How to Lose the Bidding War But Still Get the House

Filed under: Buying

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By Michael Corbett

If your offer is rejected, a little patience (and a backup offer) may pay off.

When there are more buyers than available homes in your area, real estate competition can get fierce. Chances are, not every offer you make will win the deal. But don’t despair. It’s possible to turn that next rejection into your dream home.

Here are seven reasons why your initial unaccepted offer may eventually close the deal.

1. A backup offer is a secret weapon.

You made your best offer, but it wasn’t strong enough to secure the home — maybe your competition offered more money, or their terms were slightly better. All is not lost. Ask the seller to accept your offer as a backup offer. There is no cost to you, yet you are in line to get the property if the deal goes sour.

2. It’s all so close, they can taste it.

Once a seller has an offer and it’s progressing, they are already psychologically moving from their home. They’re picturing closing day and the moving trucks in the driveway. If the deal abruptly comes to a screeching halt, the seller is much more willing to move forward with a backup offer just to keep that momentum going.

3. Your chances improve after the inspection.

I have been successful in backup situations where an inspection has uncovered more issues than the first buyer wants to deal with and the buyer walks away from the house. The good news for you is that those issues won’t go away. The seller may realize he or she can no longer play hardball and be more willing to accept your offer, rather than lose the deal a second time.

4. We’re in an era of tougher loan qualifications.

As loan qualifications become tighter and more scrutinized, some homebuyers may not qualify and will have to back out of the deal. In this situation, you have the advantage of jumping in to save the day.

5. Set a 30-day time limit.

The longer the current transaction takes, the greater the chance the two parties are struggling to come to an agreement. Set an expiration date of 30 days for your backup offer. If the two parties are unable to close the deal, it may force the seller to settle for the next best thing before it’s too late.

6. Get first right of refusal.

Ask for a first-right-of-refusal clause in your backup offer. In this case, you’re not bound to purchase the property, but you’re first in line if the other deal falls through.

7. Get the terms of the backup in writing.

Once the seller agrees to accept your offer as backup, get a fully executed detailed agreement, in writing. Be sure they are obligated to sell to you within a certain period at the agreed-upon terms if the property becomes available.

Here’s one more bonus for the backup buyer.

Legally, the sellers have to disclose any problems the first-position buyers uncovered, even ones that made them bolt. As a result, you’ll know the property’s flaws in advance, saving you time and money on your own inspections.

 

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Mortgage Rates Remain Low as September Ends

Filed under: Buying, Financing, Refinancing

ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans remained low this week, with the rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.73 percent, unchanged from last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate rose on Friday, then hovered around 3.76 percent before falling to Tuesday’s rate.

“Mortgage rates are almost unchanged from last week despite some volatility in response to mixed messages from incoming data and Fed commentary,” said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. “Despite a number of important speeches and data releases this week, expectations for the first Fed rate hike are firmly focused on December. We expect rates will remain roughly flat in the absence of exceptional global events.”

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.92 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.74 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

 

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Sela Ward’s California Home on Market for Almost $40 Million

Filed under: Buying, Celebrity Homes, Selling

Courtesy of Hilton & Hyland via ZillowOne of the 13 baths on the property has soaring glass windows and doors that open to a furnished outdoor patio.

By Melissa Allison

Just two years out of “CSI: NY,” Sela Ward has a hankering to live in the Big Apple — and that means putting her 14,000-square-foot gated estate in the swanky Bel-Air neighborhood of Los Angeles on the market. For $39.995 million.

Evan Agostini/Invision/APSela Ward

Ward, who recently landed the role of the U.S. president in next year’s “Independence Day: Resurgence,” bought the sprawling mansion on eight acres in 2003 with her husband, Howard Sherman, so their children could spend more time in nature, she told the Wall Street Journal.

The couple revamped the seven-bedroom, 13-bath estate and intended to flip it, until Ward “greeted me at the door one day and said, ‘Let’s live here!'” Sherman told Traditional Home.

Gracious Southern and French style mix in the five-bedroom main home, where century-old heart pine floors complement reclaimed wood beams from Louisiana and Ward’s native Mississippi, plus antique doors and limestone counters from France.

