Why More Millennials Are Buying Homes in the Suburbs

As they get ready to start families, city-loving millennials are making an unexpected choice: They are moving to the suburbs, much as their parents did decades ago.

“That’s where the trend is going,” says Tiffany Alexy, a broker with Lucky Penny Realty Team in Raleigh, North Carolina. “You really tend to get more for your money in the suburbs.”

A new survey by the National Association of Realtors found that the share of millennials, those born between about 1980 and 2000, buying in an urban or central city areas decreased from 21 percent to 17 percent from 2014 to 2015. Like buyers in other age groups, the majority of millennials bought a detached home in the suburbs.

 

“Millennials know they’re getting more value when they buy in the suburbs,” says Victor Quiroz, a millennial agent at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties in Covina. For the price of an urban loft apartment, they’re getting a three-bedroom, two-bath house in a safer neighborhood with better schools, he says. “They’re finding a sweet spot where they aren’t too far away.”

Unlike their parents, the millennials are looking for suburbs with urban amenities such as yoga classes, health food stores and walkable downtown areas, close to parks and natural areas. They also don’t want long commutes.

“People want more urban perks,” says Alison Bernstein, founder and CEO of Suburban Jungle, which helps families in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Miamifind the right suburb for them. “They don’t want to be isolated. They don’t want to feel alone. They want to be part of a community. … They really want walkability. They love great downtowns.”

In the New York City area, where Bernstein lives, for example, there are 500 towns in commuting distance of Manhattan, and those towns aren’t all alike. Finding the right fit is crucial, she says. You don’t want to be the only family looking for a day care center in a town where everyone else has a live-in nanny, she says, or the only writer in a place where everyone else works on Wall Street. The right town is usually more important than the right house.

“The real focus should be on the personality of your town,” Bernstein says. “I think the trouble happens when you just focus on the house.”

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She advises couples to make sure both want the same features before they start looking and to find out which suburbs provide that lifestyle. “Our feeling is you can’t make an intelligent decision until you’ve gone through a process and understand your options,” she says.

 

One thing the millennials find more important than their parents did is walkability. “We like to walk around,” Quiroz says. “They’re willing to give up a couple of things so they can be closer to those shops and restaurants.”

They also want bike paths, parks and natural areas close by. “People are on this huge health kick,” Bernstein says.

Whether they want huge yards may depend on the area. In Los Angeles, Quiroz says his clients are less interested in a large yard. Alexy says her clients in Raleigh find outdoor space important and want a yard big enough for kids to play and dogs to romp. “Green space is a big trend I’ve been seeing lately,” she says.

While lower prices are one factor driving younger people to suburbs, her clients don’t seem to believe they’re making a major compromise. “I get the feeling they’re going for what they want,” Alexy says. “I don’t see it as something they’re fighting in any way.”

Here are six reasons millennials are moving to the suburbs:

They get a better deal. Many millennials are buying their first home, and they are finding a better deal in the suburbs than in the urban core. “They are looking for value,” Quiroz says. “That’s the biggest thing. They’re very cautious and almost penny-pinching and very wise about how they spend.” More here

 

 

How to Successfully Buy a Home in a Tight Seller’s Market

If you’ve decided to buy a home this spring, good luck to you. Your challenge will be not just finding a home you like, but also beating out all the other homebuyers who like it and want to make an offer on it, too.

The number of homes for sale is low nationwide, particularly in the price ranges desired by first-time homebuyers. The latest figures from the National Association of Realtors show that that there was only a 4.4-month supply of homes for sale in February, which is lower than the six-month supply that indicates a balanced market. One-quarter of February’s transactions were all-cash sales, according to the NAR, and investors bought 18 percent of the homes that were sold.

“A well-priced home in good condition will usually move very quickly and often have multiple offers,” says Mary Ann Hebert, broker and partner at Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Bannon & Hebert in Middlebury, Connecticut.

That means that if you want to end up with a nice home, you need to be strategic. Expecting to find the home of your dreams by nonchalantly walking into a few open houses or perusing some online listings is not realistic in this seller’s market.

[Read: Here Are the 20 Best Places to Live in the U.S. ]

“In Raleigh, it’s insane,” says Tiffany Alexy, broker with Lucky Penny Realty in North Carolina. She advises finding a good real estate agent who knows when and how to negotiate. While everything is negotiable in real estate, sellers are often less inclined to deal if they have other offers waiting in the wings. Plus, if you’re a buyer,working with an agent usually costs you nothing because the seller pays the full commission.

