Questions to Ask at an Open House

Open houses are an excellent way to view a property on a whim. They provide an opportunity to look through the property, and they give buyers a chance to get up close and personal, to glean as much information as they can about the property. If you’re on a search for a new home, and you are looking to attend some open houses, here is a list of important questions to ask while there.

“What is the neighborhood like?”

An experienced agent will know and be able to provide information on the neighborhood if asked, and an open house is a great opportunity to ask. Not only are things like safety of the neighborhood, local schools and amenities important, you can also get information on things only locals will know: how the local traffic is during rush hour (and how noisy it is), if there are any parks nearby, if the community is friendly, etc. Don’t be afraid to ask, and if you get a vague answer, it might be worthwhile to ask a neighbor if you get the chance.

“What’s the interest like?”

Open houses are a great way to judge the popularity of a property, as the number of people present can be a good indicator of interest (although some of those people could be neighbors or people looking with no intent of buying). Asking the agent about the interest on a property is one way to judge any competition from other potential buyers. You can ask the agent about any current interest: if the response is vague, ask if there have been any offers. Tons of interest doesn’t necessarily mean many quality offers. It’s also important to check to see how long the property has been on the market, and if there are offers, ask if any are contingent.

“How much are utilities?”

Utilities make up a large part of a monthly budget, and for some buyers, utility costs may be higher in a new area than in their current property (especially if a renter is looking to buy). When attending an open house, ask the agent how much the monthly utilities cost the current owner. Also find out if the neighborhood or complex has an HOA: how much the monthly fees are, what they cover, and how often the fees are assessed. It’s up to the HOA to decide what the fees go toward, but for many HOAs the fees cover basic maintenance of the community, municipal services (trash removal, water and sewage), and lawn care or maintenance of any shared outdoor spaces (a community greenway or park). If the property is in an exceptional community, it could cover a clubhouse, community pool, fitness center and more (but with these additional items monthly HOA fees can be in the hundreds).

“How motivated is the seller?”

Buyers have specific needs when it comes to housing. They may be renters looking to buy and have a date when their current lease ends; they may already own a property and have an offer on their current home; or they could be living with family or friends and looking to buy something as soon as possible. At an open house, ask the agent how motivated the seller is. If the seller wants to be out of the property as soon as possible, he or she may be more willing to negotiate when it comes to offers. If they’re not motivated, or are hoping for a long closing, they may not be as interested in negotiations.

“Have there been any recent improvements?”

As a buyer, you want to know if a property has had recent upgrades or any construction done on it. Not only will this tell you what may or may not need to be replaced or upgraded after purchase, it also lets you know if the current owner has taken care of the property. You’ll be able to spot new appliances or modern cosmetic changes, but as a buyer you won’t be able to tell if the furnace is on the fritz, how old the electrical system is, or anything else that may be ‘hidden’ in the property. If any recent additions or large renovations have taken place, you’ll know to ask if the proper permits were obtained from the city, county or other government agency prior to the start of the work.

Sometimes buyers get caught up in the opportunity to look through a house during an open house and forget to use the time to ask important questions. Before you embark on your open house tours, remember your list of questions, as they’ll certainly help you make a decision on whether to pursue a property further or move on to the next one.

Taxes and Your Home or Property

 With the U.S. tax season still so fresh in our minds, as homeowners we are reminded of all the taxes we pay on our properties. But what exactly are property taxes? Are there any tax breaks for homeowners? Below you will find useful tax information that may help you should you own a property or plan on buying one this year.

Property Tax

Property tax (also called millage tax) is specifically a levy on the value of a property. Property tax can be levied by a number of governing authorities: the national government, a state, county, geographical region or municipality. In the United States, it’s very likely that your property will be taxed by a number of jurisdictions, most likely by your local governments (city or town, and the county you live in – but this is specific to each state). With multiple jurisdictions taxing a property, property tax is generally referred to as property taxes because of the combination of taxes. Property taxes are calculated based on an appraisal of the monetary value of a property. For Americans, property taxes go toward supporting local schools/education, police/fire services, local governments, local infrastructure and even possibly free medical services.