The home includes a 30-seat theater, a library enveloped in cypress wood, and a small greenhouse off the indoor kitchen that Ward calls “l’orangerie.”

A wall of doors in the living room opens onto a terrace that overlooks a stream lined with rose bushes and Mexican lime trees.

The property encompasses an art studio and guesthouse as well as a vineyard, a covered footbridge and a 100-seat amphitheater.

Residents and guests have two choices for swimming: an infinity pool and a man-made pond with a sandy beach lit by tiki torches.

Listing agents are Branden Williams and Rayni Romito of Williams & Williams at Hilton & Hyland, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate, and Jade Mills of Coldwell Banker Previews International.

 

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8 Costly Mistakes to Avoid When Building a New Home

Filed under: Design, Home Improvement

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By Geoff Williams

Even if you love where you live, if you own a home that you purchased from someone else, you’ve probably looked around your house before and wondered: “What was the builder thinking?”

But not everyone goes that route. Plenty of people pay to have their home custom-built. In other words, some homeowners are the builder — or at least, they’re the ones pulling the strings and making the hard decisions on how small or big their residence should be and what features it should have.

And if that’s what you’re doing, you don’t want to look around your house someday and wonder: “What was the builder thinking?”

So if you’re spending money on a custom home, keep these eight things in mind.

Have Details in Place Before You Start Building

That means not just knowing how the floor plan will look but knowing how the rooms will be designed, says Jonathan Macias, a real estate broker and the president of the Macias Realty Group in El Segundo, California.

“Designing a house seems easy, but the amount of choices out there can be overwhelming for many. What color tile, what size, what pattern, will it match with the walls, what cabinets will go with this, what about the faucet?” Macias says. “All of these questions could be just for one small bathroom.”

In other words, you don’t want to be agonizing about how a bathroom should look and holding up your contractors. Speaking of which …

Hire the Right People

It should go without saying, but let Macias say it: “Do make sure you get all licensed contractors and professionals. Make sure they are properly insured and get references from past work.”

Don’t Build Too Big

Sure, you may have a lot of stuff and you might look longingly at mansions and want the same thing, but if that’s the route you want to take, then think long and hard about what you’re about to do. What may be right for you now may not be right for you in 10 years, or even next year.

“I meet potential clients in my office almost weekly who tell me, “We built a 6,000 square-foot home, but now we’re dying to downsize to something smaller. Most families don’t even need 5,000 square feet, and a home as small as 2,500 or 3,000 square feet won’t feel small if it’s designed properly, says Andy Stauffer, owner of Stauffer and Sons Construction, a homebuilder in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“A larger house is just more expensive and harder to maintain and clean,” Stauffer says. “According to the National Association of Home Builders, a custom home in the USA costs an average of $105 per square foot to build. That means by eliminating even 500 square feet in a home that you don’t need, you’ll save over $50,000.”

Think About the Resale Value Now

Even if you never intend to sell your home and plan to pass it to descendants, assume that you might sell it someday, Stauffer says.

“It’s simply a fact of life. Most of us don’t know for sure where we’ll be in 10 or 15 years, as much as we’d like to think we do,” he says. “I recently spoke to a real estate agent who had some clients that built a five-story custom home. They loved it but when it was time to sell, they had to drop the price by tens of thousands of dollars and sell at a significant loss because nobody wanted to buy a five-story home and walk up and down the stairs all day long.”

So build your dream home, but don’t make it a nightmare for someone else, Stauffer advises: “Don’t go crazy.”

Keep Your Mortgage Within Reason

You can always add to your home later, creating the dream house when you can afford it, and build your realistic home now, suggests Joan Fradella, a family mediator in West Palm Beach, Florida.

When she built her home in 1998, she wanted to stick to keeping the mortgage balance low, and so Fradella was careful not to go, as Stauffer says, “crazy.” She was going to have a luxury kitchen and bathrooms built into her home, but she didn’t, settling for more modest layouts, reasoning that she could later.

“I also didn’t get the crown molding and French doors because I knew we could do that ourselves,” Fradella says. And, indeed, her mortgage remained reasonable.

