Top Things Buyers and Sellers Want From Their Real Estate Agents

Buyers and sellers tend to have a long list of demands when it comes to real estate transactions, and so they should. After all, the buying and selling process can be pretty complex, so anything that can streamline the process would be welcomed. The way real estate agents conduct themselves and handle situations can make a huge difference between a smooth transaction and a frustrating one.


Here are some important things that buyers and sellers expect from their agents.

Immediate Response

Clients expect an immediate response from their agents. They want their agents to answer their phones when they call, or at least respond to a voice mail within minutes. They also want quick responses to their texts and emails. If they have to wait too long to get a reply, they just might be impatient enough to call another agent to have their questions answered.


Those looking get into the real estate market are in need of an expert, which is why they hired a real estate agent to tackle this job for them. They are relying on an experienced agent to understand the current market, find them the perfect home (for buyers), use various platforms to widely market their home (for sellers), and negotiate a fantastic price.

Proven Results

Buyers and sellers want to work with agents who have plenty of transactions under their belts. Sellers want agents with a long track record of selling homes for as close to listing price as possible, and within a short time frame. Buyers want agents who’ve been successful at finding homes in the area they are looking in. The more transactions real estate agents have been a part of, the better able they will be to handle various situations.


The way agents present themselves makes a world of difference in how professional their clients perceive them to be. Clients expect their agents to dress the part: real estate agents should be well-groomed and appropriately dressed. Respect of others’ time also shows a certain level of professionalism; nobody wants an agent who is perpetually late for appointments.


Negotiation Skills

Buyers want a good deal on a home, and sellers want the most money on the table. Whichever side of the coin agents are working on, their clients expect them to express strong negotiating skills at the table. Real estate agents represent the voices of their clients, and should know what to say at the negotiating table, and when to say it to show their clients’ the money.

Use of Technology

Agents who solely depend on their phones to communicate or the newspaper to advertise listings are not what today’s buyers and sellers want. These days, it’s expected that agents use every form of innovative technology for communication and marketing purposes. Technology helps real estate agents to be more efficient and successful in buying and selling homes, and that’s precisely what clients want.


Agents are required by law to be honest with their clients – it’s actually a part of the National Association of Realtors® Code of Ethics. Buyers want their agents to point out potential defects in a home, and sellers expect their agents to be honest about what might turn buyers off. Forget about false promises and sugar-coating; clients want full honesty and the confidence to rely on their agents’ word.

Network of Connections

There is so much that goes in the world of real estate that plenty of other professions need to be a part of it to make it all work. Mortgage specialists, home stagers, contractors, interior designers, lawyers, home inspectors, and movers can all come into play at some point along the way. Buyers and sellers want their agents to be able to suggest one of these professionals that they’ve worked with before rather than having to find one on their own.

Marketing Plan

It’s not enough to rely only on a For Sale sign on the front lawn to market a property. Real estate agents need to have a comprehensive marketing plan to get as many eyes on their listings as possible. Newspaper ads, websites, blogs, and social media profiles all have a hand in attracting attention. Sellers want their homes sold quickly, and the more far-reaching tactics their agents use, the greater the chances of this happening.

The most successful real estate agents possess each and every one of these traits. Whether you’re buying or selling, you should expect nothing less than these qualities in order to get the results you want in a time-efficient manner. Professional agents aim to please their clients and provide them with the best experiences. If these are the things clients want, their agents are more than happy to offer them.

Rising Rates Credited With Slowing the Mortgage Refinancing Boom

With mortgage interest rates being as low as they have been over the past few years, plenty of homeowners have been jumping on the refinancing bandwagon to slash interest payments on their mortgages.

Since the housing crash in 2008, interest rates have been declining, and have been hovering around historic lows. The US Federal Reserve has since been keeping things rather conservative in an effort to bail the country out of crisis, and make financing more affordable for homeowners. As of August 16, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed mortgage is approximately 3.37%.


The ground-breaking Brexit vote for Britain to leave the European Union has also had an effect on the US economy. But such an impact is not expected to last long, and should be showing signs of a weakening effect on the US in the near future.

The Federal Reserve is Anticipated to Increase Interest Rates

The extended low rates have stimulated a refinancing boom across the country, as homeowners have been capitalizing on this trend to save thousands of dollars over the term of their mortgages. Even a fraction of a percent shaved off mortgage rates can translate into sizeable savings.

