Author Archives: Cathy Starkweather
Author Archives: Cathy Starkweather
COVID-19 has done more than kill people, shut down schools, destroy small businesses, and instill fear in the populace. It also caused the divorce rate to rise.
Between April and June 2020, the divorce rate in the U.S. rose by 34%. This increase is attributed to a combination of fear, financial strain, illness, death of loved ones, isolation from extended families, homeschooling children, increased alcohol and drug use, and too much togetherness for those in lock-down.
Going through a divorce is unpleasant at best, and when there’s a house to “split,” it can be even more unpleasant.
If you find yourself in the midst of a divorce, do remember that you can divorce a spouse, but not a joint financial commitment. That includes your mortgage.
You and your soon-to-be ex-spouse may agree on the property division and a court may assign ownership of the house to one of you, but if you have a mortgage that you both signed, you’re both still liable for the payments. As you might expect, the bank has no interest in your divorce, and no desire to simply let one of you “off the hook” for the payments. For them, the more people responsible, the better.
That means you’re financially tied together until the house is either sold or refinanced by the person in possession. If it took two incomes to qualify in the first place, keeping the house may not be an option.
More troubling to some is that if there’s no refinance, the payment history will appear on both of your credit reports. If the person responsible for making payments falls behind, you’ll both suffer.
For many couples, selling is the best choice, but even that can be stressful. Unless your divorce decree involved one of you signing a deed to transfer full ownership to the other, you’ll have to reach some agreements.
First you’ll have to agree upon an agent, then you’ll have to agree upon the price. You’ll have to agree again when it’s time to respond to offers.
The agent you choose can be your key to success.
You need an agent who will be patient and sensitive to your needs, who will never divulge your motivation for selling, and who will never, ever take sides. You may also prefer an agent who is willing to meet with you separately.
Finally, you need an agent who will present you with a clear market analysis and show you your home’s true market value, so you need not have conflict over the listing price.
If the house you need to sell is in the Orlando area, I’d be pleased to offer you that kind of service.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic caused so many families to stay home for weeks on end. We’re in 2021, I don’t know if some thought January 1, 2021 was going to be a magical day, that’s what it seemed like with all the looking forward to 2021 and getting 2020 over and done with. Well, here we are, still struggling with the frustrations. Surprised? Not in the least.
This has given shift to how families live in their homes and use of space… Features that weren’t important may be very important now.
In previous years, the most important features might have included:
Space and a good floor plan for entertaining
Proximity to shopping, dining, exercise facilities, and entertainment venues
An easy commute to school or work
Now that the pandemic seems to be lingering on, keeping people more or less isolated, priorities have shifted for many.
Now they’re looking for homes with features such as:
Office / school-room space
Garden space and /or private play yards
Multi-generational housing possibilities
For many, the office / school-room space is a pressing need.
For people with children who cannot go to school, having a quiet place to do school-work is a priority. The kitchen or dining room table is fine for homework, but when you have ALL of your books, papers, laptops, etc. with you at all times, schoolwork really needs a place of its own.
The same is true for employed adults who have been or are working from home. If the rest of the family is in the house, it can be very difficult to do productive work from “common area” rooms. And for some, it sounds as if working from home will be permanent.
Both of these situations call for a separate study/work area. If your house has an office, a craft or exercise room, or room/extra garage that could be finished, that could be its most important selling point.
Gardening space and private play areas for children also became more important this Spring and Summer. Most of us need to get out in the fresh air now and then, and being restricted from public open spaces was a hardship. A big yard, especially if fenced and private, could be an important draw.
Even before COVID-19, multi-generational living was making a strong comeback. Many were realizing the benefits of having multiple generations living in the same household or on the same property. The benefit came home to others when they were prevented from being in physical contact with elderly loved ones or beloved grandchildren.
Your agent will hopefully focus on these most-wanted features when writing marketing materials for your Orlando and Central Florida home. You can do your part by mentioning your home features when you tell friends about your home for sale, and when you write about it on social media.
If you’ve just started looking, you’re probably concentrating on the home you want: the size, the number of rooms, the yard, and perhaps the layout of the kitchen or the size of the closets. In other words, you’re looking at the house and lot themselves, and not what’s around them. Before you focus on the house, however, there are 4 other important points to consider.
When you’re ready to begin searching for a home here in Orlando, get in touch. I’ll be happy to help you find just the home you want – in the location that will make you happy to be at home any day of the week.
Right now buyers and sellers alike are frustrated. Real estate is moving slowly due to the restrictions imposed by social distancing.
What that means is that while a few homes will be sold now, when the current health threat has passed, we should see buyers flooding into the market.
Instead of waiting until that happens, take a few steps right now to be ready as both a seller and a buyer.
