March: Much More than Just a Month for Sussex County Real Estate
This March has been such a busy one on the Sussex County real estate calendar that I thought it would be a good idea to double-check everything just to be certain I wasn’t overlooking any important happenings.
It wasn’t just that the first day of spring on the 20th is the traditional start of what’s regularly the busiest time of year for Georgetown real estate activity. This is a reliable phenomenon, further reinforced by the 61 million results you get when you Google “Spring Real Estate Selling Season.” To be accurate, the National Association of Realtors® fudges a little by calling spring and summer the hottest seasons for real estate activity—but it turns out they are pointing to the fact that many sales initiated in spring close during the summer (which is when people prefer to move).
March also has a red-letter day on the 23rd, which is when Freddie Mac, the mortgage reinsurer, is set to kick off their ‘Home Possible’ program. It’s a lowering of their down payment requirements, so mortgage lenders will have more leeway with borrowers. That should provide a further boost for Sussex County real estate activity, which has been laboring for years under tough lending requirements that discouraged some otherwise well-qualified home buyers.
Then there was also St. Patrick’s Day (although that has a less-than-convincing effect on Sussex County real estate activity). There is March Madness, in which basketball plays havoc with more than just television schedules. You could say that it plays hob with appointment times for many Georgetown home showings, since the last five minutes of most of the games take at least half an hour.
Just in case the calendar has even more events that might affect Sussex County real estate, we thought we’d better check to be certain we haven’t overlooked any upcoming happenings.
We found out we can relax.
True, this March is Optimism Month, which is certainly thematically in tune with the positive spring real estate outlook (speaking of ‘in tune,’ March is also Music in Our Schools Month and Play the Recorder Month).
It’s International Ideas Month, which, for anyone who’s been following the headlines, is certainly arriving in the nick of time. For those who are, internationally speaking, prone to sticking to their old ideas, March is also International Listening Awareness Month. It’s Mirth Month as well as Humorists are Artists Month. It’s also Noodle Month (does this have a connection with Mirth Month?), Peanut Month, and National Nutrition Month.
In addition to minding nutrition, this is a month for safety: it’s National Collision Awareness Month, as well as National Cheerleading Safety Month. It turns out, there are another couple of dozen other Months that are taking place right now, but most have little to do with buying and selling homes.
What seems better connected to Georgetown real estate is the fact that this is also Umbrella Month, although it’s too early to know the precipitation total for the whole month. It hasn’t prevented many showings or open houses, for sure. In any case, if you are thinking of taking advantage of the Spring Selling Season, it’s also a terrific month to give me a call!
- Written by Russell Stucki
Second Home for Retirement, Investment & 100 Other Reasons
People approach the whole idea of owning a second home from a hundred different perspectives simply because a second home can answer so many different purposes. If you are an Sussex County homeowner at the stage in life where making retirement plans is becoming a more immediate imperative, you might want to buy a second home as a vacation destination—but one which is also a tryout for your family’s future center of operations. Those who have spent a good part of their lives in cities sometimes seek a second home in the mountains or at the shore as a restorative refuge. People living in less crowded environs might crave a pied-à-terrefor proximity to a city’s cultural riches. There really can be a hundred different reasons (and that’s not even counting all the financial ones)!
Once you begin to seriously entertain the notion, it becomes evident that deciding on which of many possible directions to pursue will involve weighing the tradeoffs each presents. In addition to an opening a conversation with the Sussex County real estate professional whose advice you’ve come to trust the most, some of the main points you will want to consider—
· If the second home is going to serve even temporarily as a weekend getaway spot, then buying within reasonable driving distance may be more important than you might assume. Keep in mind that the drive (or flight) will grow steadily less interesting as time passes.
· In most instances, a second home will be occupied by members of your family only on a part-time basis. This brings up a number of issues—among them, insurance. Vacant properties present a different profile to insurers than do homes that are occupied most of the time. Hazard insurance tariffs could also differ from what you are used to (especially in flood-prone areas). Investigating insurance coverage and costs early on in your search will help you to avoid surprises.
· You should consult your tax expert for details, but as a general rule, if the home is not rented out as a business proposition, you’ll likely find that you are able to deduct mortgage interest and property taxes on your Federal tax return. Then again, if you are thinking of renting the house out for more than 14 days per year, rental income is taxable. In that case, though, you’ll be able to use deductions for expenses, such as insurance, maintenance, professional fees, and sometimes even depreciation. Each situation will be different—again, your tax professional will have the relevant answers.
· Financing a second home is similar to financing your main residence. You are likely to need a down payment of 10% to as much as 30% in some cases. If you will be drawing on the equity in your current home, it’s only prudent to be able to retain a reasonable amount of reserves for unforeseen emergencies.
