Real Estate Tips

What Home Renovations Really Pay Off?

Blog, Real Estate Tips   |   Dunham Stewart

hermosa-beach-home-remodelRenovating, remodeling, and improving your home can be great ways to give it a makeover, gain extra space, or otherwise make it possible for you to stay in one place longer. But will they increase your selling price? Owners of older homes dream of updating or modernizing kitchens and baths. In fact, before they place their homes on the market, some folks go to all the effort to update the kitchen they’ve been meaning to redo for years … only to have someone else enjoy it. The challenge can be when the update is for the purpose of increasing your home’s marketability or resale value. In that case, does the renovation really pay off? Here are some things to consider before you tackle that upgrade or renovations just to sell your property. When it adds value: Anything that increases your usable square footage adds value to your home. So, if you finish a basement or an attic space, add a wing or just extend a single room, that extra space and increase your home’s market value. Adding a bathroom or bedroom is a substantial improvement that changes a home’s category. A three-bedroom home with three full baths has more market value than a similar home with only two baths, or two bedrooms. The biggest bang for you buck, however, can come from making some simple changes. Consider this: a new front door, on average, adds up to 96.6 percent of the amount you will spend on it to the value of your home. Of course, you’ll need to pay attention to which door will enhance your home and which might look like an afterthought, but the right new door adds instant curb appeal. In fact, even painting the front door can bring a significant improvement (without the extra expense of replacing it). Other improvements, such as replacing windows or worn and discolored siding can yield a greater return than an expensive kitchen remodel. Minor kitchen upgrades, on the other hand, can add back over 82 percent to the value of what you spend on them. A “minor” kitchen upgrade can be as simple as new cabinet doors and hardware, or new appliances, an updated counter surface and sink, or new fixtures. When it’s not worth it: A $100,000 kitchen remodel on a $600,000 home will yield anywhere near that additional value to your home, especially if all of the other homes in the neighborhood are in the same price range. So, if you upgrade it while you’re living in it because your love to cook and want the perfect kitchen … the value is your enjoyment of the upgrade. Don’t expect it to increase your home’s resale value by that much though when the time comes to sell. When it doesn’t pay off: If you increase the value of your home while you continue to live in it, realize that you may be increasing your tax basis as well. A new assessment of your home may increase your taxes and cause it to be more expensive to live there. Simple improvements such as adding a garden shed can trigger a reassessment in some localities, while moving a wall or putting in an additional bath or bedroom most certainly will. Before you take on an improvement, addition or upgrade for the purpose of increasing your home’s marketability, talk to your local professional real estate agent. She can discuss with you the potential ramifications of the changes you want to make, the return on your investment and whether or not it could trigger a tax assessment and property valuation increase.

Real Estate and the Elections

Blog, Real Estate News, Real Estate Tips   |   Dunham Stewart

real estate and electionsWith the national elections ramping up, many voters already have voter fatigue (also called voter apathy). That is, we’re already so tired of hearing about the elections that we don’t bother to vote at all. In fact, voter apathy is quite high in the United States: Somewhere between a third to a half of eligible voters do not vote in national elections and even fewer vote in local elections.

But, “the likelihood that a homeowner will vote in a local election is 65%, compared to 54% for renters” and they are 3% more likely to vote in national elections than renters.

Here’s why not voting is a bad idea:

  1. Local elections can affect the marketability of your home

The value of your home is determined by a variety of factors, one of which is the rating of the local schools and another is the infrastructure of the community (the age and condition of the bridges, roads, drainage, street lights and other municipal projects). When a municipal bond issue comes up for vote, the outcome can affect both your bottom line through property and sales taxes, and the community desirability via new roads, better schools and protection from flooding (for example).

  1. National elections can affect home prices

The affect on home sales prices is not because of the specific outcome of the elections, but because consumers become more nervous about the economy during election years. When larger blocks of homeowners vote, they are placing their trust in the economy and the expectation that home values will rise.

  1. Direct effect on property taxes:

Some propositions have direct effect on your property taxes and the sharing or distribution of municipal expenses. For instance, in an upcoming election in Texas, directly changes the amount that a homeowner is able to exempt from property taxes (the homestead exemption) and makes that change a constitutional amendment … meaning that it takes another vote of the State’s entire electorate to change it. You might think that this would raise marketability to non-child families and lower marketability to families with children, but proponents believe that instead, it will increase home values across the board, thereby increasing tax revenue to schools.