Remember that your tax basis will be what you paid for the house, plus the improvements you’ve made.
Next take inventory of your house
First, gather all the documentation and information buyers will need or want:
Now, as an income tax precaution, gather receipts for any improvements you’ve made to the house.
with an eye to both selling and your future purchase.
Share the photos and the “loves” with your listing agent. Share the loves and don’t likes with your buyer’s agent when the time comes.
If you want to go forward with limited showings right now, call me. I’ll be happy to help.
If you plan to put your Orlando on the market and your still home during COVID, make good use of this time at home. Use it to get ready to sell.
You’ve heard that de-cluttering is important, so go through closets and shelves looking for things you haven’t worn or used in a year or more. If they’re still good and you know you’ll never use them, put them in a box or bag to donate.
Tackle the refrigerator and the kitchen and bathroom cabinets with an eye toward containers that are out-of-date and or empty/dried out. I have no idea why, but most of us have a few things that have gotten pushed to the back of a shelf and forgotten.
While you’re at it, take everything out and scrub those shelves. It will feel good – and will look good when buyers open the doors to take a peek.
Setting the donation boxes aside for your next trip past a drop point, start new boxes and fill them with seasonal clothes and toys. Label those boxes well, so you’ll know just where they go when you move them into your next home. Do the same with seasonal kitchen items and decor.
Remember – when your closets and cupboards are not crowded, your future buyers will have the impression of “plenty of space,” which is what most people do want.
All of that can be a good 2 or 3 days’ worth of work – so when you’ve finished, do something to reward yourself for a job well done.
Do call me if you have a question about anything going on in the market – or if you need a suggestion for good places to donate those unneeded items here in Orlando.
When you’re getting ready to purchase an Orlando home, the first step (unless you have plenty of cash) is to become pre-approved for a mortgage loan.
Pre-approval gives you the confidence to make an offer, knowing that yes, you can afford that house. It also gives the home seller confidence that yes, you can close the transaction.
Some people confuse the terms pre-qualified and pre-approved. You’ll want to be pre-approved. That means that the lender has checked your credit, your income, your debts, etc. just as if you were ready to buy immediately. Pre-qualification can be done with a phone call, and it means nothing.
Of course, before you can become pre-approved, you need a mortgage lender.
The very worst ways to choose a mortgage lender:
1. Going online. We know. Some people have had success with online lenders. More have been frustrated by being “just a number,” by speaking to different representatives each time they call, and by being given false promises. Some of these lenders even use “bait and switch” tactics to get borrowers committed to them before adjusting their interest rates upward.
2. Assuming that the Orlando bank where you have accounts will serve you well as a borrower. Even if you have a personal relationship with a bank employee, this is a dangerous assumption.
While it’s true that you could be offered the best interest rates and service available, all too often, long-time bank customers are shocked by receiving the opposite. They get delays, frustration, and excessive fees. Sometimes they’re strung along for weeks, only to have their loans fail to close.
The very best way to choose a mortgage lender:
Ask your Orlando real estate agent for recommendations.
Your real estate agent is naturally just as interested in a smooth closing as you are, so he or she will not steer you wrong. Instead, your agent will provide you with 2 or 3 names of lenders who offer the best rates, the lowest fees, and the most efficient service possible.
These will be lenders who have served their clients well, and who are friendly, non-threatening, and easy to deal with. They’ll be cooperative in working with you and your agent and will be happy to provide pre-approval letters upon request.
If your current bank is on your agent’s “preferred” list, you’ll know it’s safe to use them.
Since we all do have different personalities, it can’t hurt to interview more than one lender before making a choice. The ease with which you interact will be important as the transaction progresses. In addition, different lenders have different loan programs available to them. You are entitled to a Good Faith Estimate to use in comparing offerings from competing lenders.
Are you getting ready to go shopping? Call me – I’ll be glad to share my list of preferred lenders who serve clients here in the Orlando area.
Today, many agents are recommending a pre-listing home inspection, for a few good reasons.
A pre-listing inspection:
First, the confidence.
When a licensed home inspector attests that prior repairs, additions, etc. were done correctly, or that the systems in the home are in excellent condition, it carries more weight than the homeowner’s assurance. If the inspector finds issues, the seller may either make needed repairs or simply disclose them. When repairs are made, the seller can attach documentation in the form of photos, invoices, etc. to assure the buyer that the work was done. On the other side of the question, if a seller discloses problems that he or she is not willing to correct, the buyer has even more confidence in the seller’s integrity. Some buyers will feel that the pre-inspection was “good enough” and will happily not spend the money on a second inspection. Others will hire a different inspector to verify the findings or to examine subsequent repairs.
Being alerted to problems is a benefit to sellers.