Most states determine their property tax rates based on their independent state budgets, and the tax is generally paid in portions when homeowners pay their local real estate tax. Local taxes are made up of county and municipality (city or town with a local government) levies, and they’re based on the assessed real estate value of a property. These taxes generally go to pay for the local infrastructure, public services, and city/county operation and administration costs. Property taxes also include school tax, regardless of whether or not a homeowner has children in local schools. School tax goes to local school districts and helps pay for public education (land and buildings, teacher salaries, textbooks, administration expenses), and depending upon where you live, school tax may even go to local community colleges.

While property taxes can be a real hit to a homeowner’s pocketbook, there are tax deductions specifically available to property owners.

Tax Deductions for Homeowners

While all homeowners pay property taxes, they also have the ability to claim valuable tax breaks specifically related to property ownership. Be advised: it is always best to get help and have your questions answered by a tax professional who is up-to-date on all current U.S. tax codes.

Property Taxes

Property taxes are eligible for a tax deduction on your personal taxes. If you purchased a home, you can also include any taxes you reimbursed the seller for (unless they were delinquent). But be forewarned: property taxes can only be deducted if you itemize your tax return. For many homeowners, property tax payments will be included in your monthly loan payment, so you should receive an annual statement that will have the total property taxes you have paid over the year.

Mortgage Interest

Again, this deduction is available if you itemize your return, but in the U.S. if you own a home, condominium, co-op, mobile home, or boat/recreational vehicle that you use as a residence you can deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage. You should get a 1098 from your mortgage lender, which will state the total mortgage interest paid for the year.


Did you buy a home or are you going to buy a home this year? If you plan on having a mortgage loan, you can deduct any points (also called discount points) you may pay directly to the lender in exchange for a reduced loan rate. You are allowed to deduct the points the year you paid them if: the loan is for a primary residence; was used to buy, improve or build a home; you live in an area where paying points is common; the buyer’s settlement statement clearly outlines the points; and the amount of cash you put toward the purchase of the home is at least equal to the amount charged for the points on the loan. If you refinance your mortgage loan you may also be eligible, but check with a tax professional to make sure.

Energy Credits

For the 2016 tax year the federal government offered two energy tax credits: the Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit and the Nonbusiness Energy Property Credit. The credits are available to homeowners that improved the energy efficiency of their properties by either installing alternative energy technologies (solar, wind, geothermal, or fuel-cell) or through upgrading current home equipment or materials to be more energy efficient. If you are thinking about upgrading some of your home’s systems to alternative energy sources, or you want to update your windows, insulation, water heater, furnace or central air system to a more energy efficient technology, you may be able to claim a tax credit for the improvements (it is best to have a tax professional determine your eligibility for this credit should you make the improvements).

Casualty Losses

Casualty losses are property damages during the year that are sudden, unexpected or unusual – anything from a car crashing into your property to a hurricane, tornado, or even vandalism. There is a process to go through, but casualty loss deductions can be used when your insurance company does not reimburse you for the damage, and the loss deduction has to exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income, so it is not for minor issues. If you find your property has major damage, and you are hit with a large out-of-pocket payment toward it, you may be eligible for a casualty losses deduction on your taxes.

Taxes can be confusing, especially when you are a homeowner. If you have any questions, contact a tax professional who is knowledgeable on all property tax deductions and credits available to homeowners.


Historic Homes and Properties

For many Americans, the lure of historic homes is sometimes pretty strong. Many home decor shows and publications sell the idea of an updated historic home as an attainable real estate goal. The reality is that historic homes do have a certain charm that is hard to find in modern construction, and many of the small details of historic homes (wainscot paneling, decorative crown molding and more) have been introduced into current architectural design but with modern twists.

Even though historical design elements are easily obtained in modern properties, real historic homes still draw buyers and history enthusiasts alike. Depending on your location in the United States, certain areas have many more historic homes available than others, and certain geographic areas are prided on their historic homes and properties. For a property or home to be considered historic, it needs to meet a number of criteria set by the National Register of Historic Places, otherwise it’s just an ‘old’ property. Whether you’re specifically looking for a designated historic home, or yearning for the charm and character of an old home, there are things you need to know before you sign the sale papers.

