12 Simple Tips When Preparing Your Home for MLS Pictures

Most times, when I meet with a seller for the first time we discuss staging for their home so that they can get the most money for their home in the least amount of time. Every now and then a seller calls and is ready to get the home on the market “yesterday”.  So while having a stager come to their home is still an important conversation, there are tips I give the seller so that when I arrive to the home we can get started with some great pics right away.

If you are about to put your home on the market, here are 12 simple tips for getting it camera ready for the MLS (Multiple Listing Service).

It’s All About Curb Appeal

• Remove all vehicles from driveway and in front of the home
• Have the yard trimmed; leaves raked; bushes/trees trimmed
• Bright flowers aren’t a must, but they make a huge statement in pictures!
• Take away any distracting lawn ornaments – they might be cute, but we want buyers’ eyes focused on your home in the pictures!
• From the front of your home, see how your windows appear — if there are blinds or curtains that need to be straightened, be sure to fix those as well
• Do any of the light bulbs need to be replaced?

 Inside Matters

• Make all beds
• Keep floor space as clean and vacant as possible – pick up toys, clothes, boxes, etc
• Clear away the ‘clutter’ – we don’t want the buyers’ eyes focusing on your personal items, the less you have out, the better!
• Keep countertops as clean and vacant as possible – it will make them seem larger
• Take down personal photos
• Do any light bulbs need to be replaced?

Like I said above, these are simple tips that help me shoot your home on-the-spot. It certainly does not replace the value of having your home professionally staged. Also, the seller and I will have more in-depth talks about things they can do to make their home more appealing to buyer in their market. But, if I am on my way over with a camera, this list is a great way to get started! If you would like to learn more about getting your home ready for the market, contact me today!


Choosing Between HOA and non-HOA Communities in Austin

HOA vs non-HOA Communities

There are many categories buyers find themselves in. They can be as specific as one-story vs. two-story homes to widely different categories like high-rise condos vs. sprawling hill country ranches. Price range, location and size are more of the obvious categories. But, one of the more inconspicuous categories I find my buyers landing on either one side of the fence on is HOA community vs. non-HOA community. Though it’s not often the first criteria on my buyer’s list of preferences, the HOA/non-HOA standpoint always winds up being one of the more important factors in ultimately deciding on a community.

HOA’s & How They Affect Austin Real Estate

For example, I’ve had clients in the past who wanted to live within the Austin city limits, but have no restrictions on having their own chickens so that they could have fresh eggs for breakfast each day. I also have clients who have a very tight budget in mind, and the extra $40 a month that goes to an HOA would not fit into their monthly expenses. And, some clients just do not want a board telling them how to landscape their yard and when they can or cannot put their trash can out! In these instances, clients are happier with a non-HOA community.  Some of Austin’s most popular neighborhoods in the central and south-central parts of town do not have HOA’s, such as the Zilker, Travis Heights, and Barton Hills neighborhoods.

Austin HOA’s Offer Unique Amenities to Community Residents

On the flip side, there are many homebuyers who feel strongly about residing in an HOA community. They like that the HOA holds the neighborhood up to a standard when it comes to appearances of the streets and their neighbors’ yards. Some like to live in a condo so that the HOA takes care of their yard maintenance for them. There are also usually amenities for the community, such as playgrounds and parks; higher HOA subdivisions have more amenities like pools, clubhouses and golf courses.  Some of Austin’s most popular HOA communities are Avery Ranch and Steiner Ranch, which offer wonderful amenities to their residents.

Sometimes HOA’s take it to a whole new level with their amenities and the exclusivity they provide, offering chaueffered car service, dry cleaning pickup, 24-hour concierge services, and much more.  There is even a proposed high-rise condo in Miami where a glass elevator takes residents to their front door without them ever getting out of their car! I would imagine that monthly HOA payment is going to be quite high! But, there will be buyers who see the value in paying for this unique amenity.

Do Austin HOA’s Increase Property Values?

A lot of Austin buyers are of the opinion that an HOA community holds their values better than a non-HOA community, and sometimes that is true. Sometimes an HOA can make it difficult to sell your home, especially if you’re in a condo community and the HOA isn’t managed properly, or isn’t holding the proper insurance or reserves. Perhaps that should be a good topic for my next blog.

If you know that you want to live in an HOA community, it’s a good idea to obtain as much information on the HOA as you can before you go under contract. If you’re considering an HOA community in the Austin area, send us an email and we will help you obtain some documentation to review while you’re doing your home search.