Things can go wrong that a seller doesn’t notice, so they cannot disclose or repair. It’s beneficial to know these things ahead of time so they can be addressed or so they can be disclosed and the price can be adjusted accordingly.
Making repairs ahead of listing is less costly.
Repairs made in the period of time between the inspection and an already scheduled closing must be done in a hurry. They must also be done by a licensed contractor – often of the buyer’s choice. Thus, the homeowner has less chance of obtaining competitive bids or of making any of the repairs himself/herself.
A pre-listing inspection can prevent “escrow fall out.”
When the inspection is done just prior to closing and necessary repairs are extensive or time-consuming, some buyers won’t wait. Additionally, some won’t have confidence in repairs being made correctly, so they simply walk away. Repairs that were already completed will simply be noted on your property condition report and verified by the buyer’s inspector, should they opt for a second inspection.
Discuss a pre-listing inspection with your Orlando real estate professional.
If you decide to go forward, ask your agent to attend the inspection with you and to ask relevant questions. After the inspection, ask your agent for advice on what, if anything, you should do next. If repairs are necessary, he or she probably has a list or reputable contractors here in Orlando who can help. If no repairs are needed, your agent will know how to best use the information in marketing your home.
A pre-listing inspection is not a requirement to offering your Orlando home for sale, but in many cases, it is a wise idea.
You know that when you want your home to sell quickly and for top dollar, you need to fix-up, declutter, and clean everything until it sparkles. You may even want to stage the home. But that’s not all you need to do.
The final step, which is the easiest, is to get out of your Orlando home while it’s being shown.
Many sellers argue that they need to be there to answer questions. While it’s true that there may be questions, you still need to leave. If the buyers are truly interested, the questions will come after the showing.
Meanwhile, staying in the house could cause you to lose a sale because buyers can be shy. Many will hesitate to open closet doors or turn on faucets to check the water pressure. They won’t sit down in the living room to “see how it feels” or make comments to each other about the home’s features. They won’t walk through the rooms trying to decide if their furniture will fit.
When sellers are present, they feel uncomfortable and may not stay long enough to realize that yes – this could be the perfect house for them.
The second problem is that sellers who get into conversations with buyers or their agents can destroy their own bargaining positions.
For instance, the potential buyers or their agent may ask why you’re moving, and your answer might indicate that you’re in a hurry and really need to sell. Thus, their offer will be lower than it might have been.
It really is no one’s business why you’re moving. It has nothing at all to do with the value of the house. But if someone asks you a direct question, you may find it difficult not to answer. If the buyers are truly interested and have a valid question, their agent will contact your agent.
Next, you could be drawn into a verbal negotiation that’s not in your best interests.
Some buyers, rather than being shy, are pushy. These buyers don’t want to wait to write an offer and have it presented. Instead, they’ll approach the seller with “Would you take…”
Answering that question without knowing all the details that go into an offer could clearly be against your best interests. “X dollars” could turn into “X minus many thousands” in seller concessions by the time the offer is written.
Lastly, a personality conflict could prevent a sale.
You (or the buyers) could let personal feelings get in the way of a successful purchase and sale. Sometimes people simply don’t like each other. There may be a silly reason such as their clothing or hairstyle or manner of speaking. One of you might remind the other of someone you don’t like. In today’s climate, a political remark might set one of you against the other.
There could even be no reason – but the negative feeling is there.
You could decide you don’t want your house to go to those folks. Or – they could decide they don’t want a house filled with your “energy.”
All things considered, it’s always in the seller’s best interests to be out of the house when buyers arrive. So, don’t question it – just do it.
That’s understandable, especially if you had houseguests or if you have children with vacation activities to juggle with your own work and holiday preparations. It can all become a bit “much.”
But now… the New Year is only a few days away. If you’re serious about selling, it’s time to get moving.
As the guests leave and the holiday decorations are packed away, take a critical look at your house.
Rent a storage unit, get some sturdy boxes, and begin to de-clutter, cleaning as you go. Pack those holiday things away, along with the extra furniture, summer clothing and toys, dishes you only use on holidays, and the extra linens that are making it hard to shut the door on the linen closet.
Rid your kitchen and bathroom cabinets of outdated items and pack up the appliances you thought you would use, but never do.
Some of your competitors will have gotten ready before the holidays, so they’ll be ready to “go live” immediately after Christmas or New Year’s. It’s wise to join them or follow as soon as possible because there will be those people who are being transferred and need to find a new home here in Orlando in January.
When you’d like a fresh set of eyes to take a look and let you know what you need to do to get your Orlando home ready for market, call me. I’ll be glad to share what I’ve learned about what appeals to buyers – and I’ll be glad to do a market analysis to let you know your home’s value in today’s market.