One aspect of participating in local elections is that the homeowner gets to know what is important to other people in their community. Being part of a community is one of the benefits of homeownership. Connecting with your neighbors to improve your schools, streets and bridges can bring a sense of civic pride and camaraderie to your neighborhood.

As your local real estate professional we can indicate which areas in your neighborhood adversely affect the market value of your home. If you can help improve those things now, you should, so that when you’re ready to sell, your home’s value is at its highest.

Yes There is an App for That

Blog, Real Estate Tips   |   Dunham Stewart

mobile real estateYou don’t know what you don’t know, so how many homebuyers or home-sellers know they can use their smart phones to get smarter about the process? It doesn’t matter how far along in your home-buying process you’ve come, you can always tweak things to simplify your life. Adding these nifty apps to your smart phone frees up some of your time to find just the right home.


Available for both Apple and Android phones, this app features unique technology that instantly tells you all about any home you snap a picture of. You can learn how much it is worth, when it last sold and even how much it sold for. You’ll see information about the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and garage spaces. You can see the lot size and even the school district. The app gives you access to information about more than 90 million homes across the United States. For homes currently on the market, you may even have access to interior photos.

Using HomeSnap helps you narrow down your home search before you go to the effort to take home tours.

House Hunter

The HouseHunter app allows you to keep track of your entire search for your dream home. It stores information, notes and pictures for every home you look at and even allows a rating system so you can evaluate and compare each home you tour. Score each home based on requirements you specify with House Hunter’s proprietary scorecard system. View images of multiple homes at once to help you remember which house is which.


Not just for real estate, the AroundMe app shows you what you can find in any area. So, if your find the home of your dreams, you can also see the nearby hot spots, where to find the dry cleaners, restaurants and even hospitals. It can connect you with taxi services, points of interest and a plethora of other nearby information so that you can learn about a potential neighborhood quickly without having to do exhaustive searches.

Dictionary of Real Estate Terms

Every industry has its own language and LD Real Estate Dictionary is the app that can help you. From “points” to “policy” this app has more than 2000 common real estate terms and their definitions in common English. Navigate the massive paperwork with ease and understanding with this app.

Our mobile-friendly site

Best of all, our own mobile-friendly responsive website can keep you connected to the latest listings so you can check them out on your way home from work. Check out the new listings, view stunning images and connect with us all from the mobile site.

3 Reason to List Your House This Fall

Blog, Real Estate Tips   |   Dunham Stewart

Many sellers feel that spring is the best time for selling a house because buyer demand increases at that time of year. This is true, however, the fall and winter have their own advantages. Here are three reasons to sell your home now:

  1.  Buyer Demand Continues to Outpace the Supply of Homes For Sale

According to the National Association of REALTORS’ (NAR) Foot Traffic report, there are more buyers out in the market right now than at any other time in the past three years. Interest rates are still historically low compared to years past. This is good for buyers today and it’s good for buying your next home. It is predicted that they will rise by 2016. The graph below shows the significant increase in foot traffic experienced this year compared to 2014.


2. Less Competition

Right now inventory IS up in our region. There was an unusually high surge of new listings in Spring 2015. However, they do start to slow down in August. Also, many spring sellers take their houses off the market if they do not sell by the end of summer, which was the case this year due to high inventory. The good news is that sales prices are still maintaining (give or take) and home sales are still up in our area. As the fall moves on and winter nears, the number of new listings will continue to drop. The choices for buyers become more limited.

3. The Process Will be Quicker

One of the biggest challenges during the 2013 into 2014 housing market was the length of time from contract to closing due to bank requirements and document processing. It’s not necessarily harder to qualify for a mortgage, it’s just that more verification is now required. Furthermore, with the steady appreciation of home values over the past three years, banks have been inundated with both purchase and refinancing loan requests. Both of these tend to slow in the winter cutting timelines and frustration to both buyers and sellers.

The Upside of Downsizing Your Home

Blog, Real Estate Tips   |   Dunham Stewart

Downsizing your homeMost people think of downsizing as something you do in retirement. It can happen when the kids leave home or retirement looms or your first grandchild is born hundreds of miles away. You start to think about leaving a house that’s now too big for you and downsizing to a smaller house or condo or a retirement community. So, you sell the large family home to moving to a smaller, retirement-style home, free up some cash and have more to spend on leisure.