Historic Districts

Many historic and old homes are located within a city’s historic district. While there are plenty of old homes not in historic districts, if you choose to purchase a home within one, you may run into some issues when it comes to changes you would like to do to the property. This means homes within historic districts usually have to abide by a set of criteria for exterior updates (meaning paint colors, window types, etc.). While this could seem limited in terms of expression, the bright side is that other homes and properties have to abide by the same rules, meaning all homes will have similar exterior features. It’s also important to note that it’s more likely a state or local historic registry will have restrictions – districts on the National Register of Historic Place do not have restrictions.


Historic homes and properties have stood the test of time, and rightly so as they are generally structurally sound. But this is not the case for all of them, and time does do a number of things to a property. If you have a dream of buying a shabby historic home and updating it, practice caution. Updating, renovating or remodeling historic or old homes can be a huge budget buster, especially if the property is in ruin or hasn’t been taken care of over the years (or centuries). A steady income or large budget may be needed depending on the amount of work to be done; it is also possible to receive a grant or tax program though a state historic preservation office, but not all states offer such programs.

Historic homes can also come with historic or out-of-date construction materials: bad electrical wiring, outdated plumbing, smaller doorways or alcoves that won’t accommodate modern appliances and furniture, lead paint, asbestos, and a number of other things. If you’re not ready to potentially address all of these issues, an old or historic home might not be the best choice for you.


Restrictions can come in a number of forms, from limits on renovations to financing. Very rarely are additions allowed on historic homes, and windows, shutters and roofs generally have to embody the original design style of the property. Living in a historic neighborhood can mean higher taxes than a regular neighborhood, and sometimes it can be difficult to get a general mortgage loan for a historic or old home (especially if it’s in need of many repairs). Home insurance can also be hard to come by, as the home may need many costly repairs or replacements of historic elements that might not be easily attainable. If the home is not on a state or local historic registry, it’s generally easier to get home insurance if an owner can update the property as they see fit.

Old and historic homes are something to cherish in our country. They are a testament to often forgotten time periods, and for many history enthusiasts their story, and their architecture, stand as a reminder for today’s generations of what once was in the U.S. If you have a yearning for a historic home, take some time to research your local historic property market and talk to other historic home owners to understand all that goes into these beautiful properties.

Home Emergency Preparedness

 Many of us in the U.S. might be conscious of natural disasters happening, but we might not realize that they can happen to us. Depending on where you live in the U.S., the risk of a natural disaster occurring is fairly slim. Whether it’s a flood, blizzard, wildfire, tornado, tsunami, hurricane or earthquake, owning a home or property (or even being a renter) should prompt you to have an emergency preparedness plan, first aid kit and survival kit readily available in your home or vehicle in case of a natural disaster or unforeseen emergency.

Be Informed

As a property owner or renter the first thing you should do is be informed about the type of disasters or emergencies that have occurred in your area. If you live on the west coast, there is an active threat of earthquake and perhaps a volcanic eruption if you’re in the Pacific Northwest. If you live on the southern east coast, the threat of hurricanes or tropical storms is yearly. Certain parts of the Midwest and south are prone to tornadoes. Knowing the type of disaster that could strike your area is important as it can dictate how you and your family react.

Another important part of being informed is knowing how you’ll be notified by local authorities if disaster hits. For your own benefit, having a radio (battery operated) on hand may be very useful. Many agencies will communicate via local radio, local television channels and NOAA Weather Radio stations. While many of us depend on our computers or mobile devices for our news and information, electricity cannot be guaranteed when disaster hits, so having battery operated electronics can help keep you and your family up to date on what’s happening around you.

It’s also important to be informed about your community – are there certain protocols in place in case of disasters? If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, does the community have an alert system for residents? If you live in a coastal town, are there evacuation routes in place in case of a tsunami? When you move to a new area, become acquainted with the community’s disaster response protocols and inform anyone else in your household of what to do if disaster strikes.