Many people buy a second home in anticipation of retirement. If that is the case, think of factoring in the availability of quality medical and support services in your search areas. A remote cabin in the woods may seem appealing now, but as a retirement venue, maybe not so much! Thinking about the long range is never more important than when you are entertaining the purchase of a second home. I’m here to help clarify those issues, as with all your other Sussex County real estate need.
- Written by Russell Stucki
Adopt a Staging Attitude to Make Listing Photos Shine
Today’s Internet-savvy home seller knows that before potential Sussex County buyers even make their way to a home’s online listing they may already have been exposed to the property’s pictures posted elsewhere. Since first impressions can be decisive, it’s all the more reason to heed something that advertising professionals have always known: the viewer’s eye is automatically drawn directly to any visible flaws.
That’s why, if you want to entice more buyers by posting the most attractive teaser pics of your Sussex County home, you need to think in staging terms. Professional staging is the most foolproof way to create flawless images, of course — but there are also some easy and inexpensive approaches to creating eye-pleasing images of your home.
Get your Stuff Out
The first rule of staging a home in Sussex County is to make it as inviting as possible — and nobody feels at home when they are surrounded by a stranger’s stuff. Remove the blankets piled on the couch, and take down the Spiderman posters from Junior’s room. When a viewer’s eye goes to a personality-defining detail, it usually shapes the whole impression. Making your home a blank canvas will allow prospective buyers to picture their own belongings fitting nicely in place.
Call the Professional Cleaners
You need to get every inch of the home as clean as possible for it to be inviting (and worth the asking price). This means cleaning things you probably haven't even considered before, like the garage door and the sliding window tracks. Hiring a professional crew for even just a day can do wonders to create a ‘like new’ aura.
One of the things that make staged homes look so warm and welcoming is great lighting. A lot of us have gradually adopted minimal lighting at home — something that can be reversed with a few extra lamps and higher-wattage bulbs. As we approach the end of the winter season in a few weeks, that can make a stark difference.
Staging is just one element that goes into a successful Sussex County home sale. Contact me today to talk about all the other pieces!
- Written by Russell Stucki
Obvious (and Less Obvious) First House Buying Tips
For Sussex County renters who are beginning to investigate the possibility of buying a first house, the prospect can look like more than just a steep hill to climb—it can look more like a cliff! Just last month, the Daily Real Estate News cited recent research that indicates in most places (512 counties surveyed, in fact) it can take the average family more than twelve years to save up for a 20% down payment. When you consider the significant financial advantage that a first house brings its Sussex County owner, the situation seems like a Catch-22. How can you save any faster when that big tax advantage goes only to the existing homeowners?
If a decade-plus wait sounds unreasonable, there’s a lot you can do to trim the delay—
1) (Obvious) Cut excess spending
If you take notes for a month or so about how you really spend your money, you find that the little things really add up: morning coffee, daily lunches, planned and unplanned shopping expeditions all put serious dents in your wallet. Spot the expenditures, you can cut back on, then reduce or eliminate them as soon as possible.
2) (Less Obvious) Create a ‘First House’ account
Create a separate savings account with the single purpose of holding your first house down payment. Watching it grow month by month will more than make up for the inconveniences caused by scrimping on daily and other spending.
3) (Way Less Obvious) Pick up extra work
You may never have considered it, but sometimes moonlighting is a great way to add additional income that quickly build your First House account. If you have a hobby that lends itself to web sales, think of starting a store on sites like Etsy or Amazon.
4) Reduce your current bills
There are those bills that you can't quite get rid of -- cell phone, credit cards and other bills don't just go away because you're saving for a new Sussex County house. For some bills, though, there are options for slimming down your monthly payments. Try negotiating a lower APR or reducing your phone or cable plan.
5) Make (and stick to) a budget
Those notes you made up there on 1) can be the raw material for making a detailed budget that separates necessary expenditures from extras like gifts, trips and special nights out. Find creative ways to entertain yourself and get together with your friends. Hosting movie nights, finding free concerts, and moving cocktail hour to home are all surprisingly doable.
It may seem counterintuitive: why would you decrease the size of your current digs? If you can temporarily scale back, the lowered rent can materially boost your savings. If it’s at all practical, living with relatives might move the process along even more quickly!
The kind of scaling back that builds for a local first house down payment is a lot more fun if you can see quick progress. And the possibility of qualifying for a smaller than 20% down payment is also currently increasing. Give me a call for a realistic discussion of your own Sussex County first house purchase!
- Written by Russell Stucki