But it seems as though the refinancing boom is showing signs of slowing, as rates are set to rise. The Fed has been positioned to increase rates since December 2015, and it seems as if that’s finally going to happen. Financial experts anticipate rates to increase before the end of the year. Any decisions that the Fed makes regarding funds rates will ultimately impact the mortgage bond market. This, in turn, will change mortgage interest rates for Americans.

The further mortgage interest rates rise, the smaller the window of opportunity to refinance at a significantly lower mortgage interest rate.

Improving Job Market

An improvement in the US job market is great news for the overall economy, but not necessarily for those who wish to refinance their mortgages. Generally speaking, the stronger the economy, the higher mortgage rates tend to be.

This past July showed a renewed strength in the job market, with 255,000 jobs added that month, as well as a 0.3% increase in wages from the month before. After such numbers were reported, mortgage rates immediately started to climb.

Individual mortgages that are packaged into mortgage bonds influence mortgage rates every day. Investors are paid out a rate of return from bonds every year, somewhat like a dividend payout on stocks. These rates have an inverse relationship to bond prices – as one drops, the other rises, and vice versa.

In the midst of strong economic news – such as the recently reported improving job market – bond prices tend to decrease, while rates increase. On the other hand, bad news on the economic front tends to cause bond prices to spike and rates to plummet. Considering the positive news we’ve recently been given about tens of thousands of new jobs created, it’s no wonder that rates increased as a result.

While the volume of refinances is still up almost 61% compared to the same time last year, total mortgage application volume – including both mortgage refinances and home purchases – declined 1.3%, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. More specifically, refinance applications dropped 1% over the same time period.

If mortgage rates do continue to rise, the influx of homeowners rushing to refinance their mortgages will continue to slow down.

There’s Still Time to Refinance at Low Rates

Despite the refinancing boom losing steam, there’s still time to take advantage of today’s low rates before they start to rise. US mortgage rates tend to dip amidst uncertainty in markets outside the US. That’s exactly what happened earlier this year with concerns over the Brexit vote and a weakened economy in China, to name a few. Global economic uncertainty still looms today, so dips in mortgage rates can be expected.

The Fed has another meeting coming up next month, and again in November and December. Experts are anticipating that bank-to-bank lending rates could increase within this time frame, which will affect bond markets and mortgage rates.

It’s always wise to keep tabs on rates, as they are volatile lately and tend to fluctuate rapidly. Make sure to speak with your lender right away to see if a refinance is a viable option to save you money.

How is Big Data Changing the Real Estate Industry?

Every industry – including real estate – can benefit immensely from big data. These massive data sets have long been used in the financial and healthcare industries with great success, providing invaluable information about human behavior and interactions, as well as critical patterns and trends among consumers.

Big data involves the large volume of information that businesses gather every day. While there is a humungous amount of data that is constantly coming in, that’s not necessary the crucial part: instead, it’s what businesses do with this vital information that’s important. Big data can be carefully analyzed to make better decisions and take strategic action.


The real estate industry has now embraced big data to provide the real estate industry with relevant insight into consumer behavior within the industry. It’s changed the way real estate professionals, buyers, sellers, and lenders approach real estate transactions.

Here are some ways that big data has impacted the real estate industry.

Simplifying the Appraisal Process

Appraisals are an integral part of the real estate process, and as such, real estate professionals must deal with appraisals all the time. Lenders depend on the valuation of properties that their appraisers provide them with before they determine whether or not a loan can be approved. Financing is typically not approved by lenders if the property’s value is deemed to be less than the loan amount requested.

For many neighborhoods, the appraisal process is rather straightforward. With many homes in subdivisions featuring very similar traits, and with the plethora of recent sales to look at, appraisers are much better able to come up with an accurate value for a property.

However, there are plenty of other circumstances where appraisals have been complicated and difficult. With so many factors to rely on which can often be inaccurate, sometimes appraisals might not be entirely on point.

In these cases, big data has helped simplify the process of appraising and pricing properties. While there is often plenty of information about how much similar properties recently sold for, big data has helped greatly reduce any gaps as far as errors and omissions are concerned.

Improving the Financing Process

Big data has been helping the real estate sector make much more sound financial decisions. Real estate professionals can use big data to learn about owners’ financial health, and how much of a risk they would be to take on additional financing. This information can also be used to determine the integrity of a building structure, and whether or not recent improvements have been made on it.