Be Prepared

If you live in a household with other adults or children, an important part of being prepared for an emergency is having emergency contact cards available to those you live with. These cards have contact information for all members of the household (such as home, work, school and cell phone numbers) and they can list pertinent health information for certain people (such as drug or food allergies) that may be needed in an emergency situation. It is also important to make sure all occupants old enough know how to contact 911 as well as the Fire Department, the Police or Sheriff’s Department, immediate utilities, and poison control. As a homeowner or renter, ensure everyone who is able knows how to turn on and off any gas lines, electricity, water, irrigation water and propane tanks in or outside the home/property.

Another important aspect of being prepared is having supplies on hand in the event of an emergency. An emergency preparedness kit can take many shapes, but the most important items are basic supplies: water: one gallon per person, per day (for a home it’s suggested to have a 2-week supply on hand); food: non-perishable and easy-to-prepare (again, for a home a 2-week supply is suggested); a flashlight and battery-powered or hand-crank radio (with extra batteries); a first aid kit; a 7-day supply of any medications; and any other supplies that might be deemed essential to one’s household. It’s also a great idea to make sure all of your smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors and fire extinguishers are in good working order on a regular basis.

More often than not, disaster doesn’t strike an entire community or city, and many times the threats are predictable (a home fire, gas leak, etc.). Because of this, being prepared for all emergencies might not be a top priority within a household. As homeowners, renters or property owners, the last thing we want to happen is to be caught off guard by something that could have been prepared for. In the case of natural disasters or home emergencies, this means being prepared in advance. Should disaster strike, it’s very unlikely help will immediately appear. Do yourself a favor and have an emergency plan in place. Disaster may not strike, but if it does, you’ll certainly be ready to react to whatever comes your way.


10 Deadly Mistakes Buyers Make When Purchasing A House

Protect yourself from these ten common pitfalls…

Choosing a real estate agent who is not committed to forming a strong business relationship with you.
Making a connection with the right real estate agent is crucial. Choose a professional who is dedicated to serving your needs—before, during and after the sale.

Making an offer on a home without being pre-qualified.
Pre-qualification will make your life easier—take the time to talk with bank or mortgage representatives. Their specific questions with regard to income, debt and other factors will help you determine the price range that you can afford. It is one of the most important steps on the path to home ownership.

Not knowing the total costs involved.
Early in the buying process, ask your real estate agent or mortgage representative for an estimate of closing costs. Title insurance and lawyer fees should be considered. Pre-pay responsibilities such as homeowner’s association fees and insurance must also be taken into account. Remember to examine your settlement statement prior to closing.

Limiting your search to open houses, ads or the Internet.
Many homes listed in magazines or on the Internet have already been sold. Your best course of action is to contact a real estate agent. They have up-to-date information that is unavailable to the general public, and they are the best resource to help you find the home you want.

Thinking that there is only one perfect home out there.
Buying a home is a process of elimination, not selection. New properties arrive on the market daily, so be open to all possibilities. Ask your real estate agent for a comparative market analysis. This compares similar homes that have recently sold or are still for sale.

Not considering long-term needs.
It is important to think ahead. Will your home suit your needs 3–5 years from now? How about in 5–10 years?

Not following through on due diligence.
Make a list of any concerns you have relating to issues such as crime rates, schools, power lines, neighbors, environmental conditions, etc. Ask the important questions before you make an offer on a home. Be diligent so that you can have confidence in your purchase.

Not having a home inspection.

Trying to save money today can end up costing you tomorrow. A qualified home inspector will detect issues that many buyers can overlook.

Not examining insurance issues.
Purchase adequate insurance. Advice from an insurance agent can provide you with answers to any concerns you may have.

Not purchasing a home protection plan.
This is essentially a mini insurance policy that usually lasts one year from the date of sale. It usually covers basic repairs you may encounter and can be purchased for a nominal fee. Talk to your agent to help you find the protection plan you need.


