool for communication. With the following apps, you can get organized (whether you plan to buy or sell), save money, learn about the homes in your neighborhood and get inspired for your next renovation project. If you’re like 81 percent of people, you have your smartphone with you during most of your waking hours; let it help you stay organized and make your life easier.3

 

Apps For Homeowners: Get Renovation Inspiration

These apps not only offer ideas for your next remodel or home décor project, some of them even give you a preview of what your home may look like once it’s finished.

 

1.) Houzz (Free)

The Houzz app is the number one app for home design and it’s no wonder; the app gives you access to all the inspiration, blogs and design ideas from the Houzz site on your phone or tablet. The app features View in My Room 3D, which allows you to view products in your home before you buy. Just take a photo of the space and a 3D version of the product will appear. Browse products, save photos of designs you’d like to view later and connect with local professionals in your area. Whether you’re gathering ideas for your next renovation and décor project or you’re just browsing, the Houzz app will satisfy all your design needs.

(Android, iOS)

 

2.) iHandy Carpenter ($1.99)

Make sure the photos, shelves, mirrors and other artwork you hang are even and aligned with this helpful app. It’s an all-in-one tool kit that features a plumb bob, surface level, bubble level bar, ruler and protractor. No need to purchase these tools separately; just hold your smartphone up to the wall and the app will take care of the rest.

(iOS, Android)

 

3.) Color911 ($3.99)

If you’re thinking of changing the color scheme of your home or want to find the right shades for lamp shades, rugs or throw pillows to match your vintage sofa, the Color911 app provides pre-selected color palettes to match any color scheme. Take a photo of the room or the furniture and the app will create a custom palette full of complementary colors. Write notes about your palette and organize it all into folders to share with family, friends or your design professional.

(iOS)

 P.S.  We do color consulting for our client!

Bonus Apps for Homeowners:

AroundMe (Free)

Hungry and looking for a local hotspot? Meeting friends at a coffee shop nearby? Or just need to find the closest ATM? AroundMe allows you to search for the nearest restaurants, banks, gas stations, book a hotel or find a movie schedule close to where you live. Open the app and start learning more about your neighborhood. (iOS, Android, Windows)

 

BrightNest (Free)

From keeping things clean to making them colorful, Brightnest, developed by Angie’s List, is loaded with suggestions on how to make your home a better place to live. With categories of customized tips (money-saving, cleaning, eco-friendly, healthy, cooking, and creative) there are plenty of great ways to pull inspiration from the app. BrightNest will help you tackle important home tasks with easy-to-follow instructions, a personal schedule and helpful reminders. (iOS, Android, Web)

 

Apps For Sellers: List & Sell Your Home Quickly

Are you a homeowner who is thinking of selling? If you’re preparing to sell, you know there are a lot of tasks to complete before putting your home on the market. These apps help you manage your to-dos so you can list and sell your home more efficiently with fewer distractions.

 

4.) Homesnap (Free)

Using the Homesnap app, you can snap a photo of any home, nationwide, to learn more about it. When you’re ready to sell, snap a few of the homes in your neighborhood to find out their valuation. This app isn’t perfect, which is why you should always consult with a local real estate agent. However, it can give you a general idea of the value of your home compared to others in the neighborhood. (iOS and Android devices)

 

5.) Docusign (Free)

Use the DocuSign app to complete approvals and agreements in hours—not days—from anywhere and on any device. Quickly and securely access and sign any documents. The benefit to using the app (over your desktop computer) is you will receive push notifications when a document is waiting for your signature and you can view and organize all your docs on-the-go. Using the easily downloadable app, receive and sign documents for free. You can receive and sign documents for free, but will need a paid account to send documents; pricing starts at $10 a month. (iOS, Android, Windows, Web).

(We use the pro version for our transaction managment and looove it!) 

6.) Wunderlist (Free)

Designed for use on the Web and mobile devices, Wunderlist is a well-designed to-do list and task management program that makes it easy to create a list and add tasks, due dates and reminders. Organize your ideas or focus into separate lists or create tasks within one list. You can also email them with whomever you collaborate, such as a spouse or your real estate agent. (Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Web)

 

Bonus App for Sellers:

Real Estate Dictionary (Free)

Not sure what all those industry specific terms mean? Search thousands of words and phrases from real estate, mortgage, and financial dictionaries for clear, in-depth definitions. This is a handy app for anyone who’s buying or selling and wants to learn more about the process. (iOS, Android)

 

Apps For Renters: Get Ready to Buy

Not ready to buy a home just yet? These apps will help you get into the perfect rental while you save money, build a budget and get on track for homeownership.

 

7.) Mint (Free)

Do you know where your money goes each month? Manage your bills, budget and credit score all in one place. Mint is a free app that helps you view your complete financial picture and track your spending. We recommend this app to anyone, but it’s especially useful for renters who need to crack down on their spending in order to save for a down payment. Use Mint to look for areas you can cut spending in order to save a little extra each month. (iOS, Android)

 

8.) Acorns ($1 a month to start)

Acorns is modernizing the practice of saving loose change with their automated savings tool. The app rounds up your purchases on linked credit or debit cards, then sweeps the change into a computer-managed investment portfolio. Acorns is free for four years for college students and everyone else pays $1 a month until their account balance hits $5,000, then 0.25% of their account balance per year. This is a useful tool for those who have a hard time saving. (iOS, Android)

 

9.) Neighborhoods & Apartments

Built for the on-the-go apartment hunter, this app from Walk Score takes the hassle out of finding your next home or apartment and helps you live near the people and places you love. They collect listings from top rental listing sites and we like them because they share how walkable each address is, determined by access to public transit, things to do, bike trails, shorter commutes, etc. (iOS, Android)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonus Apps for Renters:

 

Wally (Free)

Wally is a personal finance app that helps you compare your income to expenses, so you can understand where your money goes each month, and set and achieve goals. Wally lets you keep track of the details as you spend money: where, when, what, why, & how much. We love how simple it is to set a personalized savings target and scan receipts. (iOS, Android)

 

Credit Karma (Free)
If you’re preparing to buy, boosting your credit score is likely a goal you’ve set. Credit Karma is a free app that allows you to safely monitor your score and receive updates on ways you can improve it over time. They provide financial calculators and educational articles to help you better understand what credit is all about. Check as often as you want, and it doesn’t hurt your score.  (iOS, Android, Web)

 

Apps for Buyers: Find the Perfect Home

When you’re ready to buy, there are several apps that can help you stay on top of the process. Whether you’re browsing online at different neighborhoods and homes and can’t seem to remember where all your saved data and information went or you want to save an important task or a neighborhood or listing clipped from the Web, these apps help you keep it all straight.