These key pieces of information can assist real estate professionals in determining risk levels for specific buyers, sellers, and even communities as a whole. Such information is also vital for helping investors and developers make smart investment decisions. 

Identifying Future Trends

Buyers want to know whether or not a community they are buying into is primed for growth in value in the future. Nobody ever has the intention of purchasing property in an area that’s headed for decline. Whether it’s a first-time homebuyer or a seasoned investor, knowing what the building will be worth over the short- and long-term is extremely important.

Big data has helped plenty of buyers gain insight into where property values in a particular area are headed. Thanks to innovative real estate investor software programs, buyers have been given the opportunity to predict the future values of properties they intend to purchase. Such information can help guide buyers in the right direction, and avoid areas that show little promise, thereby maximizing equity and profits.

Improving Building Management

Managing a building can be an in-depth and tedious process. Luckily, big data has been able to help simplify and streamline this endeavor. From identifying issues, to speeding up repairs, to slashing expenses, big data can make the management of a building much more efficient and effective.

Any data that is collected on equipment within a structure can be fed into an algorithm to determine how every component within the space is functioning. As soon as a deficiency is identified, a work order to fix the issue will be immediately generated. With much smarter buildings, it’s possible to significantly cut down on waste and spending.

Big data is certainly transforming the face of real estate. While it may be a costly investment up front, big data systems can make the job of real estate professionals much more effective and efficient, and provide buyers and sellers with helpful information to make better decisions.

How to Restructure Your Mortgage to Save a Ton of Money

Whether you’re having trouble making your mortgage payments each month, are looking to free up a little more cash to put it towards something else, or want to save money in interest over the life of your loan, there are ways to lower your monthly mortgage payments.

Restructuring your mortgage can help you shave a few bucks off your monthly debt obligations. How your mortgage is structured when you first obtain it doesn’t necessarily have to remain that way forever. No matter what your specific needs and goals are, there are a few strategies available to restructure your mortgage.


Put More Money Towards the Principal

This option is more for homeowners who are comfortable making their monthly payments, but are looking to save on the amount of interest they pay over the life of their mortgages. Putting more money towards the principal portion of the mortgage can save you a ton of money by the time your mortgage has been paid off in full. It can also help you shorten the life of the mortgage so you can be mortgage-free sooner rather than later.

Let’s say you’ve got a $200,000 mortgage amortized over 30 years at a fixed rate of 5%. You would be paying a total of $386,512 by the end of the entire term; that figure includes $186,512 of interest in addition to the original $200,000 principal balance.

However, if you put in an extra $2,000 per year, you can save $46,628 in interest over the life of the mortgage. You can even put in a few extra dollars monthly rather than contributing an annual lump sum. The kicker is that such extra payments go strictly towards the principal balance.

Refinance Your Mortgage

The most common way for homeowners to restructure their mortgages is to refinance it. The goal is to replace the current home loan and associated interest rate with a new one at a lower interest rate. Depending on the difference between the rate you’re paying now and the new one, you could be saving tens of thousands of dollars over the life of the loan.

Using the same $200,000 principal balance example with a 5% rate, you would lower your monthly payments from $1,074 to $955 by refinancing to a mortgage with a 4% interest rate.

Of course, you’ll need to consider the penalty fee associated with breaking your mortgage prematurely to see if it’s worth it. Prepayment penalties are typically 80% of six months’ interest. If, for example, you have a mortgage rate of 5% on a $200,000 mortgage amount, your interest-only payment would be $833 per month. Multiplying that by six months would give you $4,998, and 80% of that amount would mean you’d owe $3,998.04 as a prepayment penalty.

With savings of $119 a month after refinancing ($1,074 – $955), you would recoup that penalty amount in over 33 months, or just under 3 years. But in order to get approved for a refinance, you’ll need to have a really good credit score and healthy job history.

Recast Your Mortgage

If you’ve got at least $5,000 to spare, you can reduce your monthly mortgage payments by recasting your mortgage. It’s similar to a refinance, but with a recast, there is no change to your interest rate. Instead, your principal balance changes.

If you started out with a $200,000 mortgage at 5% interest for 30 years, your monthly mortgage payments would be $1,074. After paying for 10 years, the remaining balance of the mortgage would be $162,684. If you contributed $10,000 to the remaining principal amount, your balance would be brought down to $152,684. In this case, your monthly mortgage payments would be lowered to $1,008.