Feel free to share any thoughts or comments on what your thoughts are on HOA’s. Do you prefer to live in an HOA community or do you prefer to live without an HOA?


Why Buyers Should See Austin Neighborhoods During Day and Night

When buying a home, most buyers typically see the home and the neighborhood during the day. Daytime showings are ideal so that you can utilize the sunlight to see the exterior of the home and the yard.

However, it would be wise for buyers to also visit the home and especially the neighborhood at night.  This isn’t to say visiting at night will help you see if there is crime in the area – crime happens day and night and the most valuable tool for learning about crime rates in a neighborhood you are thinking about buying in is available on the city’s website located here

Why I suggest this is because a neighborhood’s character can change at night – by visiting only at day you are missing out on good and potentially alarming things.

Take downtown Austin for example. At night the streets light up in what I consider quite a beautiful way!  The stores along the 2nd Street District seem to come more alive and so does the atmosphere on West 6th Street. If a buyer is looking to live downtown, visiting at night will certainly help motivate them!

There are many other Austin neighborhoods that you wouldn’t notice the commercial and retail space until you drive by at night when all the signs are lit up. A seemingly boring neighborhood during the day can come alive at night!

At the same time, driving up and down the street of the home you are considering purchasing will help give you a good idea if there are many families in the neighborhood with children that play in the yards when they come home from school, and the presence of joggers in the neighborhood at night will be another great indication of the area.

Driving the neighborhood at varying times of the day will also help you learn about the area’s traffic patterns and will tell you if it will be a convenient drive for you each day to and from work.

If you are looking to buy a home in the Austin area, don’t go it alone, call us and we will help walk you through the steps and provide you with many tips like this so that you can make an informed purchase!


Why Staging Matters When Selling Austin Condos

Staging can mean everything when you are selling your home. Don’t believe me? Listen to this scenario I recently had when I was showing some buyers condos near Lake Travis.

We enter the first condo of the day. It is located in a building they already love and these buyers know what they are looking for in a condo. There are only four floor plans we are seeing in the building – although we are seeing several units with the same floor plan. The first condo is vacant but supposedly staged with outdated living room furniture and no dining room table. In these small lake front condos, it can be hard to visualize where your dining table will go – and the lack of one in this unit certainly left my buyers puzzled. The master furniture was nice, but the second bedroom seemed too specific with two twin-sized beds. The walls were white throughout the condo and there weren’t many decorations or paintings. Overall, the condo seemed clean and but lacked warmth and the furniture style and layout were not ideal. Being the first condo of the day, my buyers liked this unit and the overall square footage…they aren’t wowed, but it is left on their “list.”

We move on to a few of the other units with different floor plans, but each seem to have a flaw and do not make the “list.” Next, we enter a unit with the same floor plan as the first condo my buyers liked. This unit is occupied and has been professionally decorated. Almost immediately they notice the dining table and they love the placement of it in the condo – it adds value, a whole other room. Right then, they knew they liked this condo better than the first because of the layout….the funny thing is that both units are identical in square footage and floor plan. Both units when bought will be cleared of its furniture and the buyers will bring in their own touches…but already one unit is ‘winning’ over the other because they are showing the buyer where they can place the table. One would think the two units should still be equal, but the psychological effect one dining table has made all the difference in the world to these buyers. As we move throughout the unit, we notice the different placement of the living room furniture and the warm colors throughout. They even forgive a few of the accessories because the overall feel of the unit just felt right to them. Even the bedroom furniture placement made them think more about what they’ll do with the rooms and which family member will spend more time in the secondary bedroom versus the balcony. Again, this is the identical unit to the first, but the staging evoked so much more in these buyers and they were sold.

To top this story off, there was quite a difference between the list prices in the identical condos as well – the second priced higher. That price difference seemed justified to the buyers (though, we did change that up in negotiations of course!) simply because the way that condo made them feel over the other.

So, if you did not think staging made a difference before – I hope you see it now. My clients went from liking a condo but wanting to see more to falling in love with an identical unit, which was priced higher, all because of the staging.

If you are thinking about selling your Austin condo, contact me today and let’s discuss how we can wow the buyers and bring more money to your pockets at closing.


How Are Mueller Home Sales Affecting Surrounding East Austin Areas?

Is the new community of Mueller positively affecting home sales in the surrounding East Austin communities?

Lot sales have been slow in the MLS area 3 – in the last six months only one lot has sold and 20 lots remain on the market, with the average cumulative days on market at 353 days.

