5 Must-Do Tips For a Successful Staging

Selling a home can be a tough task, but there are ways to increase its curb appeal to improve the odds of making a sale. Homeowners are encouraged to take on a number of tasks to get their homes ready for sale.

1. Fix it up
Finding issues with a home and fixing them is a surefire way to improve the odds of selling a home. You know your house better than anyone – fix the broken shingle, grease the squeaking door, caulk the leaky shower. Getting out the tools can go a long way to attract a buyer.

2. Keep it clean
When selling your home it’s critical to keep clutter at bay, pick up and keep the home its cleanest. Consider having professional cleaners come in a day before an open house to ensure it’s spotless.

3. Tone it down
When selling a home, it’s critical to appeal to the masses. That might mean toning down certain aspects of the place. Sure, your young daughter might have thought four different color paints looked nice in her bedroom, but a prospective buyer might not have her unique taste. The best practice when selling a home is to remove any personal items, helping buyers picture themselves there.

4. Mind the details
Everything matters when selling a home, so going the extra mile could make all the difference. For instance, having a copy of any bills could clue a buyer in on how much utilities will cost, thus helping them make their decision.

5. Optimize your space
Make a home look as large as possible. This could mean rearranging or even removing furniture. Doing so will make a home more appealing.

Buy Your First Home Within 12 Months: A Step-by-Step Guide

To buy your first home within 12-months is a goal for many people just like you. This simple step-by-step guide breaks it down with manageable goals to get you to homeownership.

12 Months Out

Check your credit score. Get a copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com. The three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) are each required to give you a free credit report once a year. A Federal Trade Commission study found one in four Americans identified errors on their credit report, and 5% had errors that could lead to higher rates on loans. Avoid last-minute bombshells by checking your score long before you’re ready to make an offer. And work diligently to correct any mistakes.

Determine how much you can afford. Figure out how much house you can afford and want to afford. Lenders look for a total debt load of no more than 43% of their gross monthly income (called the debt-to-income ratio). This figure includes your future mortgage and any other debts, such as a car loan, student loan, or revolving credit cards.

There are plenty of calculators on the web to help you determine what you can afford. If you’re pushing the limits, start reducing your debt-to-income ratio now. To get a reality check on what you may actually be spending every month, review the previous 2 months of bank statements.

Make a down payment plan. You do not have to have a 20% down payment. If you can swing it, do it. Your loan costs will be much less, and you’ll get a better interest rate. If, however, you’re not quite able to save the full amount, there are many programs that can help. FHA offers loans with only a 3.5% down payment. But they require mortgage insurance premiums, which will drive up your monthly payments. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides a list of nonprofit homebuying programs in Texas. Also, check with credit unions, and your employer might even have an assistance program.

As you’re planning your savings strategy, keep in mind that banks like you to see that you’ve had stable funds in your account for 60 to 90 days before applying for a loan. Don’t worry: You can still use a financial gift from a family member or bonus received near the time you buy.

9 Months Out

Prioritize what you most want in your new home. What’s most important in your new home? Proximity to work? A big backyard? An open floor plan? Being on a quiet street? You’ll make a much better decision on what home to buy if you focus on your priorities. If it’s a joint decision, now is the time to work out any differences to avoid frustration and wasted time. Perhaps most important: Know what trade-offs you’re willing to make.

Research neighborhoods and start visiting open houses. But now’s when the fun begins, too. Use property listing sites, such as HAR.com, to find out about neighborhoods, public transport, and cost of living.

Start visiting open houses to get an idea of what kind of homes are in your price range and what neighborhoods appeal the most. Seeing potential homes will also keep you motivated to continue reducing your debts and saving for your down payment.

Budget for miscellaneous homebuying expenses. Buying a home has some miscellaneous upfront costs. A home inspection, title search, property survey, and home insurance are examples. Costs vary by locale but expect to pay at least a few hundred dollars. If you don’t have the cash, start saving now.

Start a home maintenance account. Speaking of saving, start the good habit now of putting a little aside each month to fund maintenance, repairs, and home emergencies. It’s bad enough to have to call a plumber. It’s worse if you’re paying credit card interest on that plumbing bill.