It’s important to keep in mind that even though you’d be saving $66 per month, you’ll have spent a lot of money to get that reduction in payment – $10,000 in this example. If you plan on staying in your home for a long time, this could be a viable option. If not, recasting may not be the right choice for you.

Defer a Few Months of Payment to the Back of the Mortgage

If you’re in real financial dire straights and are vulnerable to going into foreclosure because you can’t make your mortgage payments, you may be able to ask your lender to defer a few months’ worth of payments. Basically, this strategy involves holding off on paying your mortgage and paying back at a later time. You’re still under obligation to pay that money back at some point, but at least you’ll have some time to get your finances together without having to pay temporarily.

Your lender will assess your particular situation to see if you qualify for such an arrangement. Whether or not this tactic will work well for you depends on the policies of the mortgage company, when you plan on making the deferral, and whether your finances will allow you to eventually make those payments.

Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)

If you’re really struggling to meet your payments every month, you may be able to qualify for the government-sponsored Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) to restructure your mortgage.

HAMP will give you a more affordable monthly payment by adjusting the interest rate, extending your term, or even lowering your principal amount. HAMP homeowners usually save around $500 a month with this program. If you owe a lot more on your mortgage than what your home is worth according to current market conditions, you’ll be automatically evaluated to have your principal amount reduced. You could earn as much as $10,000 if you make payments on time, which you would then be put towards lowering your principal balance.

In order to qualify for HAMP, you’ll have to meet certain criteria:

  • You’re having a hard time making your mortgage payments because of weak finances;
  • You’re at risk of falling behind on your mortgage payments;
  • You’re already delinquent on your mortgage;
  • You got your mortgage on or before January 1, 2009;
  • Your home hasn’t been condemned.

If you meet the above criteria, you might be able to be approved for HAMP to significantly reduce your monthly mortgage payments and avoid foreclosure.

Whatever your reason for restructuring your mortgage, it’s important to have a serious look at your current finances, and consider your future goals. Speak with a seasoned mortgage specialist who’s experienced in restructuring mortgages to see what option fits your specific situation.

First-Timer Mortgage Mistakes to Avoid

The majority of Americans out there who are buying homes will have to assume a huge debt in the form of a mortgage. Considering the magnitude of this type of loan, you definitely want to make sure you’re making the best decision before you take it on.

First-time homebuyers who’ve never navigated the real estate and mortgage waters before should do their homework on mortgages, and have a solid grasp on their finances.

One thing’s for sure – a mortgage is something you don’t want to mess around with. But at the same time, the unfamiliarity of the home loan realm shouldn’t scare you off. With the right information, you can get an affordable home that’s right for you, your family and your finances.

If you go into the process armed with all the necessary information, you should come out unscathed. Having said that, here are some of the more common mortgage mistakes that first-time homebuyers make that you should be aware of so you don’t fall prey to them yourself.


Not Getting a Copy of Your Credit Report

Do you know what your current credit score is? If not, you’d better find out before you even start thinking of buying. If your credit is in good standing, great. If not, you need to find out why, and take steps to improve it. But you’re not going to know either way if you don’t request a copy of your credit report from one of the three major credit bureaus in the US.

You can easily obtain a copy of this report for free every 12 months. When you get it, make sure to look it over carefully to see if there are any mistakes on it that could be bringing your credit score down. If there are any errors, you can request to have an investigation opened. Even one incorrect delinquency can shave many points off your overall credit score.

If the delinquencies documented are legitimate, and your score has been negatively affected by them, do what’s necessary to bring that score back up. Pay your bills on time, get rid of high-interest credit card debt first, and avoid making any further purchases on credit (such as a car loan). If you don’t make an effort to improve your credit score, you could be stuck with a very high-interest rate on your mortgage, or may have your mortgage application denied completely.

Looking For a Home Before Your Get Pre-Approved For a Mortgage

Before you start pounding the pavement searching for the perfect abode, you should get pre-approved for a mortgage first. It’ll do you no good to agree to purchase a home at a listing price of $400,000 when you can realistically only afford a home worth $300,000. You’ll be left sorely disappointed if your offer is accepted, only to find out you can’t get a mortgage to finance it.