 

10.) Dwellr (Free)

Dwellr is run by the U.S Census Bureau and provides demographic information about the neighborhoods you are considering moving to. You get a variety of education/school, real estate, transportation, and population statistics to give you an idea of what it would be like living there. If you want to get the feel of a potential neighborhood, then Dwellr may just be the app to help you find the best home.  (iOS, Android)

 

11.) Evernote (Free for the Basic version, $34.99 per year for Plus and $69.99 per year for Premium)

Collect ideas, notes and images in one place to access later on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Categorize your notes so you can find them quickly and easily and share them with others in a group notebook. Add the Web Clipper feature to your browser and clip and save articles, blogs and images from the Web. Whether you’re collecting research on a business idea or you’re looking for inspiration for a home renovation, Evernote can help you keep it all together. (Web, iOS, Android)

 

12.) Mortgage Calculator (Free)

There are a lot of free mortgage calculators available for download that will help you quickly determine what your monthly payment will be while you’re house hunting. We recommend picking your favorite and using it to help you shop in your price range. These numbers should be used as a guide, work with your agent and mortgage professional to learn exactly what type of loan you’ll qualify for. (Web, iOS, Android)

 

Bonus App for Buyers:

 

Google Maps (Free)

Google Maps is a must-have for anyone who’s house hunting. When you’re ready to visit a property or check out a neighborhood, you can use Google Maps to give you turn by turn directions to the house. You can use their satellite view to get a good idea how far important things like schools, parks, shopping, bus stops, and restaurants are to a home you are interested in and check out the other houses on the street. (Web, Android, iOS,)

 

Ready to move beyond the app?

If you’re thinking of buying or selling your home, or know someone who is, please keep us in mind because we’d love to help!

 

Here are some more posts in our Buyer Intelligence and Seller Intelligence blog categories.

First time buyer?  Get your goodness here.

 

Source: 1. Pew Research Center, January 12, 2017 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/12/evolution-of-technology/

           2. Deloitte, 2016 global mobile consumer survey: US edition https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/global-mobile-consumer-survey-us-edition.html

3. Gallup, July 9, 2015 http://www.gallup.com/poll/184046/smartphone-owners-check-phone-least-hourly.aspx

 

 

 

May 14, 2018

10 Staging Secrets for a Quick Home Sale at Top Dollar

 


According to the National Association of Realtors, staging a home prior to listing it can result in a faster and more profitable sale.1 In fact, the Real Estate Staging Association estimates that professionally staged properties spend 73 percent less time on the market, receive more foot traffic, and typically sell for more money.2

Well, hello there!

 
Source: National Association of Realtors


Following are 10 tips you can use to get your home “show ready” prior to hitting the market. These easy and cost-effective ideas will help your house look its best—and help buyers visualize themselves living there. Even if you’re not currently in the market to sell, you can use these tactics to breathe new life into your existing home decor.

To get a plan customized for your particular property, give us a call to schedule a free consultation. We’d be happy to share our insider knowledge of the buyer preferences in your neighborhood … so you’ll know where to focus your time, money and energy to maximize your results.


1. REMOVE CLUTTER

Decluttering is typically the first thing we tell clients to do to prepare their home for sale. And according to the National Association of Realtors, a whopping 93 percent of agents agree.1 Decluttering is the act of removing excess “stuff” from your home to make it appear clean and spacious.

Overflowing closets and cluttered countertops can make your house feel small and cramped. In contrast, sparsely-filled closets and clear countertops will make your home appear larger and assure buyers that there will be plenty of room to store their belongings.

Don’t neglect drawers, cupboards and even your refrigerator in your decluttering efforts. Serious buyers will check out every nook and cranny of your home, so pack up anything you don’t use on a daily basis and store it off site. The same goes for jewelry, sensitive documents, prescription medication, firearms and other items of value. Store them in a locked safe or storage unit before opening your property to buyers.

Make sure any items that remain are clean, tidy and well organized. The good news is, when it comes time to move, a large portion of your packing will be done!

 

2. DEEP CLEAN AND DEODORIZE

From carpets to bathrooms to appliances, having a clean home is a MUST. If you’ve ever checked into a dirty hotel room, you can imagine how buyers can be turned off by a home that hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned.

If you have a large home, or are short on time, you may want to invest in a professional cleaning service. And if you have carpet, we generally recommend you rent a steam cleaner or hire a company to clean your carpets for you.

In addition to cleaning, it’s equally important to neutralize odors in your home that can be off-putting to buyers, especially pet smells and cigarette smoke. If the weather allows, open your windows and let in fresh air. Empty the trash frequently, and especially before a showing. Avoid cooking any strong-smelling food such as fish or heavy spices. You may need to clean (or remove) drapes and upholstery if odors are particularly strong.

Try to keep your home in clean, show-ready condition while it’s on the market. You never know when a potential buyer will want to drop by for a viewing.


3. DEPERSONALIZE

I know this is a popular catchword these days.  Your family photos and personal mementos are often your most treasured possessions. For many of us, they are what make a house a home. However, buyers will have a hard time envisioning themselves living in a place if it feels like YOUR home.

Pack up any items that are personal to you and your family, such as photos, books, children’s artwork, travel souvenirs and religious items. Collectibles and excessive knickknacks can be distracting to buyers. Instead, keep your decor items minimal and generic to appeal to the largest number of buyers.


4. NEUTRALIZE YOUR COLOR PALETTE

Along those same lines, bold color choices may not appeal to all buyers. By incorporating a neutral color palette throughout your home, buyers can better visualize the addition of their own furniture and decor, which may contrast with your current color scheme.

But don’t limit yourself to white and beige. Incorporating earth tones and midtone neutrals—like mocha and “greige” (grey-beige)—can add a touch of modern sophistication to your decor.3

 

One of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to neutralize your home’s decor is with paint. Walls painted in dark, bold or bright colors can turn off buyers. A fresh coat of paint in a neutral color like greige (try Benjamin Moore’s Revere Pewter) or warm white (such as Kelly-Moore’s Rotunda White) offers a clean palette upon which buyers can visualize adding their own personal touches.4  We can also help with oversized color swatches and color advice.

If your sofa is worn, stained or has a bold pattern, consider purchasing a neutral-colored slipcover. Dated or overly busy window coverings should be taken down or replaced. Instead, bring in tasteful pops of color with throw pillows and accessories.


5. INCREASE YOUR CURB APPEAL

You only get one chance to make a first impression. According to a 2017 report by the National Association of Realtors, 44 percent of home buyers drove by a property after viewing it online but did NOT go inside for a walkthrough.5 That means if your curb appeal is lacking, buyers may never make it through the door.