To many, downsizing is a negative: smaller house, less space, cutting back. But, downsizing can be an important step in “upsizing” your life.

You just have to determine what “downsizing” means to you. Smaller Space, Bigger Life Moving to a smaller space (as in “fewer square feet”) doesn’t have to mean that you have less living space. Many family homes have large square-footage cut up into little spaces to house multiple family members. When downsizing from a large family home, look for a layout that maximizes the living space so that you don’t feel closed in. That might mean an open floor plan, more windows, adding outdoor living space, foregoing formal spaces or even choosing a wall-less loft.

An important idea to keep in mind is that downsizing shouldn’t mean moving into a smaller version of what you already have. Moving from a four-bedroom/three-bath 5000 square-foot home into a four-bedroom/three-bath 1800 square-foot home just feels cramped and crowded. Moving your living area, home office and master bedroom into an 1800 square-foot two bedroom, open floor plan, however, can seem like a mansion. In fact, some people find that fewer rooms mean more living area to enjoy.

Less space doesn’t necessarily translate into less money. For example, you may long to live downtown, You may find the lifestyle you want in an active-adult community or a continuing-care retirement community

Freed-Up Cash? Or, Freed-Up Life?

Okay, yes, for some people, the purpose of downsizing is to free up cash for other things. If however, freeing up cash isn’t your aim—for example, if you need to reinvest all the money from the sale of your family-sized home as part of your financial plan—downsizing into an upscale high-rise condominium or townhome in your favorite urban area can massively upgrade your lifestyle.

Think of it … spend your evening at the theatre, dining out or entertaining friends at the rooftop pool. Just being able to lock the door and head to the airport for some long-anticipated trip without having to arrange for a house-sitter, lawn-care and yard work, or the myriad other requirements of property frees you to travel on a whim, be spontaneous, grab a good deal on a weekend cruise or visit the kids and grandkids as often as you like.

Even if you can’t afford a luxury place, where you locate your new home can free up your life from the tedious efforts of maintaining a larger property. If having freedom to do other things is important to your new life goals, make certain your real estate professional knows: lifestyle options may exist that you’ve never thought of.

If you’ve thought about downsizing, your real estate professional can help you determine the best options for your lifestyle and goals.

How Accurate is That Zestimate

Blog, Real Estate Tips   |   Dunham Stewart

zestimateI am often asked about the accuracy of home valuations available online. I generally reply that Zillow and the other sites are a good place to start if you want to get a general estimate of what your home is worth. A “Zestimate” will give you a property value range, based on public records of the property’s:

  • Physical attributes
  • tax assessments
  • Prior transaction data

The drawback? These estimates are generated by a computer, not a knowledgeable real estate professional. Improvements and defects are not taken into consideration. Intangible features like ocean view, curb appeal, high-traffic streets and other factors are not considered. The estimate is really more of a snapshot of the overall market than an accurate estimate of a particular homes value.

If you are serious about selling, you will need more than a general estimate. Your homes unique features will need to be considered in order to reach an accurate estimate of its current value. An accurate comparable market analysis is based on:

  • Property type and size
  • Number of bedrooms and bathrooms
  • Age, condition and style
  • Location and appeal

To gather the data necessary for an accurate analysis it is necessary to research the Multiple Listing Service data, preview comparable properties or view online photos and compare that data to the subject property. Zillow and other home valuation tools are important in today’s market and certainly make interesting reading, but they are not a replacement for a professional opinion.

Are you thinking about selling your home? Call me today for a comparable market analysis. I will do the necessary research to determine an accurate valuation of your property. Of course there is no cost for the service or obligation.

Eco Friendly Home Tech That Really Works – Run Your Home on a Battery

Blog, Real Estate Tips   |   Dunham Stewart

tesla-powerwallThe biggest challenge to solar energy is the inability to both capture it and store it in any meaningful way. In fact, while efficiency in capturing solar power has increased from about 15 percent of most solar panel models to 35 percent efficiency in the higher ends, even when captured the energy grid is unable to store and regulate its flow throughout the day.

Enter the Tesla Powerwall

Elon Musk, CEO of electric carmaker Tesla Motors, announced earlier this year that Tesla’s new Powerwall for the home and Powerpack for commercial use already garnered 38,000 preorders. The Tesla Powerwall offers 92 percent efficiency in DC round-trip power.