Your mortgage specialist will assess your financials and determine how much you can comfortably afford based your income and the amount of debt you have. At this point, you’ll be informed of roughly how much you can afford. Armed with this information, you and your real estate agent will be able to narrow down the homes that meet your criteria. This will avoid wasting your time and that of the sellers, and will prevent you from any setbacks.

Keep in mind that a pre-approval letter will come in handy when you are competing with other buyers for the same home. If another buyer is pre-approved and you’re not, the seller may overlook your offer. Many sellers won’t even consider offers that come from buyers who are not pre-approved for a mortgage, even if there are no other buyers in the picture.

Failing to Understand the Terms of Your Mortgage

The amount of your home loan and the interest rate attached to it are obviously important things to know about your mortgage, but there are other things you should also learn about it before you seal the deal. Is your rate fixed or adjustable? Can the rate change at any point during the life of the mortgage? How long is the term of your mortgage? Are you allowed to put more money towards your mortgage at any point? What are the fees associated with breaking your mortgage early?

There are plenty of questions that you should ask your mortgage specialist so that you fully understand everything about your home loan. Make sure not to sign anything until you’re totally in-the-know.

Allowing Yourself to Go ‘House Poor’

While you want to be able to put as much towards your down payment as possible, you also don’t want to drain your life’s savings. Putting at least 20% towards the purchase price will allow you to avoid paying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) and will lessen the loan amount. These are both obviously good things, but not at the expense of leaving you with next to nothing.

Further, you need to be careful about how much of a mortgage you actually take out. Even if you’re pre-approved for a maximum of $300,000, for instance, that doesn’t mean you should take that much out. Making a commitment to contribute a huge chunk of your income to mortgage payments will leave you with little at the end of each month. There are many other expenses that you need to cover, including utilities, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and HOA fees.

You need to have a social life too, which costs money. You don’t want to be stuck at home doing nothing simply because you barely have any leftover cash to enjoy yourself.

Not Comparing Mortgages

Many homebuyers – especially the newbies – get lured into locking into a mortgage because of a really low interest rate. While a low rate is great, there are also other fees that need to be taken into consideration. Many times these fees can end up making a lower-interest mortgage more expensive.

To prevent getting sucked into this trap, make sure you compare mortgages by more than just the interest rate. Instead, compare home loans by the annual percentage rate (APR), which combines the interest rate with closing costs and other fees. This will allow you to make a more accurate comparison so you can make a more informed decision on which mortgage to go with that will cost you less money in the long run.

The Bottom Line

Never sign anything unless you’ve done your homework first. That advice is gold for just about anything in life, especially when big money is on the line.

California Commercial Property Boom Showing Signs of Cooling Off

The commercial real estate market in California has been a strong one over the recent past thanks to job and income growth, affordable financing rates, and limited building construction. In fact, the values of commercial real estate are more than double what they were back in 2009 following the financial crisis.   

But the commercial property boom in the state is showing signs of cooling off in certain sectors, according to real estate professionals who were polled in a survey by UCLA. The survey included San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and the East Bay markets.

Office and retail markets are believed to be capping out, while the industrial and multi-family markets are said to be growing in strength.


Office Space

The latest survey forecasts a new capping off of the office space market. While vacancy rates are said to be on the decline and rental rates on the rise, the trend for developer sentiment in all six markets surveyed is topping off since its peak in 2014.

Sentiment in the office real estate market is highest in Southern California, most likely because of the increase in job growth rate in the area, as well as a squeeze in office space supply.

Retail Market Sentiment is Increasingly Negative

Retail market view have also become increasingly negative among real estate professionals. With eCommerce stores rapidly making headways, the retail market is undergoing a major transformation. As a result of more and more consumers taking to the internet to do their shopping, traditional retail shops will need to take measures to revamp themselves.

However, approximately half of the survey’s panelists in Southern California and almost two-thirds of the panelists in the Bay Area claim that they’re currently in the planning stages of new retail construction over the next 12 months. Half of them stated that they had already started at least one new project over the previous 12 months. This points to the potential of continued opportunities despite the current struggle that the retail space is experiencing, at least when it comes to retail building construction.

Industrial Market Benefitting From eCommerce

What is the thorn in the side of the retail market is a plus for the industrial market. eCommerce is joining exporting and manufacturing in pushing demand for industrial real estate in California. The online shopping platform is fueling growth for industrial real estate investment trusts (REIT), while causing physical retail shops to decline in demand.