This is quite a change from a few years ago when lot sales were super hot in the East Austin areas. I remember the days when multiple offers would be on a property within hours of it hitting the MLS. Builders and investors were eager to get in on the east side with its new trendy reputation.

When I take a look at home sales and compare them to lot sales in the MLS area 3, it makes me wonder if times are about to change again. (To explain, MLS area 3 covers East Austin north of Martin Luther King Blvd, south of the 183 and in between the 35 and 183.) Homes sales in area 3 have been steady – 130 homes have sold in the last six months (according to MLS data) – that’s nearly one a day.

And, with the Mueller development located in MLS area 3, one can assume that these sales will help bring more interest to the area. Certainly, the commercial developments and the parks near & in Mueller have helped the surrounding neighborhoods and areas. New home sales in Mueller have ranged from the high $200’s to $499k in the last six months of MLS data.

Are smaller builders and investors going to start hoping they can build in nearby neighborhoods, like Cherrywood, and get similar prices on their new homes? There is a difference being in a diverse neighborhood with a mix of new and old homes (like Cherrywood) vs. a new subdivision like Mueller and prices will reflect that, but the prices may begin to affect one another because of proximity and buyer desire to live in this area.

If you would like more sales information on the East Austin area, or want to know more about investment property in East Austin, contact me today.

Do you have an opinion on whether Mueller has helped the surrounding East Austin areas?  We’d love to hear your thoughts!


Top 25 Newest Listings in 78704 Zip Code in Austin, TX

Below are the 25 newest Austin MLS listings in the 78704 zip code.  78704 is Austin’s “hip” zip code — located just south of downtown — with its funky boutiques, shops, and people-watching!  Let us know if you have any questions about South Austin real estate — we know it well, because we too live in 78704!

  1. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,291 sq ft
    Lot size: 6,926 sqft
  2. 1 bed, 1 bath
    Home size: 944 sq ft
    Lot size: 10,105 sqft
  3. 2 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 1,467 sq ft
    Lot size: 3,528 sqft
  4. 3 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 1,810 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,537 sqft
  5. 3 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,087 sq ft
    Lot size: 5,227 sqft
  6. 1 bed, 1 bath
    Home size: 1,000 sq ft
    Lot size: 10,933 sqft
  7. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,872 sq ft
    Lot size: 10,280 sqft
  8. 4 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,292 sq ft
    Lot size: 13,242 sqft
  9. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,400 sq ft
    Lot size: 3,746 sqft
  10. 3 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 1,369 sq ft
    Lot size: 5,575 sqft
  11. 3 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,362 sq ft
    Lot size: 7,797 sqft
  12. 1 bed, 1 bath
    Home size: 500 sq ft
    Lot size: 40,510 sqft
  13. 1 bed, 1 bath
    Home size: 650 sq ft
    Lot size: 958 sqft
  14. 4 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 2,508 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,450 sqft
  15. 3 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 2,333 sq ft
    Lot size: 3,310 sqft
  16. 1 bed, 1 bath
    Home size: 736 sq ft
    Lot size: 1,350 sqft
  17. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,403 sq ft
    Lot size: 8,145 sqft
  18. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 20,218 sq ft
    Lot size: 38,332 sqft
  19. 1 bed, 1 bath
    Home size: 489 sq ft
    Lot size: 609 sqft
  20. 1 bed, 1 bath
    Home size: 489 sq ft
    Lot size: 609 sqft
  21. 2 beds, 1 bath
    Home size: 950 sq ft
    Lot size: 1,698 sqft
  22. 2 beds, 2 baths
    Home size: 1,101 sq ft
    Lot size: 2,787 sqft
  23. 4 beds, 4 baths
    Home size: 2,730 sq ft
    Lot size: 7,405 sqft
  24. 1 bed, 1 bath
    Home size: 560 sq ft
    Lot size: 9,060 sqft
  25. 2 beds, 3 baths
    Home size: 1,147 sq ft
    Lot size: 2,221 sqft

See all 78704 zip code MLS Listings.
(all data current as of 12/11/2017)

Listing information deemed reliable but not guaranteed. Read full disclaimer.


How to Get Austin Condominiums FHA Approved

If you’re an owner of a condo in the Austin area and are about to list your condo to sell, you may be surprised when you find out that your condo building isn’t FHA Approved.  What does this mean to you as a seller?  It means that any buyer who is looking to obtain FHA financing will not qualify, leaving you to only be able to sell to conventional buyers who have to make a large down payment (usually 20% or greater).  This could seriously shrink your pool of potential buyers, making your visions of a quick sale slowly wither away.