6 Months Out

Collect your loan paperwork. Banks are very particular when it comes to mortgage loans. They demand a lot of paperwork. What they’ll want from you includes:

  • W-2 forms — or business tax return forms if you’re self-employed — for the last two to three years
  • Personal tax returns for the past two to three years
  • Your most recent pay stubs
  • Credit card and all loan statements
  • Your bank statements
  • Addresses for the past five to seven years
  • Brokerage account statements for the most recent two to four months
  • Most recent retirement account statements, such as 401(k)

If you start collecting these documents now, it’ll lessen the stress when it’s time to get your loan. Bonus: Looking closely at your loan documents each month will also help you stay focused on saving for your down payment and keeping your debt-to-income ratio low.

Research lenders and Realtors, specifically buyers’ agents. A buyer’s agent will work in your best interest to find you the right property, negotiate with the seller’s agent, and shepherd you through the closing process. Your agent also can be instrumental in finding a lender who’s familiar with first-time homebuyer programs.

Even better, look for a mortgage broker, who will shop for a competitive loan rate for you among multiple lenders, unlike a bank, which can only offer its own products.

3 Months Out

Get pre-approved for your loan. At this point, if you’ve been following this timeline, your credit score, paperwork, and down payment should be on track. You’ve done your research on lenders and buyers’ agents. Now it’s time to start working with them. First, you’ll need to get pre-approved for a mortgage.

Make an appointment with your lender or mortgage broker and bring all your paperwork. He’ll run a credit check on you and tell you how much of a loan you’re approved for. It often makes sense to borrow less than the maximum the lender allows so you can live comfortably. Draft a budget that accounts for mortgage payments, insurance, maintenance, and everything else you have going on in your life.

Start shopping for your new home. Once you’re pre-approved, the buyer’s agent you’ve chosen will be able to target homes that meet your priorities in your price range. This way you won’t be wasting time looking at homes you can’t afford.

2 Months Out

Make an offer on a home. It usually takes at least four to close on a home. So if you have a firm move-out date, allow enough time to deal with any hiccups that can delay closing.

Get a home inspection. One of the first things you’ll want to do after an offer is accepted is have a home inspector look at the property. If the home inspector finds something that needs repair, that’s a common example of something that can delay closing.

In the Last Month

Triple-check that all your financial documents are in order and review all lending documents before closing. You’re in the home stretch! If you’ve been keeping your documents up to date, and your down payment is in reserve, these final steps are the easiest. Reviewing the mortgage documents is probably the most difficult. Your agent can help guide you through them.

Get insurance for your new home. Don’t forget to secure insurance before closing. You’ll need to bring proof of insurance to closing.

Do a final walk-through. Do a final walk-through of your new home, usually a day or two before closing, to make sure the home is in the shape you and the seller have agreed upon.

Get a cashier’s check or bank wire for cash needed at closing. Make sure you get the exact amount of cash needed for closing. You’ll get that number a few days before closing so you can secure a cashier’s check or arrange to have the money wired. Regular checks aren’t accepted.

That’s it. Congratulations!

How To Add A Name To A Deed In Harris County – Get the Form

To add a name to a deed in Harris County:

  1. Download Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) from 25.25(b)RP here.
  2. Check the box “Change to new owner*”
  3. In the Ownership Information section, enter the legal names of the current owner and the additional owner(s) in the Owner’s Name field
  4. Complete all other fields in the form
  5. Mail the form AND a copy of the deed or closing statement to:

Harris County Appraisal District
Information & Assistance Division
P.O. Box 922010 Houston TX

If you have any questions, please call HCAD Assistance at (713) 957-7800

To add a name to a deed in Harris County:

  1. Download Harris County Appraisal District (HCAD) from 25.25(b)RP here.
  2. Check the box “Change to new owner*”
  3. In the Ownership Information section, enter the legal names of the current owner and the additional owner(s) in the Owner’s Name field
  4. Complete all other fields in the form
  5. Mail the form AND a copy of the deed or closing statement to:

Harris County Appraisal District
Information & Assistance Division
P.O. Box 922010 Houston TX

If you have any questions, please call HCAD Assistance at (713) 957-7800

Tax Appraisal Assessed Value Vs. Market Value

As a buyer or seller, you will likely hear two “prices” thrown about: assessed value versus market value. So what’s the difference?