Industrial markets continue to be strong, especially in the warehouse segment. The continued optimistic sentiment continues to be revealed in new industrial warehouse building construction. Very low vacancy rates are also lending to a hopeful sentiment by industrial developers, which should help keep this sector booming for at least the next couple of years.

Multi-Family Housing Sentient Continues to Stay Strong

While the retail and office real estate market spaces are showing signs of slowing down, the multi-family market joins the industrial space for optimistic sentiment among the survey’s panelists. The demand for multi-family housing is following strengthened job growth in dense regions of California. In particular, Los Angeles is seeing an increase in multi-family buildings, which will help offset the limited inventory of housing units. 

Considering the fact that California housing is seriously lagging compared to the rate of household formation, the view of an increase in multi-family development is a positive one. This optimistic sentiment of the future of the multi-family housing market for investors is anticipated to carry on with the job growth in California expected to increase at a rate of 1.8% through 2017. A boost in employment points to new household formation, and therefore an increase in demand for housing.

Ways to Prevent Going Over-Budget on a Remodel

There’s no one easy equation to use to determine exactly how much a home renovation will cost. You can’t just multiply a specific unit price and multiply it by the square footage of the area you plan to remodel.

It’s very easy to go way over budget when you’re in the middle of a project, but that’s usually because certain steps weren’t taken beforehand, and no contingencies were accounted for.

While there’s no fool-proof way of making 100% certain that you won’t go over budget, the following steps can help ensure you stay as close to it as possible.


Hire the Right Contractor

Don’t hire the first contractor you talk to, no matter how great they may sound. When it comes to home construction, it’s always best to get at least three quotes from different contractors so you can compare their price, professionalism, and what they offer.

While the price is obviously an important factor to consider, it shouldn’t be the only one. It might be tempting to go with the cheapest quote, but you need to be careful if the price is too low. It might just be that you’re getting a discount by sacrificing the quality of work or building materials.

Ideally, the contractor you hire should provide you with a price for the project based on a very detailed, line-by-line estimate of every item and associated charge. This can include anything from the price for large items like the kitchen cabinets or hardwood floor planks, to smaller components such as the price of each light fixture or door handles. The more detailed the estimate, the better at helping you understand exactly how much you’ll be spending at the end of the day.

Plan Out Your Project in Great Detail

Your contractor should be able to establish a step-by-step plan for your project. This will help you understand how much you’ll need to put into your overall budget, and how that money will be spent at various intervals of the project.

The more detailed your plan, the more prepared you will be for all the incoming expenses related to getting the job done. Make sure all the necessary decisions are made from the get-go so you don’t wind up making last-minute decisions that could blow your budget.

Whether it’s the floor tiles, backsplash, plumbing fixtures, trim, sink, countertop, or any other component, they should be decided upon before your plan is solidified. Every single cost that’s not accounted for at the planning stage will only creep up on you and end up costing you more than what you initially anticipated.

Making last-minute decisions during the project can be stressful. Instead, have your contractor and/or architect draft a detailed set of drawings and set of events and make all of the important decisions before construction starts.

Don’t Stray From Your Plan

Once the plan has been mapped out, don’t change your mind. Even if you’re tempted to do so, resist the urge. Ideally, you would have given yourself enough time to make all the right decisions before construction. Preparing and sticking to your plan is the best way to keep your budget on track.

Your budget will definitely suffer if you start thinking about tacking on other little projects here and there. After all, you’re in the middle of construction, so you might as well add this and fix that, right?

Wrong. As soon as you start that line of thinking, you’ll be adding in a few extra hundred bucks here and there, which will definitely add up. Remember the plan you made up at the beginning, and stick to it.

Focus on Features Most Important to You (and Be Open to Cutting Corners on Others)

Write out a detailed list of all the things that are of greatest importance to you and can’t be negotiated. That could be granite counters in the kitchen, thick hardwood floor planks in the living room, or detailed crown molding in the dining area. When you’re coming up with a budget, allocate the necessary funds to these specific items that you’re simply unable to go without. All other features can be negotiated or even skimped on to suit your budget. Basically, your primary objectives should influence your monetary decisions.

Distinguish Every Component to Be Paid For

Homeowners have a tendency to identify and price out only the largest, most obvious pieces in the overall cost of construction, such as kitchen cabinets or marble floor slabs. But there are other costs that need to be accounted for, such as permits, decor, furniture, and even shipping fees.