These days, most would-be buyers come to an agent with a list of homes they’d like to see based on their online research. While that often serves as a solid starting point, a quality agent may find additional options. After buyers have seen a few properties, Hebert says skilled agents can typically gauge what they’re looking for in a new home and may have other properties lined up. “I advise them to listen to their Realtor,” she adds.

Victor Quiroz, a millennial agent who just taught a workshop called “How to Write a Winning Offer” to agents in California, advises those agents to go old-school and talk to the listing agent on the telephone because that will yield a lot more information about what the seller really wants. If you’re the client, suggest to your agent that he or she make that phone call and report back to you.

“Call. Don’t text, don’t email,” says Quiroz, from Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties in Covina. “You’ll get a lot more from a phone call than from a text message or email. … Don’t just send them a text. That’s not going to work.”

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Knowing what’s most important to the sellers can be key to creating a winning offer. “It’s all negotiable,” Alexy says. “If you have a good agent, they’ll find out the motivations of the seller.”

[See: The Best Apps for House Hunting .]

Here are nine tips to help you get the house you want this spring.

Get your finances in order first. Several months before you intend to start looking, you should get copies of your credit reports to make sure you’re in a financial position to buy. Shop for mortgage financing before you start looking at houses. “I will not take anybody to see any house unless they have a preapproval letter or proof of funds,” Quiroz says. “I want proof of funds to show the seller.” Alexy says that some lenders are doing the underwriting before the house is under contract, which shortens the closing time and can be more attractive to the seller.

Move quickly once you find the house you want. That often means rushing out to see new homes within hours of them being listed and writing up an offer immediately if you like the house. “Things are gone in a matter of hours,” Alexy says. “You really have to move fast.”

Don’t make snap judgments based on listing photos. A house that doesn’t lookappealing in photos could still be a great house. Homes being sold by an estate or homes with tenants inside often yield particularly poor photos. Plus, photos fail to convey the feeling of a home or the floor plan. “Unfortunately, the pictures don’t tell a true story,” Hebert says. “You have to be willing to look past some of the pictures.”

Mortgage Rates Steady at 6-Week Lows

Mortgage rates stayed steady today, beginning the first full week of April right in line with the lowest levels in roughly 6 weeks, depending on the lender.  Most are offering conventional 30yr fixed quotes at 3.625% on top tier scenarios, with a few lenders an eighth of a percent higher or lower.

There were no significant economic events today and very little movement in the bond markets that underly mortgage rates.  In fact, the level of volatility has been steadily decreasing since last week’s speech from Fed Chair Yellen (which kicked off the most recent run of good luck for rates).  This can occasionally be the prelude to a bounce, but it’s more often a consolidation before continuing in the same direction.  To say nothing of probabilities, there is simply some breathing room for rates to move higher without ending the broader downtrend that’s been in place since mid-March.
Loan Originator Perspective

“It appears that floating over the weekend has paid off with slightly better rate sheets.   Hopefully this is the beginning of a new trend pointing toward lower rates.   With 1.80 holding on the 10 year note, I see very little risk to floating.” -Victor Burek, Churchill Mortgage

“After the weekend allowing secondary markets to digest what went on last week and Friday’s NFP rates look pretty good today. And today’s sideways action is a decent sign, in my opinion. Where do we go from here? If you’re closing in the next few weeks rates are near the 2016 best levels, so locking makes sense. If closing in a longer time frame, maybe see what happens with an eye on the market and a conversation with your loan officer.” –Jeff Anderson, Loan Officer, Salem Five Mortgage, LLC

“After a week of solid price gains it certainly makes some sense to lock in and protect those gains right now and especially if your loan is closing within 30 days or less.  Sentiment seems to be drifting towards the lower inflation outlook which may certainly keep rates subdued so floating longer term closing times is certainly not too risky at this point.  Keep glued in to the markets and your loan officer, however, as things can change quickly.” –Hugh W. Page, Mortgage Banker, Seacoast Bank

Today’s Best-Execution Rates

  • 30YR FIXED – 3.625
  • FHA/VA – 3.25-3.5%
  • 15 YEAR FIXED – 3.00
  • 5 YEAR ARMS –  2.75 – 3.25% depending on the lender

More here.