Walk around your home and look for any neglected areas that might seem like “red flags” to buyers, such as missing roof shingles or rotted siding. Trim trees and shrubs if needed, and make sure your lawn and flower beds are well maintained. Add some colorful flowers to your front beds and/or flower boxes to brighten up your landscaping.

Make sure the exterior of your home is as clean as the interior. This can often be accomplished with a simple garden hose. But if your siding, walkway, or driveway are stained or dingy, you may want to rent a pressure washer.

Thoroughly wash windows and screens, and remove and store dark solar screens if you have them. Open shutters, curtains and blinds, which will not only make your house look more inviting from the outside, it will brighten the inside.

Consider a fresh coat of paint on your front door, trim and shutters. And small, cosmetic improvements like new house numbers, a colorful wreath and a clean front doormat can have a big impact.6


6. FRESHEN KITCHENS AND BATHS

Kitchens and bathrooms will show better and appear larger if all items are cleared from the countertops, except for one or two decorative pieces.7 You should have already packed up non-essentials during your decluttering process, and the remaining items should be neatly stored in pantries and cupboards.

If your cabinets are dingy or outdated, adding a fresh coat of paint and new hardware is an easy and inexpensive way to make them modern and bright. Consider purchasing new shower curtains, bath mats and towels for the bathrooms and new dish towels for the kitchen.

Before each showing, make sure kitchens and baths are spotless and trash cans are empty and out of sight. To add a comforting aroma, try baking cookies, or in the fall, simmer some cinnamon sticks and cloves in a pot of water before you leave the house. In the spring, try a vase of fresh cut lilacs.7


7. SET THE TABLE

Buyers often imagine hosting family gatherings in their new home, and the dining room plays a large role in that vision. If your dining room chairs are stained or outdated, you may want to recover them or use slipcovers. In most cases, an imperfect table can be camouflaged with a neutral and stylish tablecloth.

Be sure the table is centered underneath the chandelier and on the area rug if you’re using one. If your dining room is small, remove all other furniture and leave only four chairs.8

Dress up the table using nice tableware and cloth napkins or a table runner and centerpiece. For a long table, try lining up a series of small vessels down the middle.


8. REARRANGE FURNITURE

Start in your living room and think about what you want to emphasize (and de-emphasize) about the space. For example, do you have a beautiful fireplace or a stunning view? If so, arrange the furniture with that focal point in mind. Use a symmetrical seating arrangement to create a cozy conversation area adjacent to the focal point.

If the room is small, consider removing some of the furniture to make it feel larger, especially oversized pieces. That includes oversized television sets, unless it’s a designated media room. Pulling furniture away from the wall can make the room feel more spacious, and placing your largest furniture piece in the far-left corner (as opposed to near the entry) can create the illusion of a larger space.9

For small bedrooms, remove all the furniture except the bed, bedside tables and a dresser. If it’s a large room, add one or two chairs and a table to create a seating area. Place lamps on the bedside tables and seating area if you have one.10

Make sure each space in your home has a clearly defined purpose. For example, if you’ve been using an extra bedroom as a catch-all storage space, stage it as a guest room or office instead. Turn an awkward alcove into a workstation or a reading corner. Help buyers imagine how they could use the space themselves.3


9. LIGHTEN UP

Lighting can have a drastic impact on the look and feel of a home. Few buyers seek out a dark house; most prefer one that’s light and bright. Make sure windows are clean, and open curtains and blinds to let in the maximum amount of daylight.

Each room should have three types of lighting: ambient (general or overhead), task (such as a reading lamp or under-cabinet light), and accent (such as a floor or table lamp). Aim for a goal of 100 total watts per 50 square feet.11 If your mounted light fixtures are dated, replacing them with something more modern is an easy and inexpensive upgrade that can have a big impact.

Strategically placed landscape lighting can add a dramatic effect to your home’s exterior. Welcome evening visitors with a lighted walkway, or use a spotlight to accentuate trees or other landscaping features. Solar lights require no wiring; simply place them in a sunny spot and they will turn on automatically at dusk.


10. HIGHLIGHT YOUR BACKYARD’S BEST FEATURES

While your home’s interior often takes center stage, don’t forget about staging your home’s outdoor areas to help buyers imagine how they could utilize the space.

Even a small patio can become a selling feature with the addition of a cafe table and chairs. Add a tray of plates and coffee cups to help buyers envision a peaceful breakfast on the back porch. Place chairs and wine glasses around an outdoor firepit or hang a hammock with a book in your favorite shady spot.3 These small, simple additions can help buyers visualize the possibilities your backyard has to offer.


BEFORE YOU GET STARTED

If you’re in the market to sell your home, this list provides a great starting point for your preparations. But nothing beats the trained eye and expertise of a real estate agent. Before you do any work, we recommend consulting a professional for advice about your particular property.

We offer free, no-commitment seller consultations and will walk through your home with you to help you assess which projects and upgrades are worth your time and money, and which ones you can skip.

As local market experts, we are intimately familiar with buyer preferences in your area. We’ll run a comparative market analysis to find out how your home compares to others currently on the market, as well as those that have recently sold. Then we’ll tailor a custom plan to suit your particular property, budget and needs.

Please call or email us today with questions or to schedule a free consultation!  Check our our dedicated Facebook Page for staging here!

 

Sources:

1. National Association of Realtors –
https://www.nar.realtor/sites/default/files/migration_files/reports/2017/2017-profile-of-home-staging-07-06-2017.pdf
2. Real Estate Staging Association –
http://www.realestatestagingassociation.com/content.aspx?page_id=22&club_id=304550&module_id=164548
3. Houzz –
https://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/2661221/list/sell-your-home-fast-21-staging-tips
4. HGTV –
https://www.hgtv.com/design/outdoor-design/landscaping-and-hardscaping/10-curb-appeal-tips-from-the-pros-pictures
5. National Association of Realtors –
https://www.nar.realtor/sites/default/files/reports/2017/2017-home-buyer-and-seller-generational-trends-03-07-2017.pdf
6. The Spruce –
https://www.thespruce.com/must-try-neutral-paint-colors-797983
7. HouseLogic –
https://www.houselogic.com/sell/preparing-your-home-to-sell/home-staging-checklist/
8. StageMyOwnHome.com –
http://www.stagemyownhome.com/staging-the-dining-room.html
9. Realtor.com –
https://www.realtor.com/advice/sell/small-living-room-staging-tricks/
10. SFGATE –
http://homeguides.sfgate.com/stage-master-bedroom-34573.html
11. HGTV –
https://www.hgtv.com/shows/designed-to-sell/15-secrets-of-home-staging-pictures

 

April 13, 2018

HOUSE CARE CALENDAR: A Seasonal Guide to Maintaining Your Home

 

It seems each season offers many perfect excuses to put off our to-do list. But be careful, homeowners: neglecting your home’s maintenance could put your personal safety—and one of your largest financial investments—at serious risk.  If you are thinking of selling your current home in the next five years, read on: 

In no time at all, small problems can lead to extensive and expensive repairs. And even if you avoid a catastrophe and address it immediately, those minor issues can still have a big impact. Properties that are not well maintained can lose 10 percent (or more) of their appraised value.1


The good news is, by dedicating just a few hours each season (note I did not say week or month) to properly maintaining your home, you can ensure a safe and hopefully financially valuable investment for you and your family ... and actually increase the value of your home by one percent annually!1 You just need to know where and how to spend your time.