Tips for making the selection process easier:
Bring a camera to document each home that you visit. Start each tour with a shot of the address plaque so you can easily identify each home later. Take notes during each home visit. Record any notable features, architecture and design elements. List what changes you would make and what details really stand out. You will especially want to write down your first impressions of each home.

Pay attention to the home’s surroundings. Generally, avoid the most upgraded home on the block. Is it in a friendly neighborhood? Will parking be an issue? Is it a good area to walk your dog or have an outdoor get together? Is it in a good school district?

Visit homes that you were interested in again a few days later at a different time of the day. You may notice some nuances you missed earlier.

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The Realities of Income Properties

Many homeowners consider investing in an income or rental property as a means for extra income. Many real estate markets throughout the U.S. have seen tons of growth in recent years, with rental properties highly sought-after in some popular markets. Generally, real estate is a solid investment in terms of ROI (return on investment) over the long term. While a rental property might seem like a sure thing for extra income, there are advantages as well as disadvantages to income properties. If you’ve been toying with the idea of investing in another property, consider some of the points below before making your final decision.

Advantages of Rental/Income Properties

Direct Income Stream

One major advantage of an income property is a direct income stream. Monthly rent checks go directly to you, which based on whether or not the property has a mortgage, go directly into your business account. Should the property be continually rented throughout the year, the monthly payments will add up to a pretty sizeable sum by the end of the year, which is extra income in your pocket. Even if the property has a mortgage, the difference between the mortgage payment and rent check will undoubtedly be a positive addition to your account.

Property Value Increases

One of the biggest draws for real estate is the expected property value increase over the long term. In a good real estate market, a property should increase in value a specific percentage in accordance with the market. If you’re able to purchase a property while the market is down, the long term return on investment (ROI) could be quite significant if you plan on keeping the property for some time. If you live in a popular market, the value increase could be significant in only a couple years, and if you have a mortgage on the property, you will be able to leverage your ROI even more since the property value increase is based on the total value of the property and your initial investment may have been a small percentage.

Sweat Equity

As you maintain and upgrade the property, you’ll likely recoup some of the costs you’ve put into it. Regular maintenance (things like exterior painting, new siding, upgrading a roof, landscaping, etc.) help to increase the overall value of the property. Pair sweat equity with a property value increase, and the overall value of your investment property should grow over the years, garnering you more money in the long run.

Tax Deductions

As a property owner, tax deductions are always a good thing. When it comes to rental property, tax deductions are a for sure thing. With the current guidelines, property owners have the ability to write-off interest on the mortgage or credit card used to make purchases for the income property. Things that can also be written off: insurance, any maintenance repairs, expenses for travel to and from the property, any legal or professional fees, and of course the property taxes.

Disadvantages of Rental/Income Properties

Risk of Asset Concentration

For many of those interested in a rental or income property, the ability to purchase the property outright is not a reality. Many owners will need to have a mortgage on the property; and for those able to buy in cash, the amount needed will likely eat into the majority of a person’s total net worth. Because of the huge concentration of assets in one item, there is a potential to see no return on the initial investment, especially if the real estate market as a whole takes a drastic turn or the economy goes into a recession. If you’re looking at an investment property as a financial investment, having the majority of your assets concentrated in one item is not advised and a poor investment scheme. Also, real estate requires a sufficient amount of funds on the side to handle any periods of time when you, as a property owner, need cash.

Tenant Issues

The only way to make money off a rental or income property is to have tenants. While the Internet provides a number of ways to find tenants, as a property owner you want your tenants to be responsible (pay the bills on time, take care of the property, and be long-term renters). Finding the right tenant can be a process: from running advertisements to credit and background checks, the tenant process can take some time and can cost a property owner a considerable amount in a short time. Should the tenants end up being a nightmare, you’ll see additional costs to fix any wear and tear.

Taxes, Fees, Insurance

Regardless of whether or not the property is rented, as the owner you’ll have regular payments for property taxes, home insurance, HOA fees, and regular upkeep. Property insurance on rental properties can be higher than non-rentals, and overall taxes, fees and insurance eat into the overall income generated by the property. You are able to write some things off on your taxes, but that only happens once a year, not every month.