6 Smart Home Features That Have Caught On – and a Few That Will Soon

While there is a lot of talk about smart homes, few of those high-tech features are actually being incorporated into today’s homes. We are not yet living in the land of “The Jetsons.”

But homeowners are moving toward some smart home products, including thermostats they can control with smartphones, automated lighting solutions, keyless entry and security and entertainment options.

“Smart home technology is important for some homeowners,” says Nino Sitchinava, principal economist for Houzz, a home design website, which has done several surveys on the use of smart home features. “It’s not something that all homeowners are unambiguously into.”

 

The 2015 Houzz and Home survey found that 25 percent of homeowners doingrenovations deemed smart technology very important to extremely important, and 23 percent installed home automation systems as part of a 2014 renovation. However, the survery found that 30 percent of homeowners considered smart home renovations as not at all important.

When choosing smart features homeowners tend to gravitate toward products that are simple to use and less expensive, making remote control of temperature and lighting popular choices.

“They don’t value what they don’t understand,” says Danny Hertzberg, a sales associate with The Jills Team at Coldwell Banker in Miami Beach, Florida. Technology that thereal estate agent can’t demonstrate when showing a home doesn’t impress prospective buyers. “People are looking for how they can save money or what’s going to make life easier,” he adds.

Hertzberg finds that consumers like products like the Nest system, which includes thermostats, security cameras, and carbon monoxide and smoke detectors. The system integrates with a number of other products and can be operated via an app. The thermostat costs $249 (some energy companies offer incentives), making it a small investment for significant convenience.

“It’s very easy to install, it’s not that expensive to put in, it’s easy to use,” Hertzberg says. For a low cost, they can also get a simple product that enables them to control the air conditioning or the lights from the bed, he says. People can get separate thermostat or wireless lighting products or integrate the system by choosing a “Works With Nest” device.

 

For homeowners looking for a way to make their house stand out from the crowd, Hertzberg suggests they consider the Nest products as well as keyless entry systems, which allow you to open the door from a touchpad or an app. “Now that house is going to stand out from the house down the street,” he says.

In a 2015 survey by Coldwell Banker, about 33 percent of agents said homes with smart features sell faster, but almost 41 percent of agents said they did not. Agents said buyers were most interested in security features, temperature control and safety, followed by lighting and entertainment.

Many do-it-yourself smart home products have come to market, but few consumers are embracing those products, partly because they are more complex to implement.

“Consumers are really looking for simplicity in the interfaces for their systems,” says John Galante, president of AE Ventures, which just organized a smart home trade show in Orlando, Florida.

“Unless you’re looking for a very limited solution … you’re best served to have a level of pro installation involved,” Galante says. “Once you get beyond a single room, it tends to get complicated.”

Houzz recently started looking at home technology room by room. The 2016 U.S. Houzz Kitchen Trends Survey found that smart appliances weren’t being widely used, and the biggest smart feature utilized in the kitchen was color touchscreen displays. “Actually, the kitchens are not as high-tech as you would think. The appliances aren’t really talking to your smartphone,” Nino says. The Houzz survey found that only 6 percent of respondents used built-in apps with recipes and only 5 percent used wireless controls via smartphone or tablet to control a refrigerator or range oven.

 

As home entertainment technology improves, theater rooms are less popular. “The movie rooms are going away,” Hertzberg says. “You no longer need a dark, dark room and a projector.” Newer televisions provide a great viewing experience anywhere. “The price point has come down, and the systems have gotten so much better,” he says.

Here are six smart home features that homeowners are embracing now:

Smart thermostats. Thermostats have grown beyond a mechanism that you can program to raise and lower the temperature. Today’s smart thermostats can be controlled via your computer or smart phone and will even learn habits such as when you’re usually at home and if you raise or lower the temp when you get up or at certain times of day, like when you go to bed.

Lighting controls. Being able to control all the lights in the house with one device, to operate dimmers or to turn off the lights after you are already in bed are all functions homeowners value and can add at minimal cost.

Alarm systems. Today’s home security systems include controls for thermostats and lighting and have features that allow you to arm and disarm them remotely, using a computer or a phone. Security cameras also have fallen in price and grown in popularity among homeowners.