What Can You Do To Get Your Condo FHA Approved?

You can contact your HOA and ask them to start filing the paperwork, but this probably isn’t the fastest approach unless you are on the board.  Mortgage lenders also have the ability to file the necessary paperwork to apply for FHA approval for your building, but you’ll have to have your place under contract for the buyer’s lender to start the process. What if a buyer isn’t willing to write an offer on your non-FHA condo and “hope” that his/her lender can get it on the list in time for closing? You could pick up the phone and try calling a few lenders and ask if they will help you. But with nothing in it for them, there’s no reason for a stranger to do all of this legwork. Your best bet is to hire a Realtor who has a great working relationship with a lender who can handle this type of unique situation.

We have one of those great relationships with one such lender: Eric Silvas at Envoy Mortgage. He filed the initial paperwork for FHA approval for an older condominium complex in Central Austin for us (we are representing the seller), and after he jumped through several hoops, we are happy to say that the complex is now approved!

FHA approval helps everyone in the building, not just our listing. It’s the kind of value that hiring the right Austin Realtor and Austin Mortgage Banker can bring to the table.

We are fortunate to have a great relationship with an Austin mortgage banker like Eric Silvas. There aren’t many lenders who would be willing to put forth the efforts of doing something like this, especially on a complex that is already developed. Thank you, Eric!


How Texas Veterans Buy Houses

The following blog was written by Chad Bowman, an Austin mortgage banker and Austin VA loan specialist:

The Texas Veterans Land Board (TVLB) offers many benefits to our proud Texas Veterans including a home purchase program known as the Veterans Housing Assistance Program or “VHAP”.  The VHAP provides financing up to $325,000 toward the purchase of a home to eligible and qualified Texas veterans.  The VHAP cannot be used for refinancing.  It can only be used to obtain a purchase money loan on a property you intend to owner-occupy as your primary residence

There are two big pieces to the puzzle:  eligibility and qualification.  Eligibility refers to you meeting the requirements of the program based on your residency status, military service, and previous TLVB payment history.  Qualification refers to you being able to afford your new mortgage payment and therefore qualify for the loan with a lender who participates in this program.

Are You Eligibile For a TVLB Loan?

Let’s start with eligibility.  Are you a Texas Veteran?  The answer is YES if your “Home of Record” on your DD-214 is Texas and you currently reside in Texas OR you have lived in Texas for the last 12 months OR you are currently on active duty in Texas and changed your residency to Texas.  The military service requirement is at least 90 days of active duty and anything but a dishonorable discharge.  It is also required that you have successfully repaid any previous TVLB loans and are current on any open TVLB loans.  Provide a copy of your DD-214 or other discharge papers to your lender to confirm you are eligible.   

How To Qualify For a VHAP Loan

Qualification is the other important piece and is best answered by your lender.  The VHAP loan must be originated in conjunction with VA, FHA, or conventional financing and with a TVLB-Participating Lender.   It is a matter of analyzing your credit, income, debts, assets, etc. based on the standard requirements for the underlying mortgage program.  The vast majority of the time, the VHAP is used with VA financing since you typically get VA financing for 100% of the sales price (no down payment) and have no mortgage insurance.  The best way to confirm you qualify for a VHAP loan is to get pre-approved with a TVLB-Participating Lender. 

So, you’re eligible and qualified: now what?  The whole reason behind using the VHAP program is for potentially below-market interest rates.  It is a matter of comparing to other programs at the time you are locking your interest rate.  There are, however, two times in particular that this program is especially beneficial.  The first is if you have a 30% or greater VA disability rating.  If so, you are likely eligible for a full ½ percent discount off of the base rate.  The other special situation is for someone currently serving in the National Guard or Reserves.  If, after funding your VHAP loan, you receive activation orders for the War on Terror, you MAY BE eligible to have your interest rate reduced to zero during your time of activation, plus one year after you return. 

Rates are updated after business hours every Friday and posted at www.texasveterans.com.  You can also follow @TexasVATeam on Twitter and get the rates sent to you each week.  Now you know how Texas Veterans buy their homesteads at potentially below-market interest rates!

Chad Bowman is a proud Marine Corps Veteran, VA Home Loan Specialist, and licensed Texas Mortgage Banker in Austin, Texas.  He is a TVLB-Participating Lender who can originate VHAP loans anywhere in the State of Texas.  Find more information on his website at www.theVAteam.com.