Right from the start, identify every single cost of the project and place a price value beside each. You wouldn’t be too pleased if you finished the project only to realize you have no money left for clean-up or furnishings.

Pad Your Budget With a Contingency

Once you’ve calculated the final figure for the overall cost of your renovation project, tack on another 10% to 15%. While the above steps will help to make sure to stick closely to your budget, anything can happen. You might rip out drywall only to discover shoddy electrical work or asbestos. Unpleasant surprises like these will mean additional work and costs will be needed.

To make sure you’ve got the funds to cover these additional costs, adding a contingency to your budget will help a great deal. If you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t stumble upon any surprises, you can use that extra cash to add something a little extra. Or else, throw it in the bank and sit on it.

The Bottom Line

Staying on budget means taking the time and effort to find the right professionals, being very specific and detailed about the work involved and cost associated with it, and remaining compliant with the original plan. Determining the realistic cost of the project and making sure you don’t go over budget is a fine art, but it’s doable for anyone willing to put forth the effort.

10 Natural Remedies to Keep Bugs and Pests Away From Your Home

Summer is typically a time for holidays, backyard BBQ’s, pool time, and just lounging on your deck. But it’s also a time when the bugs like to come out and play, at the expense of your outdoor enjoyment. If all you’re doing is swatting and shooing, it’s time to do something about the problem. 

Of course, you can always use an insect repellent to keep bugs at bay. But if you’re not a fan of all the chemicals that many of these commercial products are littered with, you might want to use something a little more on the natural side that’s still effective.



Here are some natural insect repellent ideas to consider to ward off insects and keep on enjoying the summer heat.

1. Garlic

You might be able to pluck off a few bugs from your garden plants, but if you’re dealing with a whole whack of them, this might not be a time-efficient tactic. Instead, you can use garlic to fight off these pesky buggers. Peel one head of garlic, and mash it. Put it inside a glass jar along with boiling water, cover it, then let it sit overnight. Strain the concoction, put the liquid portion into a spray bottle, then spray the areas that need protection.

2. Vanilla Extract

If garlic is a little over the top for you, try vanilla extract. This wonderfully aromatic ingredient that’s widely used in many recipes can also be used as an insect repellant when blended with a little water. Just lather yourself in the mixture to smell delightful while battling mosquito bites. If the smell is bit much for you, there’s always the option to add a couple of drops of essential oils into the mix.



3. Citrus Peels

To keep spiders out of your house and fill your interior with a delightful aroma, use citrus peels from oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. Rub them on all the spots in your home where you’ve noticed spiders hanging around, such as shelves, window sills, and baseboards.

4. White Vinegar

Honestly, white vinegar can be used for so many things in the home, which is why you should always have a bottle of the stuff laying around. When it comes to fighting ants, white vinegar is perfect. Fill a spray bottle with the liquid, then spritz the spots where you’ve been noticing congregations of ants. Before you use it on colored textiles or carpeting, however, you might want to test it out on a small patch to make sure the vinegar doesn’t discolor them.


5. Borax

Another way to fight off ants is with borax. Sprinkle a little of the powder in the paths that ants take in your home to stop them from colonizing. A word of caution: if you’ve got little kids or pets, make sure to keep them away from the borax.

6. Baby Powder

While not exactly entirely natural, baby powder is certainly a lot better than some of the products you’ll find on supermarket shelves. Not only does it act as a deodorizer, baby powder can also fight off bees and wasps when sprinkled lightly around your home.



7. Citronella

If you’re tired of being eaten alive while trying to enjoy a nice outdoor meal in your backyard, use some citronella. A lemon grass type of product, citronella works really well at keeping mosquitos away. You can use it with citronella-infused lanterns and candles; or else, you can rub citronella oil on your body for an added layer of protection.

8. Basil

Fruit flies are a major nuisance, and can run rampant if you’ve left ripe fruit or leftover beverages out on your counter for hours. To keep fruit flies away, put a few basil leaves in a cup of water, and let it sit overnight. The next morning, pour the mixture into a spray bottle, and spritz the areas of infestation.


9. Cedar

Instead of using potent and foul-smelling moth balls, you can easily combat these bugs using natural cedar. Moths have a natural dislike to cedar, so you can use it to keep them from gnawing through all of your clothes. You can get cedar blocks or shavings, and place them in your dressers before these bugs are able to wreak havoc on your wardrobe.

10. Herbs

Having a herb garden is not only a convenient way to have flavorings readily available for your dishes, they’re also helpful at keeping bugs out of your house. Plant some aromatic herbs, such as citronella, basil, bay leaves and mint around all the exterior entrances into your home to keep insects outside where they should be.

How Using a Licensed Real Estate Agent Can Legally Protect You

No matter which side of the real estate coin you happen to be on, it’s worth it to have a licensed real estate agent represent you. Buying and selling come with their own set of challenges, which can leave you vulnerable to liability should you make the wrong move. A realtor will make sure you’re protected at all times. 

Your real estate agent has the legal obligation — or “fiduciary duty” — to make sure that your interests are protected. They’ve got the training and the expertise to know how to avoid any legal ramifications so you don’t get caught up in potentially costly quarrels.


Disclosing Defects With the Property

Did you know that as a seller, you’re legally obligated to inform the buyer of any issues with your home? If you know that your home’s basement is vulnerable to floods, for instance, and you don’t disclose that in the contact, you could get yourself in trouble. The buyer could legally go after you once they move in and quickly discover issues with the basement’s foundation that allows water to pour in following a heavy rainfall.

Without a doubt, the biggest source of litigation involves the failure to disclose some type of property defect.

Every little piece of information about any damage or defect on the property needs to be thoroughly documented. Construction issues, leaks, improvements without permits, cracks, or nuisances should all be communicated to prospective buyers in order for them to make a more informed decision. Your realtor knows that, and will encourage you to fill out and sign a disclosure statement to cover yourself.

Recommending Inspections

If you’re buying a home, you want to find out everything there is to know about the property before you sign on the dotted line. When you draft up a contract, it should include all the necessary contingencies that will give you an out in case something goes wrong during escrow.

One of the most important contingencies to include in a real estate contract is a home inspection clause. This will give you the opportunity to hire a licensed home inspector to check out all the details of the property in question, and uncover any issues that could be too large for you to deal with, and therefore potentially negate the deal.

Things like electrical and plumbing systems, roofs, septic systems, foundations, chimneys, and other major components will be inspected. If your inspector identifies any issues that could compromise the structure and the safety of you and your family, or are far too expensive for you to comfortably repair, you have the chance to back out of the deal. Without such a contingency, you’ll be stuck with the house if no contingencies are included in the contract.

An experienced real estate agent will understand the importance of such a clause, and will encourage you to insert it into the contract so you don’t have to go through the hassle of pursuing a legal suit afterwards to get the seller to fork over the extra money needed to make the repairs.

Ensuring Accuracy of Details in the Contract

A contract to buy or sell a house is legally binding. That means all the parties involved are legally responsible for holding their end of the bargain. With such a heavy amount of responsibility that comes with entering a contract, you want to make sure that every detail in it is accurate and represents your best interests.

Your real estate agent will go through the contract with a fine-tooth comb to make sure you’re not legally agreeing to anything that could put you in a precarious position after the fact.

Understanding Your Tax Obligations

Did you now that you could be stuck paying taxes on any profits that you make on the sale of your home? This all depends on how long you’ve called the property your primary residence, or if your intentions are to sell for investment purposes. Your real estate agent can help keep you in the loop about your tax obligations upon the sale of your home, and whether or not you could be faced with a big tax bill when it comes time to report your taxes to Uncle Sam. If you don’t pay up, be prepared to legally face the wrath of the government.

For instance, if you sell your home for more than what you bought it for, you’ll be required to pay capital gains taxes if the house was not your primary residence for two out of the last five years. Not only that, every sale of real estate that you make must be at least two years apart in order to avoid capital gains taxes.

Of course, the process is much more intricate than that. There are plenty more nitty gritty details involved in determining whether or not capital gains taxes must be paid. Your real estate agent can point you to an experienced accountant to fill you in on all of these details about capital gains taxes on the sale of real estate.

The Bottom Line

Unless you are a realtor yourself, your best bet is to seek representation in a real estate transaction. Whether you’re the buyer or the seller, you could easily put yourself in the position to get sued if you’re not careful. The truth is, the world of real estate and its accompanying contracts can be really complex. Instead of trying to figure things out for yourself, a real estate agent can guide you in the right direction and help you make informed decisions that will keep you legally protected.