Use the following checklist as a guide to maintaining your home and lawn throughout the year.
 

 

 Spring

 

After a long, cold winter, many of us look forward to a fresh start in the spring. Wash away the winter grime, open the windows, and prepare your home for warmer weather and backyard barbecues.

 

Inside

 

?     Conduct Annual Spring Cleaning
Be sure to tackle those areas that may have gone neglected—such as your blinds, baseboards and fan blades—as well as appliances, including your refrigerator, dishwasher, oven and range hood. Clear out clutter and clothes you no longer wear, and toss old and expired food and medications.

 

?     Shut Down Heating System (not quite yet in Montana, but hopefully soon)
Depending on the type of heating system you have, you may need to shut your system down when not in use. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for proper procedures.

 

?     Tune Up A/C (again, not as common here as other regions, but some of you have it)
If your home has central air conditioning, schedule an annual tune-up with your HVAC technician. If you have a portable or window unit, be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper maintenance.2

 

?     Check Plumbing
It’s a good idea to periodically check your plumbing to spot any leaks or maintenance issues. Look for evidence of leaks—such as water stains on the ceiling—and check for dripping faucets or running toilets that need to be addressed. Inspect your hot water heater for sediment build up. Check your sump pump (if you have one) to ensure it’s working properly.3

 

?     Inspect Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
Check that your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are functioning properly. Batteries should be replaced every six months, so change them now and again in the fall. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to test your individual devices. I like to replace them each time we have daylight savings, as it's easy to remember. And even properly functioning devices should be replaced at least every 10 years, or per the manufacturer’s recommendation.4

 

Outside

 

?     Inspect Perimeter of Home
Walk around your house and look for any signs of damage or wear and tear that should be addressed. Are there cracks in the foundation? Peeling paint? Loose or missing roof shingles? Make a plan to make needed repairs yourself or hire a contractor.

 

?     Clean Home’s Exterior
Wash windows and clean and replace screens if they were removed during the winter months. For the home’s facade, it’s generally advisable to use the gentlest method that is effective. A simple garden hose will work in most cases.5

 

?     Clean Gutters and Downspouts
Gutters and downspouts should be cleaned at least twice a year. Neglected gutters can cause water damage to a home, so make sure yours are clean and free of debris. If your gutters have screens, you may be able to decrease the frequency of cleanings, but they should still be checked periodically.6

 

?     Rake Leaves
Gently rake your lawn to remove leaves and debris. Too many leaves can cause an excessive layer of thatch, which can damage the roots of your lawn. They can also harbor disease-causing organisms and insects.7 However, take care because overly vigorous raking can damage new grass shoots.

?     Seed or Sod Lawn
If you have bare spots, spring is a good time to seed or lay new sod so you can enjoy a beautiful lawn throughout the remainder of the year. The peak summer heat can be too harsh for a new lawn. If you miss this window, early fall is another good time to plant (meaning September in Montana).8

?     Plant Flowers

After a long winter, planting spring perennials is a great way to brighten up your garden. It’s also a good time to prune existing flowers and shrubs and remove and compost any dead plants.

?     Mulch Beds
A layer of fresh mulch helps to suppress weeds, retain moisture and moderate soil temperature. However, be sure to strip away old mulch at least every three years to prevent excessive buildup.9

?     Tune Up Lawn Mower
Send your lawn mower out for a professional tune-up and to have the blades sharpened before the mowing season starts.10

?     Inspect Sprinkler System
If you have a sprinkler system, check that it’s working properly and make repairs as needed.

 

?     Check the Deck
If you have a deck or patio, inspect it for signs of damage or deterioration that may have occurred over the winter. Then clean it thoroughly and apply a fresh coat of stain if needed.

 

 

Summer

 

Summer is generally the time to relax and enjoy your home, but a little time devoted to maintenance will help ensure it looks great and runs efficiently throughout the season.

 

Inside

 

?     Adjust Ceiling Fans
Make sure they are set to run counter-clockwise in the summer to push air down and create a cooling breeze. Utilizing fans instead of your air conditioner, when possible, will help minimize your utility bills.  If you put a garbage bag around each blade while you clean, it will keep the dust from falling.

 

?     Clear Dryer Vent
Help cut down on summer utility bills by cleaning your laundry dryer vent at least once a year. Not only will it help cut down on drying times, a neglected dryer poses a serious fire hazard.  A vent cleaner or chimney sweep can usually provide this service.

 

?     Check Weather Stripping
If you’re running your air conditioner in the summer, you’ll want to keep the cold air inside and hot air outside. Check weather stripping around doors and windows to ensure a good seal.

 

Outside

 

?     Mow Lawn Regularly
Your lawn will probably need regular mowing in the summer. Adjust your mower height to the highest setting (please), as taller grass helps shade the soil to prevent drought and weeds. Or better yet, ask me for info on no-mow meadow seed blends or plugs to change your lawn over to never mow!

 

?     Water Early in the Morning (important in our dry heat)
Ensure your lawn and garden get plenty of water during the hot summer months. Experts generally recommend watering in the early morning to minimize evaporation, but be mindful of any watering restrictions in your area, which may limit the time and/or days you are allowed to water.

 

?     Weed Weekly (OK, this is a stretch even for me)
To prevent weeds from taking over your garden and ruining your home’s valuable curb appeal, make a habit of pulling weeds at least once per week.

 

Fall

 

Fall ushers in another busy season of home maintenance as you prepare your home for the winter weather ahead.

 

Inside

 

?     Have Heater Serviced
To ensure safety and efficiency, it’s a good idea to have your heating system serviced and inspected before you run it for the first time.

 

?     Shut Down A/C for the Winter (if applicable)
If you have central air conditioning, you can have it serviced at the same time as your furnace. If you have a portable or window unit, ensure it’s properly sealed or remove it and store it for the winter.