Energy Star Ratings and Green Building Popular With Austin Home Buyers

Local and national builders of Austin homes like KB Homes, Lennar Homes, Wilshire Homes and many others are adapting to the latest demand from home buyers: energy efficiency and Green building.

Energy Star Ratings on New Homes

Since 2007, Energy Star Ratings on new homes have become increasingly important to prospective buyers when shopping for a home. The savings for homeowners who purchase energy efficient homes is significant, especially during the summers in warm climates like Austin. Home builders are realizing that the investment of using green materials and building well-insulated homes has become a very good selling point and just makes good sense.

How Austin Home Builders Achieve a High Energy Rating

To acheive a high rating, a home must be built to stringent insulation guidelines with regard to materials and workmanship. Below are a few examples of ways builders can meet the criteria:

Energy Efficient Windows

Windows with double panes should be used instead of single pane to keep cool air in during the summer months, and keep your home nice and toasty in the winter time.

Lighter Color Roofing Materials

When it comes to roofing, simply using light color roofing materials to reflect light instead of dark materials that absorb light can go a long way toward energy efficiency. Reflective roofing and a radiant barrier can lower heat in the attic that slows down heat transfer.

Well Sealed HVAC Ducts

HVAC ducts have to be properly sealed and testing must be done to ensure proper flow of air to each room. Air ducts are checked for leakage by an inspector before closing to make sure the home is energy efficient.

Stone Exterior Walls Are a Big Plus

A big bonus toward a high energy rating comes from homes that are built of stone or cement walls.  Homes like this are great for energy efficiency in that it takes heat or cold longer to penetrate the material to enter the home, and maintains internal home temperatures.

Austin Builders Go Green

Generally speaking, if your home was built to Green building standards, there’s a great chance it was also built to Energy Efficiency standards. By definition, a GREEN home is one that is built with eco–friendly materials and products.

Consumers in purchasing a home look for the Energy Star Rating to help you make your decision to purchase a new home. It could save you a lot of money over time in reduced energy bills. Get your Energy Savings Audit done by a reputable auditor. If you are looking for any home that has been audited look for the energy star sign.which participating builders proudly display.

Okay, so you’ve got an energy efficient home.  Great, but don’t stop there! Don’t forget about the impact of energy-efficient appliances. Washer and dryer, refrigerator,microwave, and hot water heaters can be bought with Energy Star ratings. If you have natural gas in the home, it is recommended that you use a tank-less water heater. It is more expensive but it usually pays for itself after a few years.

There are so many other things you can do. Check with Energy Star for additional details.  If you have any questions about what it takes for a builder to become certified as a Green builder, or for more on the details that encompass an energy-efficient home, please do not hesitate to contact me for your Austin real estate needs.


Should You Hire a Stager Before You Sell Your Austin Home?

A home is, in the end, a product. Many products are sold as is, nothing fancy nothing exciting. When you sell your home like an as-is product, you are likely not going to sell your product for top dollar. To make your home generate interest and be memorable to potential buyers, you need to differentiate it from any other home in the same price range or location.

Enter the Home Stager

Home Stagers organize your home & store away furniture that makes the home look smaller. A good home stager will also request that the homeowners paint rooms in soft neutral colors, clean the home thoroughly, upgrade the landscaping, and even make necessary repairs to make the home move-in ready. In essence, home stagers prepare your home to optimize its value and help potential buyers see themselves living in your house.

I have known staged houses versus non-staged houses to sell upward of 6 percent higher in the asking price. It is very important to stage your home BEFORE you put it up for sale. When your home first goes on the market is when you usually have the most traffic because it is a new listing. After a few weeks on the market, you’ll tend to get lesser traffic. This usually puts the seller in a tough spot where they’ll usually lower their asking price to try to get it sold. This decrease in asking price is usually higher than the cost of hiring a stager. Wouldn’t it make more sense to do it right the first time, and have your home staged by a professional?

Clearly a good home stager will make your home more appealing and desirable, and this makes people more emotionally attached to it, highly increasing the chances of receiving an offer and getting it sold! In my opinion, a great company and professional home stager in the Austin area is Ashley Whittenberger at Interiority Complex.

If you need more information about home staging and the value it adds to your home, please do not hesitate to contact me. Also, be sure to check out my website that allows user to search through thousands of Austin MLS listings for Austin homes for sale. As your Austin Realtor, I’ll help you make the tough decisions much easier when it comes to buying or selling Austin real estate.

Do you have experiences with home stagers that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts.