Tips for selling during the holidays

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, it seems like the Christmas and holiday decorations have started to go up.  If you are going to be selling your home this holiday season, I wanted to offer some advice to not deter buyers and to make sure it’s in selling condition.

1. Keep your decorations to a minimum.  I know that you love your 15 foot Christmas tree and it’s the focal point of your living room.  However, you want to make sure that buyers can see and appreciate each room for what it is.  You don’t want rooms in your home to be overshadowed by holiday decorations.  Buyers need to know the size and shape of a room and too much stuff can get in the way.  This is true with the exterior of the home, as well.  Don’t blind your buyers pulling up to your house.  Keep it simple.  The other reason you don’t want to go overboard is because not everybody celebrates the same holidays that you do.  It shouldn’t prevent someone from viewing or purchasing your home, but if you over do it, you could turn some buyers off.

2. Be wary of safety.  Make sure all plugs and extension cords and other plugs you have out for your decorations are safely tucked away.  Don’t cover staircase railings with decorations where buyers can’t grab on.  Hide all of your presents.  Don’t leave them out and wrapped under a tree.  You could get a curious child unwrapping your gifts before someone can stop them.

3. Make it easy to enter.  Keep your driveway shoveled and your walkway clear.  Throw down some salt if it gets really icy.  If you’re going to be out of town during the holidays, make sure you have someone planned to shovel for you.  I’ve had plenty of buyers unable to view a home because there was so much snow we couldn’t make it to the front door.  If you have buyers coming in from out of town, this could be their only chance to see your home.  Don’t risk losing that chance.

4. Along those same lines, make your home available.  I know it’s hard during the holidays to always want to show your home, especially if you’re entertaining.  However, try to move your festivities to another location so you don’t miss any showings.  

I’d love to her any additional tips you have for selling during the holidays.  If you are ready to sell, please be sure to visit me online.

Tips for renting out your home

If you’re having trouble selling your home, you might have considered renting it out instead.  This is a great way to continue to be able to pay your mortgage and be able to sell in a few more years once the housing market turns around.  However, if you are a first time landlord, the process of having tenants in your home can be traumatic.  And being the winter, it’s harder to find people who need a place now.  Here are some tips to find good renters quickly.

1. Make it look move-in ready.  If you were living there or did have tenants in there previously, just like selling a house, the home has to be in showing condition.  Tenants are like buyers and generally move in quickly once they find something they like.  Make sure the home is clean, smells good, and appliances/fixtures are in working order.  Clean carpets if they’re dingy or you had a pet in there previously.  Also, if you moved out but are going to be renting the home, make sure that you have appliances in there.  If you took the washer/dryer when you moved, a tenant is going to need one, too.  Put them in first.

2. Make it available to a wider audience.  Hanging signs and advertising on Craigslist can definitely help.  Generally, for the cost of only 1 month’s rent, putting your home in the MLS can attract a lot more tenants.  And they’ve already been pre-screened.  Most Realtors have been working with a lot more renters since the market turned around.  In order to find them a place, they will have a credit report and background check.  By listing the home in the MLS, you open the rental up to a lot more people, especially those working with agents already.

3. Know your competition and price accordingly.  Make sure you look at comps to know what similar homes are renting for in the area.  You don’t want to be the highest priced.  Make sure you base your price on location, amenities, schools, etc. 

4. Make it available.  Tenants usually don’t have much time to wait when their lease runs out and they need a new place.  If you’re not going to be around to show it, this can be another great reason to list in the MLS.  Your Realtor can show it for you and/or put on a lockbox so it’s always available for tenants to look at.  And you want to be more open to your tenants.  Allow pets.  You can always charge a pet deposit in case the pet does something to the home.  You’ll open it up to a lot more prospects this way.

Click here for more tips.

Again, if you do find someone interested, make sure to get a recent credit report and run a background check if possible.  Contact past landlords to make sure they’re good tenants and they paid on time.  Ask for the first month’s rent and security deposit from a cashier’s check, rather than a personal check.

If you need help renting your home and want some MLS exposure, please visit me online.

Understanding your property tax bill

For those of you living in Cook County, you’ve probably received your 2008 tax bill over the last few weeks.  I wanted to touch on a couple of points relating to this.  Most of you probably figure that given the recession and property values going down, you’re shocked to see your tax bill go up!  So how can this be?

taxesThere are multiple reasons.  First of all, this bill represents the 2008 tax year.  So the bill for the assessment done reflected home values as of January 1, 2008, which was before the housing market completely dropped.  All Illinois property taxes are paid in arrears.  That means we pay this year for what happened last year.  We won’t pay for this year until next year.  Better than prepaying, right?

Also, this bill was based on your home’s assessed value (as I mentioned before).  When home values were on the rise earlier in the decade, the assessments went up, too.  When this happened, lawmakers in Springfield gave every county the authority to impose a ceiling on assessment increases.  Well, Cook County was the only county to take advantage of this (Sorry, Lake!)  But the ceilings are slowly being phased out and the assessments are now allowed to begin to increase again.

Because of the housing crisis, it is possible that assessments will start to go down.  However, you will not see that reflected until you receive your bill in 2010 for the 2009 tax year.   There is a chance that even if your assessment does go down next year, your bill could still go up.  WHY?  Well, aside from being taxed on your value, you have to take into account any recent tax hike referendums, what level of financial support is going to local schools, and general assessments across a community.  (Visit your local town/village’s Web site for more complete information.)

So you’re probably wondering if you can appeal.  Unfortunately, you can’t.  If there is a mathematical error on the bill, you absolutely can.  But it’s too late to appeal your assessments for this bill.  Lake County residents have 30 days from receiving their assessment to appeal their assessments for 2009.  Visit Lake County’s site for more information on how to do this.

If you don’t pay your taxes, just like your mortgage, your house can be taken away from you and auctioned off at a sheriff’s sale.  But make sure to do your research to determine if you are being fairly taxed.  If you have any more questions, be sure to visit me online.


Tax credit extended and expanded

Just last week I blogged about how the first time buyer tax credit was set to expire on November 30, 2009.  Well, a lot has happened in the past week.  Earlier in the week the House of Representatives passed an extension.  And Barack Obama signed it into law early on Friday. 

The extension now runs through June.  In order to take advantage of the tax credit up to $8,000, you will need to sign a contract by April 30, 2010 and close by June 30, 2010.  Just be careful.  If you are signing a contract to purchase a home that is going through a short sale, please beware.  A lot of banks can take longer than 60 days to approve a short sale or that closing.  So you’ll need to get everything signed prior to April 30.  April 30 is the last day you can have a contract signed and June 30 is the last possible day to close to take advantage.

8000-tax-creditAgain, how the credit works is this.  If you purchase a home for $80,000 or more, you are eligible for an $8,000 tax credit on your 2009 taxes.  Remember, you file 2009 taxes in 2010.  If it’s a home for less than $80,000, you can get a credit for up to 10% of the purchase price.  If the home is $59,000, you will receive $5,900.

Obama also extended the income limits of who is eligible.  Single buyers can now earn up to $125,000 per year in income and married couples up to $225,000 to be able to receive it.  If your income level is above those amounts, you are not eligible to receive the credit.

Obama also extended the credit to move-up buyers, not just first time buyers.  In order to qualify for this $6,500 credit, you must have owned and occupied a principal residence for at least 5 of the last 8 years.  So many more people will qualify under the new rules.  Congress and the President are hoping the economy will get stimulated a bit by this expansion.

Originally, Congress was hoping that this tax credit would start a domino-like reaction.  First time buyers would purchase homes from sellers who would then choose to purchase homes and so on.  Unfortunately, a lot of buyers turned to vacant/foreclosed/short sales, so these homes didn’t have sellers who needed to move up.  But they’re hoping that offering a tax credit to move-up buyers will start this domino effect again.

More information on the expansion can be found in this article. I also have lots of great info on my Web site.

Hurry to take advantage of tax credit

I had to write this week about the first time homebuyer tax credit.  If you haven’t heard of this by now, please continue reading.  The government is actually giving buyers who purchase a home up to an $8,000 tax credit.  They are giving you money to stimulate the economy.  It does not get any better than this.  There is some fine print, of course, so keep reading.

First of all, this credit is for all homes which close prior to December 1, 2009.  That gives you less than a month from now to take advantage.  There are talks in place to extend it, but nothing has been approved yet, so we’re going to continue on as if December 1st is the last date.  You can’t write a contract on a home on November 30th.  You have to close on a home prior to then!


Who qualifies?  The government is defining a first time homebuyer as anyone who hasn’t owned a principal residence in the past three years.  So let’s say you owned a home five years ago but sold it to move out of state.  You’ve been renting for a few years and now want to purchase a home.  You qualify!  If you are married, both you and your spouse can’t have owned property in the past three years.

What qualifies?  Any home qualifies that’s used as a principal residence.  So no second homes or vacation homes.  But any type of home will work- single-family home, townhome, condo, mobile home, house boat, you name it.

Remember that I said you can get a tax credit of up to $8,000.  So, basically, if you purchase a home for $80,000 or more, you get all $8,000.  If it’s less than that, you can get 10% of the purchase price.  So if the home you buy is $54,000, you would receive a tax credit for $5,400. 

This credit can be claimed on your 2009 taxes (payable April 15, 2010).  Since you’ve most likely already filed your 2008 taxes, it won’t work for those.  Talk to your accountant if you’ve received an extension through this point.

So what’s next?  Pick up the phone and call me immediately at 800-858-7917.  If you’re out of the Illinois area, I can refer you to an agent in your area, too.  We need to get shopping ASAP!  For more information, you can also visit my Web site.   I’ve set up a page exclusively to this tax credit with an FAQ section and other links.  Make sure to check it out.  Just click on the graphic on my home page that you see on this blog.  I hope to hear from you soon.