 

?     Inspect Chimney
Fire safety experts recommend that you have your chimney inspected at least every other year and cleaned periodically, depending on how much you use it. Complete this task before you start using your fireplace or furnace.

 

?     Seal Windows and Doors
Check windows and doors for drafts and caulk or add weatherstripping where necessary.

 

?     Check Smoke Alarm and Carbon Monoxide Detectors
If you checked your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in the spring, they are due for another inspection. Batteries should be replaced every six months, so it’s time to replace them again. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to test your individual devices. And even properly functioning devices should be replaced at least every 10 years, or per the manufacturer’s recommendation.3

 

Outside

?     Plant Fall Flowers, Grass and Shrubs (Sept-Oct in MT)
Fall is a great time to plant perennials, trees, shrubs, cool-season vegetables and bulbs that will bloom in the spring.12 It’s also a good time to reseed or sod your lawn.

 

?     Rake or Mow Leaves
Once the leaves start falling, it’s time to pull out your rake. A thick layer of leaves left on your grass can lead to an unhealthy lawn. Or, rather than raking, use a mulching mower to create a natural fertilizer for your lawn.

 

 

?     Inspect Gutters and Roof
Inspect your gutters and downspouts and make needed repairs. Check the roof for any broken or loose tiles. Remove fallen leaves and debris.

 

?     Shut Down Sprinkler System
If you have a sprinkler system, drain any remaining water and shut it down to prevent damage from freezing temperatures over the winter.  If you bought a  house this year, and it's your first time doing this, make sure to get on the schedule early (call early-mid September, ask me for referrals).

 

 

 

Winter

 

While it can be tempting to ignore home maintenance issues in the winter, snow and freezing temperatures can do major damage if left untreated. Follow these steps to ensure your house survives the winter months.

 

Inside

 

?     Maintain Heating System
Check and change filters on your heating system, per the manufacturer's instructions. If you have a boiler, monitor the water level.

 

?     Tune Up Generator
If you own a portable generator, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper maintenance. Make sure it’s working before you need it, and stock up on supplies like fuel, oil and filters.

 

?     Prevent Frozen Pipes
Make sure pipes are well insulated, and keep your heat set to a minimum of 55 degrees when you’re away. If pipes are prone to freezing, leave faucets dripping slightly overnight or when away from home. You may also want to open cabinet doors beneath sinks to let in heat.  Ask a friend or neighbor to check in with the house if it's empty for more than 3 days in our deep winter months.

 

Outside

 

?     Drain and Shut Off Outdoor Faucets
Before the first freeze, drain and shut off outdoor faucets. Place an insulated cover over exposed faucets, and store hoses for the winter.

 

?     Remove Window Screens
Removing screens from your windows allows more light in to brighten and warm your home during the dark, cold winter months. Snow can also get trapped between screens and windows, causing damage to window frames and sills.

 

?     Service Snowblower
Don’t wait until the first snowstorm of the season to make sure your snowblower is in good working order. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance or have it serviced by a professional.

 

?     Stock Up on Ice Melt
Keep plenty of ice melt, or rock salt, on hand in preparation for winter weather. Look for brands that will keep kids and pets safe without doing damage to your walkway or yard.

 

?     Watch Out for Ice Dams
Ice dams are thick ridges of solid ice that can build up along the eaves of your house. They can do major damage to gutters, shingles and siding. Heated cables installed prior to the first winter storm can help.14

 

?     Check for Snow Buildup on Trees
Snow can cause tree limbs to break, which can be especially dangerous if they are near your home. Use a broom to periodically remove excess snow.15

 

 

While this checklist isn't a complete list of your home’s maintenance needs, it can serve as a general seasonal guide. Systems, structures and fixtures will need to be repaired and replaced from time-to-time, as well. The goal is to get familiar with spending a bit of time each season staying on top of these things.  

 

Keep a record of all your maintenance, repairs and upgrades for future reference, along with receipts. Not only will it help jog your memory, it can make a big impact on buyers when it comes time to sell your home … and potentially result in a higher selling price.  

 

I have a pretty extensive network of trusted contractors and service providers and am e happy to provide referrals!  Call or email me, and we can connect you with one of our preferred vendors.

 

 

 

Sources:

1.     HouseLogic.com –
https://www.houselogic.com/organize-maintain/home-maintenance-tips/value-home-maintenance/

2.     Home Advisor –
https://www.homeadvisor.com/r/servicing-your-air-conditioner/

3.     Keyes & Sons Plumbing and Heating –
http://keyes-plumbing.com/things-to-check-in-spring/

4.     Allstate Insurance Blog –
https://blog.allstate.com/test-smoke-detectors/

5.     Houzz –
https://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/17268616/list/how-to-wash-your-house

6.     Angie’s List –
https://www.angieslist.com/articles/why-gutter-cleaning-so-important.htm

 

8.     HGTV –
http://www.hgtv.com/design/outdoor-design/landscaping-and-hardscaping/lawns/top-spring-lawn-care-tips-pictures

9.     This Old House –
https://www.thisoldhouse.com/more/may-mulching

  11.   The New York Times –
https://www.nytimes.com/guides/realestate/home-maintenance-checklist

12.   Better Homes and Gardens Magazine –
https://www.bhg.com/gardening/yard/garden-care/what-to-plant-in-the-fall/

14.   This Old House –
https://www.thisoldhouse.com/how-to/how-to-get-rid-ice-dams

15.   Houzz –
https://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/55572864/list/your-winter-home-maintenance-checklist

 

April 10, 2018

4 Ways to Enjoy a Montana Spring

When I started writing this post, green grass patches were appearing all over.  Robins singing, blackbirds chattering amongst themselves.  Then, more snow. If you live in Montana, you know all weather is fleeting this time of year.  You'll be back at it soon enough, so take this short break to plan your attack as soon as this latest storm melts away.

1.  20 slides in 20 seconds at Pecha Kucha.

When:  April 18th and 19th

Where: Ellen Theatre, downtown Bozeman

What: Each presenter has that much time to tell their story, from a mountain climber who nearly lost his life in Nepal, to the joy of living in Antarctica to musings from a former mayor.

Tip: Park in the downtown garage on Mendenhall and drop in for open mike night across the street at Wild Joe's Coffee Spot before the event.

 

2.  Pick a trail, any trail with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust Trail Map.

When: Your choice

Where: Gallatin Valley Trail system

What: Decide if you want to be near a stream, overlooking the city or tucked away in the trees.  Then go forth and wander.