Don’t Sacrifice All of Your Amenities

Looking back, Fradella feels it might not have been a terrible idea to have included some of those “extras,” provided her mortgage hadn’t been too much higher. Because as it turned out, she says, “Life happens, your kid starts to play hockey; [goes] to private school, then college.”

She still hasn’t added any upgrades, and she’s been living in her home for 18 years.

Yet, she stands by her advice. “You will be surprised how quickly a $200,000 home becomes $400,000 in upgrades,” she says.

Preventing your house from becoming an economical abyss means knowing what upgrades are “must haves,” says Brian Brunhofer, president of Meritus Custom Builders, a Chicago-area builder that specializes in custom homes. “For example, carpet can always be switched out to hardwood floors later, but a full basement is something you should decide on now,” he says.

Brunhofer also points out that lending now is relatively inexpensive. As long as you don’t go crazy, “it can be much more economic to stretch and plan for those features in your budget now,” he says.

Of course, it’s in every builder’s best interest if you do include those upgrades now, since that’s more money for the builder, but it doesn’t mean Brunhofer isn’t right.

Check In on the Work

Keep the surprises for holiday gifts and birthday presents. Don’t get sucked into the idea that it would be fun to have someone drive you up to your new house, while blindfolded, so you can have a surprise unveiling (as you may have seen on home improvement reality TV shows). Because you might wind up stuck with a big mortgage on a house you’re not thrilled with.

“Visit the site during construction,” advises Nicole Cannon, a residential architect based in Los Angeles. “Make sure things are matching your expectations and ask questions if they don’t. The worst option is to remain quiet and end up with something that you are unhappy with or have to pay to fix after the fact.”

Don’t Let Your Dream Home Cloud Your Reality

Let’s end this on admittedly a bit of a downer — to prevent you from having an unhappy ending when building your own home.

Cannon warns that having a house custom built can be an amazing experience, but it can also be a stressful time, and no matter what you might be thinking, “it will not solve all of life’s challenges,” she says. “I’ve had more than one client who thought that building a new home would bring their significant other closer, and a new home would solve their marriage problems. It’s tragic when a home is completed and goes on the market immediately due to divorce.”

 

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Jessica Chastain’s Greenwich Village Apartment For Rent

Filed under: Renting

ZillowThe renovated apartment has two baths, including this master bath with its full-length soaking tub.

By Melissa Allison

Now that Jessica Chastain is settled into Leonard Bernstein’s former duplex across from Carnegie Hall, the actress is renting out her old place in Greenwich Village.

For $11,500 a month, her tenant will enjoy a renovated and furnished two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with an extravagantly appointed master bath, including a full-length soaking tub fit for a Golden Globe winner.

The first floor boasts high ceilings, an open chef’s kitchen with high-end appliances and a living room with a wood-burning fireplace.

Follow the wide, circular staircase to a skylit landing, a master bedroom with city views, a dressing area and a cedar walk-in closet.

It’s “the perfect place to call home without needing to bring anything more than your toothbrush and favorite clothing,” according to the listing by Chris Pomeroy of Halsted Property.

 

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Fed’s Decision to Delay Rate Hike Keeps Mortgage Rates Low

Filed under: Buying, Financing, Refinancing

ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans fell this week, with the rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.73 percent Tuesday, down two basis points from last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate fell to 3.67 percent on Friday before rising to Tuesday’s rate.

“Mortgage rates fell last week to their lowest levels since early May after the Fed deferred its first rate hike yet again,” said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. “We expect rates to be mostly stable this week now that the uncertainty about the Fed’s decision has subsided.”

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.89 percent. For 5/1 adjustable rate mortgages, the rate was 2.71 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

 

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9 Things to Buy Secondhand for Your First Home

Filed under: Buying, Lifestyle, Renting

Mira/Alamy

By Trent Hamm

There can be great joy in moving into your first apartment or your first home. You finally have space all to yourself. You can decorate how you want. You can spend your time how you want.

Sadly, that initial burst of joy is often deflated by the realization that you need a lot of little things when you move to a new place. For many people, that means an expensive shopping spree.

Instead, consider making your first stop the local secondhand store. Many of the items you need to set up an apartment or a home for the first time or in a new area can be found at a thrift shop, which means you’ll cut back on that big burst of spending that can really hurt your wallet.