Keyless entry systems. With these replacements for standard locks, homeowner don’t have to worry about carrying keys. They can also give instructions to others on how to get into the home when they’re not there.

Shade control. Homeowners are embracing technology that allows them to raise and lower window shades at the touch of a button, plus set the shades to raise and lower when they are not there, to save energy or make the home look inhabited. “Shade control is taking off,” Galante says.

Hidden or unobtrusive built-in speakers. Wired speaker systems are still popular, but the speakers are smaller and there may be more than two to a room, Galante says. That makes it easier for homeowners to customize sound for, say, a party. More here.

Buying a Home? 10 Clever Ways to Save Money on Your Mortgage

What’s your biggest expense? If you’re like most people, it’s putting a roof over your head. And it’s getting more expensive.

In fact, the cost of housing is rising faster than incomes for the middle class, according to a National Housing Conference report. Renters may have the worst of it; the Wall Street Journal reports that rent has been rising for 23 consecutive quarters.

By buying a house, you have more control over rising housing costs. You won’t have to worry about a landlord raising the rent, and a fixed-rate mortgage loan guarantees the same principle-and-interest loan payment for the next 30 years.

Yes, borrowing for a home is expensive. Fortunately, with a few smart strategies, you can reduce your monthly mortgage payments and cut the overall cost of paying for your home. Here are some options:

1. Modify Your Loan

If you are late on payments or going through tough times, you might qualify for a loan modification through various programs.

Depending on the program, you could qualify for a reduced interest rate, forgiveness of part of the principal, or an extended loan period and lower monthly payment. Check out various programs onMakingHomeAffordable.gov or contact your mortgage servicer.

2. Cut Out the PMI

If you borrow more than 80% of the value of your home, you normally have to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI) to protect the lender. PMI typically costs between .5% and 1% of the loan amount. So if your loan balance is around $140,000, you could be paying as much as $1,400 for PMI just this year.

A down payment of 20% is the most obvious way to avoid paying for PMI. If this is tough with the homes you’re considering, Realtor.com suggests simply shopping for lower-priced homes for which you can make a 20% down payment. Multiply the down payment you have by five to arrive at the highest price you can pay while avoiding PMI.

Credit.com says some lenders still offer 80/10/10 programs. This structure allows you to borrow only 80% on the primary mortgage, so you don’t have to pay for PMI, and then borrow another 10% as a second mortgage loan — sometimes from the same lender. You generally need acredit score of 700 or higher to qualify.

If you’ve already bought your home, you can speed up those payments to get the balance below 80%, and then request that the PMI payments be dropped. Lenders do not always agree to drop the insurance requirement, according to BankRate.com, but at that point you could also refinance to get rid of the PMI. More here.

Is Your Home a Death Trap? How Mold Affects Your Health and Your Home’s Value

If you think your home is mold-free, you’re probably wrong.

As a fungus, mold is in soil and spreads to new locations by releasing spores into the air. It can travel through an open window or follow you inside through the front door.

But mold only becomes dangerous when it is able to attach itself to organic material and grow and spread with the right humid conditions, explains Joe Cascone, owner of Mold Pro Chicago, a mold prevention and removal company.

“Moisture allows the mold that’s already there to grow and colonize, and reproduce and spread,” Cascone says.

People’s reactions to mold vary depending on individual predispositions to mold and the type of mold growth, from no symptoms to sore throat and itchy eyes, heightened asthma problems, skin rashes and in some cases autoimmune disease from prolonged exposure. Because medical issues can vary so greatly, it doesn’t matter which type of mold may be growing or how you’re feeling, all visible mold growth in your home should be removed and the source of moisture repaired to ensure growth does not occur again.

“Health effects are the first reasons to rid a building of mold. The second reason is the resale value and marketability of a property,” Cascone says. “Nobody wants to purchase a seller’s mold issue.”

Whether you’ve lived there for decades or you haven’t even closed on the place yet, evidence of mold can trigger dozens of questions. To avoid getting lost in the details, ask a few simple questions to help you get to the root of the cause, figure out how to fix the problem and how to move forward.

What’s causing the mold to grow? It could be a leaky pipe, humid basement or a hurricane that flooded your entire first floor. The size of the problem is less important than your ability to repair the source of moisture. “It’s imperative to stop further moisture intrusion,” Cascone says. Otherwise, the mold will just grow back.