Tip: Weekday evenings this time of year tend to be less crowded than weekends, so bust out of your hibernation habits and grab some fresh air for 30 minutes this weeil

 

3.  Get your blood pumping with the Big Sky Pond Skim.

When:  April 21st

Where:  Big Sky Resort

What:  Celebrate the end to an amazing ski season, put your costume on, launch off a ski jump and skim across the pond (or just watch your friends try it).

Tip:  Carpool or take the bus in.  Skyline bus transportation leaves the Town Center for the Resort every half hour, from 9 am to 5 pm, on 4/21/18. Bus service leaves Mountain Village twice an hour, during that period.

 

4.  Grab a pizza at one of these spots.

When: Check the websites for specials

Where:  Gil's Goods for wood-fired wonderful (Livingston)

Red Tractor for gluten-free options & local craft brews (Livingston)

Buffalo Bump in the old dairy barn at Four Corners (Bozeman/Belgrade)

Blackbird Kitchen for artisan wood-fired pizza. Sit at the counter if you forgot to make a reservation (downtown Bozeman)

 

 

More posts about what to do in southwestern Montana:

Spend a day in Livingston.

5 hikes for people who hate hiking.

 

 

March 13, 2018

Look at Your Home Through a Buyer’s Eyes: Making TheTo-Do List

Selling your home is one of the most tricky parts of owning a home, but it can be deceiving at first. There are always little projects that you meant to get to and didn’t, and things that probably weren’t perfect, but didn’t bother you enough to fix. You can’t possibly do everything to make your house like new before putting it on the market, but there’s a minimum level that most buyers will expect.  At least if you expect to get top dollar.

How many of those things left on your “to do” list absolutely need to become “to dones?”

Getting Ready to Sell

Before you get too serious about selling, it’s a good idea to have your Realtor over for a quick walk through. They can give you a punch list of items they believe should be updated, fixed or addressed in some other way before you sell your home. We also add staging to that list, so you have a room-by-room list of what to keep and what to pack in preparation for photographing your home and putting it's best foot forward.  You never know when the right buyer will walk through the door, so your house needs to be ready to go from the moment you put it on the market. This alone is often your biggest key to sales success.

 

That doesn’t mean you need to completely gut and remode, but you should make sure everything is in proper working order and ready for a new occupant. That can be a lot to wrap your head around. If you are already overwhelmed, start with the list below.

 

Entry & Living Room

The moment that door opens, and even before it does, your potential buyers are forming an opinion of your home. What the open door reveals needs to better pack a punch (or at the very last not leave them puzzled or unsure).

Make sure that the windows are sparkling clean to let in as much light as possible (ideally remove the screens and stash them in the garage or storage space), that all your light bulbs are working , the flooring is clean and in good shape, any tile grout is solid and the walls are flawless. A neutral color is always a good idea, Blues, light grays, beige and creams are also all good choices for paint colors.  If you need help choosing the right shade, we can help with that.

 

Dining Room

Your dining room should follow the same advice as your living room, with one exception. Since there’s probably some amount of eating that happens in this part of the house, you’ll want to check the flooring to ensure there’s no stains or spots under the table, or a noticeable spot where the dog likes to lie in wait for cherished crumbs.

If this area is carpeted, don't cover spots with a rug, this could be considered a “hidden, latent defect.” Basically, it means that you’re hiding damage from a potential buyer. And then what happens?  They start picking up rugs everywhere, looking for more spots.  That then becomes their focus, rather than all the great things about your house you've worked hard to highlight.  Bummer. 

Call a professional carpet cleaner or just own up to the flaw and discuss options for addressing this your agent should a buyer ask for the carpet to be replaced or cleaned before closing.  Planning ahead can avoid additional stress.

 

Kitchen

This is a busy room that is the most used room in the house. Check all the items on this list, one at a time:

 Appliances that are staying

• Are they functional?

• Do they have an attractive appearance?

• Do they match one another?

• Are they clean?

 

Kitchen sink area:

• Is the sink free of damage?

• Does it drain well?

• Does the disposal work?

• Does the sprayer work?

• Is the faucet leaking?

 

Counters, backsplash and cabinets:

• Do the counters have worn or burned spots?

• Are there grouted areas that are needing regrouted?

• Do the cabinet doors open and close properly?

• Is there water damage anywhere?

• Is everything clean and not tacky to touch?

• Do the cabinets have worn finish?

 

If there's damage or deferred repairs you can't fix before listing, make sure they are disclosed in the paperwork your Realtor provides.

 

Bedrooms 

Bedrooms are the next hardest spot to tackle, especially if you have kids. If you’re still living in  the house until you find a buyer, invest in some storage systems — they’ll pay off in the long run. Organize everything as best you can to give the rooms the appearance of more space, clean the windows, using solid colored bins so you can't see what's inside.  Install new lightbulbs, clean the carpets and come up with a plan to keep things need so it's not a stress bomb each time you get a showing request.  If anything can be moved out to a storage unit, do it now.  You'll be packing it anyway!  We have ideas for storage that can make things easier, so just ask.

 

Bathrooms 

Bathrooms are alot like kitchens, they have a lot of moving parts. That being said, they also pretty much have the same punch list. The only addition would be the shower or tub. Check the faucets and showerheads for leaks and make sure there’s no mold on your tub or shower surrounds. Clean that stuff within an inch of its life and if you can’t get rid of the stains, recaulk. It’s an easy way to make that tub or shower look like you’ve never even used it.

Trust me, this needs to be a priority.  Buyers don't like dirty tubs and showers, even if their own is in worse condition.

 

Garage 

There’s not a lot to do in the garage, but do make sure your door opener is functioning properly, that the wheels on the door are lubricated if it’s making a terrible sound when you open it or close it and that you’ve cleaned up as best as you can. If you don’t really use it, you can dress it up a lot by applying an epoxy coating to the floor. The kits run around $100 and, although they don’t add any value to your home, they’re pretty impressive and beat an old, stained concrete floor.

 

General Indoor List 

Overall, it’ll help a lot if you run around your house and make sure that all your lightbulbs are fresh, all the windows are cleaned, you remember to leave the blinds open during the day and that the paint makes each room feel bigger. The key is to bring in more light and then use lighter colors to keep it bouncing around the room. A new coat of white ceiling paint won’t hurt your efforts, either.  When decluttering, think "wall space."  I like to say that the more space I can see where the walls meet the floor, the emptier the room will be and the bigger it will look.

 Paint is great for a lot of reasons. It can seal in smells you might have never noticed, as well as giving the house the scent of fresh construction. That smell paints a picture for a buyer that says this house has been taken care of and they can trust that it’s in good shape.