Here are the basics: The Powerwall home battery charges via electricity generated by solar panels. As solar energy wanes throughout the evening or on a cloudy day, the battery supplies energy back to your home instead of pushing it into the public power grid. The Powerwall also offers energy during a power outage, so homeowners in storm-prone areas or country homes with unreliable utility service can access emergency power.

The Powerwall utilizes a lithium ion battery with technology similar to that in Tesla automobiles and installs on the wall of your garage, basement or even outdoors. The sleek-looking unit is shipped in a self-contained, space-saving unit that can be mounted up on any wall, even in a closet. One can combine two or more batteries to get even more power. The fact that it is wall-mounted is vital, because it means you don’t have to have a battery room … filled with nasty batteries … It’s designed to work very well with solar systems right out of the box.

For larger homes, or those with higher power consumption requirements, multiple batteries can be installed together with up to 90 kWh total available power. Each battery in its weather resistant enclosure is just 51.2 inches by 33.9 inches and only 7.1 inches deep.  The system uses rooftop solar panels connected to the Powerwall and an inverter that directs current from both the solar panels and the Powerwall battery into your home’s alternating current power system.

For an example of how much energy your home uses in the day, consider that your refrigerator consumption is commonly 4.8 kWh/day (kilowatt hour per day) while your washer and dryer together equal about 5.6 kWh/day. Add to that your lights, laptop, flat screen television or stereo and you’re looking at about 2.5 kWh/day additional consumption. Of course, the first question that comes to mind for a cutting –edge home technology like this is the cost. According to Tesla Motors specifications, the home-sized batteries cost just $3000 for the 7-kWh model and $3500 for the 10-kWh version. Each comes with a 10-year warranty. If you’re looking for an energy efficient home that conforms to the requirements for solar panels, let your real estate professional know. We can optimize your search so that you find the home that is just right for you and your power needs.

Don’t Pay Too Much Property Tax

Blog, Real Estate Tips   |   Dunham Stewart

PropertyTax_jpg_800x1000_q100When tax time rolls around, many homeowners are surprised at the amount of property tax they owe. If you disagree with the stated value of your property, it’s worth a closer look to see if your bill has increased fairly. Statistics vary by area, but experts estimate that between 30 and 60 percent of taxable property in the United States is over-assessed, and this leads to higher property tax bills. Yet typically fewer than 5 percent of taxpayers challenge their assessments, even though the majority who do so win at least a partial victory when properly prepared. Are your property taxes too high?

To be sure you’re not paying more than you should, check the following factors.

Basic errors

First, verify that there are no mistakes on your property card — a document that records information such as dimensions, acreage and value. Errors like these can — and do — occur, and they’re actually quite common. But you won’t know about discrepancies if you haven’t seen your home’s card and reviewed it carefully. Get a copy at the town hall, bringing any errors to the immediate attention of the assessor


After you pull your home’s property card, take a look at a few of your neighbors’ cards — specifically, neighbors who have homes that are similar to yours in terms of age, size, style, condition and location. How do their assessments line up with yours?


There is often a cap on the maximum amount that property taxes on primary residences may be increased — but it’s up to you to make sure you’re being protected by it. For example, California’s constitution mandates that property taxes on primary residences cannot exceed 1% of the property’s market value and that the assessed taxable value of a property cannot go up by more than 2% a year unless the property is sold — regardless of how much the property may increase in value in market terms.


Are you taking advantage of special exemptions? Some states offer tax reductions for veterans, the disabled, and senior citizens. Some also provide reductions for historic buildings and special energy-efficient systems. Ask about these — and other incentives for tax reductions — that you may be eligible for. It’s worth a shot.

Is Owner Financing a Good Idea for Home Sellers?

Blog, Real Estate Tips   |   Dunham Stewart

buyers-sellers street signIn this current market, with home prices trending up, but access to financing is more difficult post housing bubble. So, if you want to sell your home, is it a good idea to offer seller financing?

What does seller-financing mean?

An alternative form of financing seen during a seller’s real estate market is owner or seller financing or owner carryback. This means the owner participates in financing the buyer’s purchase of the property, either in whole or in part.

Unlike a traditional bank mortgage where a lump sum is given to the buyer to purchase the home, seller financing means that the seller allows the buyer to make payments directly back to the seller. Most often, the homebuyer signs a promissory note with the seller that outlines the selling price, the interest rate, repayment schedule and even the consequences if the buyer defaults.