Mold growth in a basement, attic or crawl space is relatively common, Cascone says, because residents don’t see these areas often, and they can be very humid.

Mold’s potentially harmful qualities weren’t always a major concern. Larry Wasson, a certified home inspector and owner of Affiliated Inspectors in Chevy Chase, Maryland, says he wouldn’t be surprised to go into crawl spaces covered in mold as recently as 20 years ago.

“It wasn’t until at some point this medical research data hit the news” that mold could cause serious health problems, in addition to allergic reactions and heightened asthma symptoms, Wasson says.

An understanding of how mold grows in the home and the potential for adverse health effects has since changed the way people look at fungus, even if it’s not causing you problems, you have to kill growing mold and reduce moisture levels to prevent its return.

Bigger disasters, such as hurricanes or a pipe burst, will likely require major remediation efforts, since surfaces exposed to moisture aren’t isolated. A flooded basement, for example, could see widespread mold growth.

Who should you talk to about it? To ensure you address any evidence of mold growth appropriately, it’s best to talk to a professional who specializes in inspecting homes and checking for mold – and be sure they’re an impartial source.

Charles Gallagher, an attorney specializing in toxic mold litigation in St. Petersburg, Florida, recommends selecting two separate companies to perform the inspection and remediation to ensure impartiality, and even more important, to make certain the inspection has merit.

“You want to make sure that you have two different sets of folks involved, as opposed to one person coming out who is a drive-by repair, handyman kind of service who doesn’t understand the scientific aspect of it,” Gallagher says.

If you haven’t yet closed on a home and you find mold, it’s typically a good idea to hire your own professional to assess the situation to avoid having the wool pulled over your eyes by a desperate seller.

Some things to look out for: Phrases like “mildew” and “mold-like substance” are misleading. Mold and mildew are both fungi, and they can cause health problems. Wasson says that if it looks like mold or is described as a mold-like substance, consider it mold and have it removed.

“Nobody differentiates between mold and mildew – they both are just as risky as the other,” Wasson says.

How do you get rid of it? The spectrum of mold growth removal can range from a simple at-home cleaning to a heavy-duty remediation process that requires residents leave until conditions are safe enough to inhabit the home again. For spaces that are just a little too humid, a dehumidifier that’s the right size will help to keep moisture levels in the air below 50 percent, which is the threshold for many types of mold to grow.

When Cascone inspects a home that doesn’t need remediation, he typically recommends mold-killing products that can be found at a local home improvement stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s.

But contrary to popular belief, bleach is not an effective remedy. “It will just keep coming back, especially if it’s growing on the paper on the drywall,” Cascone says. Sprays specifically designed to kill mold are more effective, and mold-killing primer can be used to seal the surface once the mold is removed. While simple at-home fixes and smaller remediation processes are typically resolved quickly, larger mold problems could take a few days to completely mitigate.

In the case of mold from leaks and water damage, you need to not only repair the source of water, but also remove affected surfaces, kill any fungi and treat anything you cannot remove, like a painted concrete wall in your basement, to prevent mold growth from returning.

Another way to reduce the chances of mold returning to the area is to get rid of its food source, and Cascone says one option is to ditch regular drywall for fiberglass drywall. “Fiberglass is not consumable; it’s not edible for mold. Fungus only eats or consumes carbon-based materials or organic materials that used to be alive,” he says.

How do you make a deal when there’s mold? Any kind of major defect can break a deal or have a big impact on negotiations when buying a home, and mold is no exception.

“Mold is without question one of the most prevalent risks you can come up [against when] buying and owning a house,” Wasson says.

It’s not worth risking the potential health issues, and mold will simply continue to devalue your property until the problem becomes so rampant that the home is uninhabitable. “Nobody wants to purchase a seller’s mold issue,” Cascone says, adding that, “Attic mold almost never affects the indoor air quality in the living space, but it sure threatens real estate deals.”

Regardless of whether you’re on the buying or selling end of the transaction, be sure you understand the laws about informing a purchasing party about home defects. “The law in Florida and in most states, generally, is that you have to disclose all known risks,” which includes evidence of mold in the home, Gallagher says. Providing the details of a previous inspection, mold lab test results or even simply stating that stains on a wall might be mold could be considered sufficient disclosure. More here.