 

General Outdoors 

When it comes to the landscape, keep the lawn mowed (likely more often than you are used to), trim plants around the house, clean up any projects that you started and never finished (this is a biggie). Landscapers and trash haulers can help a lot.  If you have metal lying around, it's likely you can find a metal scrap hauler who will gladly come and relieve you of those things. You’ll also want to check out your roof and gutters to make sure they’re in good shape because your potential buyers will be doing the same thing during their inspection.  Removing anything you know they might use to negotiate on price with ahead of time is the goal here. 

The first thing a buyer sees is the view from the street, make sure you run out there during the outdoor prep work to check your look. I even encourage my sellers to sit in the passenger seat and drive down their block, looking at each house and then their own to see how it stacks up.  This is what each buyer will be doint.  When you start to wonder if you should actually sell this amazing house at all, you’ve probably got the curb appeal knocked out.

 

When You Can’t Get It All Done

You don’t have an unlimited timeline, that’s pretty common.  But, your home should be ready to sell if you want to get top dollar. We often advise our selles to contact us at least three months before their target date if possible, as that allows plenty of time to knock down the list.  If it's too late for that, or if you can’t do the work, just call us and we'll help you prioritize with the timeline you have available.

Let's get started!

 

Visit our Facebook Staging page for more tips.

March 11, 2018

5 Hikes for People Who Hate Hiking

Gophers are popping out of snow drifts, a few early robins have been spotted.  There's a tentative sense that spring might possibly, hopefully be just around the corner.  A passing thought of hikes with the kids, the dog or just a friend crosses our mind.

 It sounds good, at least in theory.  But if your hiking shoes and backpack are covered in the dust of your last post-college trip to the desert many years ago, we've got some high-rewards, low effort options for you.  Southwestern Montana can be intimidating for those that aren't inclined to break the record for nights spent sleeping under the stars, or hitting the big wave spring runoff with your kayak.

 Here are some local, easy hikes for those who want to get back in time to have dinner at home and need to be able to get up and walk in a somewhat normal way the next morning:

 

 Bear Canyon Trail (image courtesy of Bozeman Chronicle)

1.  Bear Canyon:  Located just east of town off the Bear Canyon exit, take Bear Canyon south until it ends.  The complete Bear Canyon Trail is a 13 mile out and back trail located that features a lake and is rated as moderate, accessible from May until October without 4WD. Best to keep your dog on leash, as this area is frequented by bears, moose, foxes and other wildlife, including mountain bikers.  Also great for snowshoeing when the white stuff refuses to leave.

 

Drinking Horse Trail (image courtesy of MERCURYcsc on Pinterest)

2.  Drinking Horse:  Located across from the famed "M" trail, I love this trail for its wildflowers, and the fact that you can easily pick and choose how much to take on.  Super easy:  Just take the trail to the creek,  there's a few hills to get you going, but it's a short distance to the water and the cool bridge that crosses it.  Drinking Horse is a 2.1 mile loop trail located off Bridger Canyon just outside city limits.  The trail is rated as moderate, dog friending and great for people just getting started with hiking and looking for some elevation gain.  Note:  This one can get popular on weekends, so bring a leash if your pup is a wanderer or likes to chase wildlife.

 

3.  Palisades Falls:  A favorite place for ice climbing in winter, this is a great way to get a taste of Hyalite Reservoir without getting too serious about hiking and am amazing payoff.  It's a do-able .5 mile asphalt trail at 11% grade, with the trailhead starting at the Palisades Falls Picnic Area parking lot.  Good spot to take visitors to get a little taste of the Montana lifestyle with a great relaxing drive to the reservoir, and a little exercise to top it off.  Bring a leash for your dog.

 

West Boulder Meadows - Absaroka Range (image courtesy of MThikes.com)

4. West Boulder Meadows:  This is outside Livingston, south of Big Timber in the Absaroka Mountains (pronounced Ab-zor-kuhs by locals with the accent on the second syllable but leaving out the O all together). A great trail in excellent shape, it crosses private land at a point so take care.  Total elevation gain of the trail is 325 feet, with great views and meadows, fishing and photography opportunities.  Once you start the hike, the nearby noise disappears.  There are some ups and downs, but it's all doable.  Directions to trailhead:  Follow highway 298 south from Big Timber for approximately 17 miles. Turn right onto West Boulder Road & follow gravel road for 7 miles, bear left to stay on the West Boulder road. After 7 more miles you'll see the  parking at the end of the road. 

 

 

Red Lodge Creek Trail, early season (image courtesy of MThikes.com)

 5.  Red Lodge Creek Trail:  A great day trip from Livingston or Bozeman area, with a hike to boot.  This trail is used a lot by locals, and offers an easy view of a mature forest. The upper part is usually closed until summer, so this is a good early season hike in spring or fall.  If you have the craving to get into the mountains without all the gear (except what you'd normally take for unexpected weather) this one might fit the bill.  Three miles in will give you a wonderful prairie view.  Top it off with lunch at Bogart's or Red Lodge Pizza Co. and you've got yourself a great day.

Directions:

From Red Lodge, head north on MT-78 at the traffic circle just before town. Drive on MT-78 for 12.7 miles, and then turn left onto Lower Luther Road.  2.4 miles down this gravel road, turn right at the intersection, onto Luther-Roscoe Road.  After another half mile, turn onto Upper Red Lodge Creek Road, which runs for 2.7 miles before entering the forest boundary.  Turn right to stay on Upper Red Lodge Creek Road, and follow the road to the trailhead (1.4 miles).

 

Off you go!  Don't forget to prepare for sudden changes in the weather of course.  But you knew that, you're in Montana!

 

Posted in Living in Montana
Feb. 12, 2018

4 Ways to Beat Montana Winter Blahs

Image courtesy of @gentlemanmodernImage courtesy of @gentlemanmodern

Not a skiier or snowboarder.  Those of you who are trying to wait out winter this year, how's that going for you?  I thought so.

Let's get to it, we need to get going.  Here are 4 great ways to pass the time in Bozeman this February:

1.  Take a class:  Learn to make bread at Owenhouse Ace Hardware  

2.  Visit a hot springs:  Chico and the boiling river are close enough to make an afternoon of it:  

3.  Dance Dirty (or watch some Dirty Dancing): Check it out here.

4.  Visit Yellowstone:  Take a private tour of Yellowstone: 

 

Pick one or set your calendar to do them all, and spring will be here before you know it!

Jan. 13, 2018

What is a FICO Score Anyway?

Another month, another rent payment that’s helping your landlord pay off the house or apartment where you’re living. Another month, another rent day spent pondering just how much equity you could have paid down on your own house by now. So, why not you? Why not now? Sure, buying a house can be complicated and intimidating, knowing some of the pieces of the puzzle goes a long way towards getting there.