Here are nine items to consider purchasing secondhand for your new place.

Silverware is a requirement for eating food at home without making a complete mess. Fortunately, most secondhand stores have a selection of silverware on hand. You might not have perfect matching silverware, but you’ll have more than enough for your needs at an inexpensive price.

Dishes are also a dining necessity. Again, it’s easy to find plenty of plates and bowls at a secondhand store for a pittance, though you may not find a matching set. Still, you’re far better off buying two or three partial sets for pennies than shelling out the money for a single matching set from a store.

Glasses and cups for consuming beverages are another household essential that’s perfect for a secondhand purchase. As with silverware and dishes, you’ll likely not find a matching set, but what you will find are many cups and glasses to fill your cupboards at an inexpensive price.

A toaster or toaster oven both perform the task of toasting bread, bagels, English muffins and other such items. A toaster oven goes further, making it easy to make grilled sandwiches and cook small items. Both can easily be found at secondhand stores in working order and can make for a valuable addition to your kitchen to help you with food preparation.

Lamps are simple items that are often found in abundance at secondhand stores. All varieties of lamps, from desk lamps and floor lamps to clip lamps and table lamps, can usually be found secondhand at a very reasonable price.

A dining table is an essential piece of furniture in most houses or apartments, as it provides a place to eat and share meals. You can find simple dining tables at secondhand stores, and they often come with simple, solid chairs. The key thing to remember is you can buy an inexpensive starter set, and then upgrade later when you have money to easily do so.

A side table is often a key part of a living room, providing a place to put a beverage, snack plate or remote controls as you watch TV, study or read a book. Side tables can be incredibly inexpensive. It’s easy to find one secondhand for well under $10.

A bed frame is a key piece of furniture for those who have moved beyond the “mattress on the floor” style of bedroom décor. Bed frames can be expensive if you purchase them at a furniture store, but there are often many varieties of metal and wooden bed frames you can find at secondhand stores if you shop around. It’s important to remember that bed frames are purely functional items meant to be covered with a mattress and other decorative materials, so don’t worry about beauty.

Décor might seem like an unusual item to buy secondhand, but it’s easy to find things such as picture frames and wall hangings in secondhand stores, particularly in more upscale neighborhoods. If you’re creative, you can find a variety of décor items at a very nice discount.

One final suggestion: Don’t buy certain types of furniture used unless it comes from a trusted source. Used furniture can be a source of bedbugs or other unwanted travelers that you simply don’t want in your home. Solid wood items are fine, but be wary of upholstered used furniture and used mattresses.

The thing to always remember when buying secondhand items is that they’re replaceable as time goes on. They can serve you for a long time if needed, but they simply provide an inexpensive and functional solution that can significantly trim the costs of setting up a new home.

 

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Mortgage Rates Holding at 3.75% Ahead of Signals From Fed

Filed under: Buying, Financing, Refinancing

ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans rose this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.75 percent, up one basis point from last week.

The 30-year fixed rate hovered around 3.73 percent throughout the week before rising to the current rate Tuesday.

“Mortgage rates held steady last week,” said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. “We expect rates to remain calm leading up to Thursday’s Federal Open Market Committee statement as markets eagerly anticipate any signal or action from the Fed on interest rates.”

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.90 percent. For 5/1 adjustable-rate mortgages, the rate was 2.76 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for trends and up-to-the-minute rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

 

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Mortgage Rates Holding Steady Near 3.75% in September

Filed under: Buying, Financing, Refinancing

ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed mortgages fell almost imperceptibly this week, with the rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.74 percent Tuesday, down 1 basis point from last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate hovered around that rate throughout the week.

“Rates dipped slightly last week following a mildly disappointing jobs report but quickly rebounded, ending the week where they began,” said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. “With limited domestic data slated for release in this holiday-shortened week, we expect rates will remain fairly steady for the second week in a row.”

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.90 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.66 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.

 

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Fire-Tower Style Living at its Finest

Filed under: Lifestyle, House of the Day

Tom Hanny/Zillow

By Catherine Sherman

They saw it coming: the mushroom cloud of smoke.

Dabney Tompkins and Alan Colley were on their deck enjoying the view when the Stouts Creek Fire broke out earlier this month. They’d read about moments like this — spotting a forest fire from a 40-foot-high tower — but nothing could have prepared them.