In most cases, a seller-financed note is short-term. Since most sellers don’t want to carry a note for 15 to 30 years, the typical note is for around five years with a balloon payment at the end where the buyer secures a standard loan for the remaining balance.

Unless the seller and buyer have an experienced real estate broker assisting him or her in an owner finance, the chances for serious problems arising from the transaction can be significant to both the seller and the buyer.

Is it good for the seller?

Sellers may choose to offer financing for any number of reasons, but some include:

Being able to sell “as is.” If your home requires costly repairs, selling through owner financing may allow you to pass those costs on to the buyer instead.

Potential investment income. Buyers looking for owner financing may be willing to pay a higher interest rate to you than you would receive through any other type of investment. Typically, you must own the home free and clear, and the buyer takes on taxes, insurance and any association dues so all income from the payments goes to the seller.

Opening up the purchase to additional buyers. Potential homeowners that were hit with difficulty during the housing bubble may not be able to get traditional financing even though they are now able to make mortgage payments. Self-employed or contractor may not be able to get favorable loans due to tighter underwriting requirements and may desire purchasing through seller financing.

Some possible pitfalls include what happens if the buyer defaults. If the promissory note is executed correctly, the seller gets the home back along with all of the monies paid to date. At that time the seller is free to sell the home again, but the “buyers” may leave behind damage and the need for costly repairs.

Some things to consider

If you are new to owner financing, make sure to work with a real estate attorney and a professional real estate agent to make sure the sales contract and promissory note fully protect you. There may be tax ramifications to seller financing, so be sure to contact your CPA or tax professional.

The most common problem arising out of an owner finance of a sale to the buyer is when the seller’s loan comes due for payment. Many times the buyer makes a claim that there are problems with the home that were not disclosed by the seller before close of escrow in an attempt to reduce the balance owed on the loan.

Since it is in your interest for your buyer to be able to refinance at the end of the note, offer to report the payments to credit reporting agencies to help build your buyer’s credit score. While individuals typically cannot report directly to these agencies—they have strict lender guidelines—services like Virgin Money can manage and report payments for you to alternative credit reporting companies such as PRBC, that many mainstream lenders now refer to for information on potential mortgagees.

On its face, an owner financing situation seems like a good idea. However, if the transaction is not properly supervised by an experienced real estate brokerfor both the seller and the buyer, many hidden traps may emerge.

If you’re considering selling your home, and wonder about seller financing, talk to us. We can help connect you with professionals to guide you through the process while we market your home.

Tight Inventory Challenges Propel Home Prices

Blog, Market Updates, Real Estate News, Real Estate Tips   |   Dunham Stewart
A fourth national market report has added to the evidence that winter inventories are extraordinarily—even dangerously—low. has joined RE/MAX, NAR and Zillow in reporting levels significantly below last year.

The dramatic drop in listings tracked by REMAX echoed findings by NAR, and Zillow that supplies are tighter than they were last year and even two years ago when lack of supply sparked double digit prices increases and bubbles in several California markets

The January National Housing Trend Report shows that inventory has decreased 6.7 percent month over month and 8.7 percent year over year.

Sales were also down dramatically from December. the number of home sales decreased 32.1 percent from a robust December and were nearly 5 percent below sales in January 2014, according to the National Association of Realtors. Typically, January closings are lower than those in December. Higher prices, coupled with weak supply, caused an unexpectedly large drop in January home sales.

Most markets are struggling to achieve the proper balance of homes for sale and qualified buyers, said Low inventory has become a national challenge as homeowners opt to stay put longer—a record 10 years—rather than move up and move on. Most housing markets are appreciating in value as homes sell faster. In fact, prices increased 8.8% in January over 2014, according to the report.

On a year-over-year basis, the Median Sales Price has now risen for 36 consecutive months. Price appreciation is the result of pressure from year-over-year inventory losses. Inventory has dropped by roughly 10 percent for the last three months. There is strong demand, but it is hitting a roadblock in supply. Potential buyers are saying they can’t find a home that meets their needs and/or budget.

We are not seeing enough growth in inventory to support recovering demand Prices will therefore continue to rise in a market when demand outstrips supply. Home prices are beginning to grow at a faster pace again, which is not good for the spring market. Sticker shock was behind weak sales in 2014, but as price gains began to ease, buyers came back. Now prices are heating up again due to severely weak supply.

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