Let's back up, to before you started looking online and got frustrated.  I it’s important to fill in some informational blanks. For example, do you know what a FICO score is or truly understand how it affects your ability to get a mortgage? A lot of first time homebuyers often need to do some work on their credit accounts, which isn't such a bad thing.  So, it’s a good idea to start looking into this stuff six months to a year before you bite the bullet and make a loan application.

We're gonna get as basic as it gets with the FICO score.

Fair Isaac Really Isn’t Judging You, Mostly.

Back in ancient times, the  1950s, getting credit was a whole different kind of thing. Rates and down payments or securities were high, terms were short and credit was not nearly as widespread as it is today. Then two fellows named Bill Fair and Earl Isaac came along. They believed that there had to be a better way to make business decisions using data and computer algorithms (a bit ahead of their time, eh?), successfully completing the first credit scoring system in 1958.

By 1970, the Fair Isaac Company was delivering scoring systems for bank credit cards, then in 1981, it developed the credit bureau risk score — similar to the one your bank will be using to determine if you’re going to get a mortgage. The secret proprietary algorithm has been updated throughout the years in a quest to develop the most accurate picture possible of potential borrowers based on their past behavior.

Your FICO score isn’t a judgement of your character, of your job or anything like that. A lot of people attach the two, so it's important to understand that point.  It’s simply a number that tells lenders how likely you are to be willing and able to pay back credit over the long run. If you’ve never had credit or not had much credit experience, expect your number to be lower simply because there’s no data on you. If you’ve had some credit, maybe a student loan or a car loan, and always paid on time, you’re probably golden.

A score of 620 is serviceable, a 650 is generally enough to get a mortgage.

What’s in a FICO Score?

A lot of people are confused about what exactly gets figured into a FICO score. FICO is just an algorithm, remember, so there’s nothing that it can calculate without being fed data. So, the score is based on the information from whatever credit bureau that you’re using to request a FICO score. Nothing else. Things like your on-time utility payments or car insurance, for example, don’t tend to report, so they won’t be added into the calculation.

When shopping for a pre-mortgage score, it’s best to look for a tri-merge report, or a product that gives you scores from all three bureaus: TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. This is exactly what your bank will do to qualify you. MyFICO.com offers this service and you’ll get scores directly from the horse’s mouth, but feel free to use whatever tool works for you. There are plenty of legit sources out there that can approximate your FICO score.

The main factors that influence that score are probably exactly what you’d expect. They’re bits and pieces that are telling about your credit usage and ability to repay. FICO’s own site lists these as the primary components and weights of an average borrower’s score:

Payment History (35 percent). If you don’t make your payments on time, the credit bureaus report that and FICO makes a note. Non-payments, late payments and the like don’t report until they’re 30 days past due, but it’s still good practice to pay on or before the due date. If you’ve had late pays in the past, just keep paying on time now. The more space you put between today and those late pays, the less they’ll affect you.

Amounts Owed (30 percent). Are your credit cards maxed out? … like, every month…? Well, this is something you need to get a handle on. This metric looks at not only how much you owe, but how much you owe in relation to how much credit you have. The magic number for utilization is a meager 30 percent. If you’re trying to establish credit, it can be a tricky thing to keep your usage under 30 percent, but above zero to prove you can maintain payments long term.

Length of Credit History (15 percent). The age of your credit accounts, as well as the average age is considered under this metric. FICO looks at both opened dates and the date of last utilization to figure out your risk here. To even be in the running for a bronze medal, you need an average credit line age of over two years, but people with extremely good credit scores may have credit histories of 25 years or more.

New Credit (10 percent). FICO wants to see if you’ve recently acquired a bunch of new credit, maybe in anticipation of charging everything up and fleeing to Canada. Experience has told them that suddenly opening several new accounts in a flurry means that you’re a big time risk for default.

Credit Mix (10 percent). Did you know this was even part of it?  Do you only have store credit cards, or do you also have a car loan and a student loan? The better the variety in your credit history, generally the better risk you represent. Don’t run out and get a bunch of different loans just to see how it shakes out, but if you just have a car loan, it won’t hurt to get a small credit card through your bank just for emergencies.

Improving Your Credit for Beginners

Now that you know what the FICO algorithm considers when it calculates your score, you can use this information to improve your credit score before you apply for a mortgage. Be patient, though, it takes time to see these kinds of changes manifest.

Start by going to AnnualCreditReport.com and requesting your free credit reports (you’re entitled to a set of free credit reports from this site once a year). Check them thoroughly for errors of any sort. Dispute, dispute, dispute. Many credit files have some kind of errors on them.  Don't use the others, this is the only one approved by the US Government.

While the credit bureaus are working on your disputes, you can start to pay off any judgements that appear on your credit reports, as well as developing a plan to pay each and every future payment on time. If your checks come on a regular schedule, autopay isn’t a totally bad option, but if you’re part of the gig economy, of course, that’s probably not going to help.

With each payment, your credit will start to improve. Leave those credit cards alone. Just put one payment in front of the other, and before you know it, you’ll have beautiful credit. Super extraordinary stuff. There’s no real secret to it, it’s all just perseverance.

If you think you might need some help doing the research or coming up with a plan to take care of any credit issues you discover, there are some very reputable credit repair companies out there. We can refer you to some that our preferred lenders recommend, and some of our clients have used successfully.

Now that you’ve got your credit as good as it can get, ask your real estate agent (hi there!) to provide some lender referrals, and set up an appointment for a pre-qualification. This is where a lot of you stop.

Don't.  Again, not as scary as it seems.  Take a copy of your taxes for the last two years and your ID to help get the ball rolling. If that seems too intimidating, you can start with a casual phone call to discuss your situation.  Lenders are your friend, and we are all together as a team pulling for you!

This is part of what we'll be covering in our online course Six Months to Home.  All free, all self-paced.  Sign up here and let's get you home!

Dec. 20, 2017

3 Free Last-Minute Gifts

Out of money and time, but want...something to give?  Here are some free last-minute gift ideas for everyone on your list:

 

For the Astrologer:  The Astro Guide to Business.  What to focus on in the coming year, based on your zodiac sign!

Download here and you can also watch the accompanying webinar if you'd like.  This one is courtesy of @ittybiz.

 

For the Dog Lover:  Here are some indoor activities for you to do with your pup when the snow is too deep or too cold for them to hang outside.

 

For the Home Seller:  This one's from me.  If you (or someone you know) is planning on selling within the next six months, my y Level 1 Staging Servicegives them a step-by-step custom guide to decluttering and depersonalizing their home so it will sell faster and easier (promise).  With this offer, they receive this service at no charge when listing with us.  Here's the link.

 

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