They weren’t staffing a fire lookout, after all. They were at home.

Tom Hanny/ZillowAlan Colley, left, and Dabney Tompkins wouldn’t trade their life above the trees for anything.

Treehouse Without the Tree

Tompkins and Colley’s lives changed course on a ferry ride several years ago. Quite literally stumbling upon a book about fire lookouts used by the U.S. Forest Service, they learned how the structures on stilts were used to spot forest fires throughout the 20th century. Now largely replaced by satellites, very few lookouts are still standing.

Tompkins and Colley, who had downsized from their big Dallas estate to 1,400 square feet in Portland, wanted to know more.

“It was a magical moment that the book sort of fell off the shelf to us,” Colley recalls. “We called the ranger district and said why don’t we rent this thing? That was the beginning.”

The urbanites rented several fire lookouts before purchasing 160 acres of meadow and forest land in rural Oregon, known as Summit Prairie. With the help of a local builder and engineer, their “treehouse without the tree” was completed in 2010.

For the first few years, it was just a weekend getaway, but those weekends quickly turned into something more.

“About a year and half ago, we decided to be totally irresponsible and quit our jobs and move here,” Tompkins says. “We were just going to do it for one year because we thought this might just be too isolated, too boring, too rustic. But then we got down here and we started to meet people and really enjoy the rhythm of it.” (See what life in the tower is like in this video.)

Life on the Prairie

Up four flights of stairs, the lookout is 388 square feet with a simple kitchen spanning the back wall and two narrow beds flanking the sides. Up a skinny wooden ladder, a “cupola” serves as a master suite — minus the bathroom.

In fact, there’s no bathroom to be found. Historic fire lookouts never had them, and Tompkins and Colley didn’t want to obstruct their 360-degree view of the Umpqua National Forest. Instead, they created a few alternative options and put the shower out on the deck.

“My favorite time to take a shower is when we have snow outside and you have to walk barefoot through the snow on the deck,” Tompkins says. “Then you turn that hot water on and that yin and yang of hot and cold – and looking out and seeing the meadow – it’s heaven.”

Courtesy of Alan Colley via Zillow

Without the luxuries of a typical single-family home, Tompkins and Colley find themselves retreating to the “hammock tree” or soaking in their wood-burning, spring-fed hot tub.

“It’s quiet — so quiet it allows me to hear things I wouldn’t hear in the city,” Colley says. “There’s no urban beat. You don’t hear sirens, you don’t hear traffic — you hear us.”

He says the experience has brought him and Tompkins closer, as they’ve allowed each other to grow and be different.

A Taste of ‘Off the Grid’

They’re also learning what it truly means to live off the grid, finding you often gain more than you lose.

“The saying we love to tell each other is ‘just because we live off-grid doesn’t mean we have to eat bad food.’ And we have made some amazing meals,” Colley says after making a blueberry pie from scratch.

Instead of buying organic produce from the grocery store, they have their own garden and are involved with the local farmers market.

Of course, living off-grid has its challenges — like figuring out how to install solar panels — but the biggest challenge came as a surprise.

“We’re so enmeshed in this community, as weird as that may sound, that we really have to back away and say I just want time on my meadow,” Colley says.

From vegan potlucks with the “old hippies,” as they call the neighbors, to looking for ways to stimulate a local economy still dependent on timber, Tompkins and Colley are keeping busy.

The View Never Gets Old

They laugh when they think about how they used to worry about being isolated and bored.

“Reading, cooking, hiking and splitting wood are much more entertaining to us,” Colley says. “If you’re interested in those kinds of things as a DIYer, you’re going to be fine in this situation.”

And in the wake of a recent forest fire, they’re even more thankful for the view.

“Every day, the sun is doing something different. There’s no repetition at all,” Colley says.

“Many mornings, we’ll get up, and the entire meadow is shrouded in fog. And then as the sun moves up into the sky, the fog starts to kind of slip into the valley,” Tompkins adds. “As you look out, it’s like you’re in an airplane where there’s just this lower level of clouds. To me, that’s magic.”

Photos and video by Tom Hanny for Zillow.

 

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