Being Involved

One of the biggest parts of owning an income property is maintenance. Maintaining the property is a challenge, especially when it has to be done regularly. From major appliances to structural components like the roof or the driveway, the property owner maintains and covers the cost. If you have tenants that don’t like fixing things, it’s likely you will be called when something goes wrong – from a clogged toilet or sink to leaking appliances or major property damage. Not only does maintenance take time, it also takes money.

Owning an income or rental property has its advantages and disadvantages. It’s important, as a potential investor, to know the real estate market you’re looking to invest in. You should take your time to thoroughly consider your financial resources, the real estate market and economy as a whole, and all the pluses and minuses of owning a rental home before you take the plunge.

Finding the Value in a Real Estate Agent

Perhaps you’re considering buying or selling a home or property in the New Year. For some, the idea of selling a home might seem like a challenge worth taking. For others, the thought of selling or buying a property is incredibly daunting, which is a major reason why real estate agents and brokers exist: to help us with our real estate transactions. Even so, there are some people who question the value in an agent. Because a normal real estate transaction takes on average between 30 to 45 days (there are times when it’s shorter or much longer), it might seem as though an agent gets a lot more out of the transaction than they put in, prompting a buyer or seller to attempt the transaction on his/her own. What many people don’t realize is the incredible value offered to buyers and sellers by using an agent. If you’re looking to buy or sell in the New Year, read below to find out all the value you receive by using a real estate agent.

Pre-Listing Activities

A huge value offered by hiring a real estate agent is all the work that occurs before your property is even listed on the market. An agent will not only arrange appointments and other meetings with the seller, he or she will also research comparable properties and the MLS or public record sales activity, download and review the property tax information, and research and review a number of things pertaining to the property like the ownership and deed type, public record information for lot size/dimensions, the legal description and current use and zoning. The pre-listing process ensures the property is ready for the market. It can be tedious, but part of the value in using a real estate agent is the agent does these items and more for you.


Long gone are the days when a home sold because there was a sign in the front yard or an ad in the newspaper. With the advent of social media, exposure and marketing are huge assets to any seller. One value afforded to a seller through an agent is the amount of exposure and marketing available to them via the agent. Not only will your property be listed on the agent’s site and the agent’s company site (if they have one), you will also have the added benefit of your home likely appearing on the agent and company’s social media accounts (think Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). Many of us don’t have the time to properly market a home or property because of other commitments (jobs and family). With a real estate agent, the marketing and exposure of a listing takes top priority with the agent because it’s essential to an eventual sale. Not only will the agent prepare all the marketing materials, but s/he handles internet and social media marketing, hosts open houses and networks with other agents. Marketing is a huge part of any successful business, and selling a home is no different. Agents offer a tremendous value in terms of marketing and exposure of a property – don’t miss out on this added value by avoiding a real estate agent.


There is a reason why real estate agents do what they do for a living: selling or buying a home is a major life event. Most people wouldn’t try to negotiate the stock market with their life savings if they didn’t know what they were doing, and the same can be said for navigating the real estate market. A home purchase or sale is a major transaction, and a real estate agent knows the ins and outs of a sale or purchase. With selling, there is the initial offer, the counter offer, and the period after acceptance of the offer. When it comes to buying, an agent is skilled at negotiation and will be able to provide assistance when it comes to home inspections, repairs and other items. For the seller, he or she will also be able to provide advice if there are any requests for concessions from the buyer. Sellers and buyers alike benefit from all a real estate agent can offer.

Smooth Transaction

When it comes to the thick of it, most buyers and sellers want the entire transaction to be as smooth and successful as possible. Success comes with experience, and a professional real estate agent offers experience. One of the true values in all that an agent offers is experience – agents know the market, they are efficient at their jobs, they know how to help if there are financing problems. They know how to deal with any objections or complaints from buyers; they deal directly with contracts and escrow, and they ultimately keep everything on track. The value in an agent is tenfold when you consider all the benefits of having one on your side during a real estate transaction.