While assessed value and market value may seem similar, these numbers can be different—typically assessed value is lower—and they’re used in distinct ways as well. So let’s clear up any confusion so you can wield these terms to your advantage.

What is the market value? Market value is the price that a buyer is willing to pay for a home, and that a seller is willing to accept.

Real estate agents are trained to pinpoint a home’s market value, which is done by looking at a variety of characteristics, including the following:

  • External characteristics: Curb appeal, exterior condition of the home, lot size, home style, availability of public utilities.
  • Internal characteristics: Size and number of rooms, construction and appliance quality and condition, heating systems, and energy efficiency.
  • Comps, or comparables: What similar homes in the same area have sold for recently.
  • Supply and demand: The number of buyers and the number of sellers in your area.
  • Location: How desirable is the neighborhood? Are the schools good? Is the crime rate low?

A home’s market value often is a good starting point for all kinds of things. For one, listing agents use market value to help sellers come up with a fair asking price for their homes. And, since buyers shouldn’t just trust what sellers say their place is worth, their own agent can also estimate the home’s market value and come up with a different price than they think their clients should offer. No number is right or wrong; the ultimate deciding force is what price a buyer and seller are willing to shake hands on to close the deal.

What is the assessed value? When trying to understand the assessed value of a property, you must know who is doing the assessment and why the property is being assessed.

Municipalities, mostly counties, employ an assessor to place a value on a home in order to levy property taxes on it. To arrive at a value, the assessor (similar to a real estate agent) looks at what similar properties are selling for, the value of any recent improvements, any income you may be made from, say, renting out a room in the property, and other factors—like the replacement cost of the property if, God forbid, it burns down in a fire (which sounds dark, but assessors are thorough professionals who consider every possibility).

In the end, the assessor comes up with the value of your home. Then, he multiplies that number by an “assessment rate,” a uniform percentage that each tax jurisdiction sets that is typically 80% to 90%. So if, say, the market value of your home is $200,000 and your local assessment rate is 80%, then the assessed value of your home is $160,000.

That $160,000 is then used by your local government to calculate your property taxes. The higher your home’s assessed value, the more you’ll pay in taxes. 

In Texas, homeowners can claim homestead tax exemption for their primary residence, which further reduces the assessed value by as much as 20%.  Using the same example above, the $160,000 assessed value will be further be reduced by 20% which is $32,000.  The resulting assessed value is $128,000.  $128,000 is then used by your local government to calculate the property taxes.

What assessed and market values mean to you. While a home’s market value can rise and fall precipitously based on local conditions, assessed values are typically more immune to fluctuations. 

But the bottom line is, don’t get bent out of shape if you hear your assessed value isn’t as high as you’d hoped. The assessed value is used mostly for property tax purposes. Homebuyers and sellers, on the other hand, look more to market value instead.

However, the assessed value can come up when you buy or sell a home because this number, unlike the loosey-goosey market value, is public knowledge contained in property records. So, rising assessed values bode well when home sellers try to justify their sales price to a buyer: “Hey, the assessed value is $310,000, and I’m only asking $320,000.” Likewise, buyers can use assessed value to justify a lower price: “Hey, the assessed value is $260,000, and you’re asking for $300,000. What gives?”

But the thing to remember with both assessed and market value is that at the end of the day, the price of a home is all in the eye of the beholder. The only number that matters is what a buyer and seller can agree sounds right, so don’t take any number you see too seriously.

Texas Homestead Exemptions – Helpful Guide for What You Need To Know To Reduce Your Property Taxes

Filing your Texas homestead exemption is a great way to kick off homeownership since you can significantly reduce the taxes on your home. I’ve assembled all the information you need to know to submit your homestead exemption request to the local appraisal district in your area. Note: If you’ve already filed for exemption, here’s how to check the status.

What is a Homestead Exemption? 
Texas Homestead Exemption reduces the taxes you owe on your home by lowering your home’s taxable value. For example, Texas school districts offer a $25,000 tax exemption for qualified applicants, which means if your home appraises for $200,000 as of January 1st, the amount you pay in school taxes is based on $175,000 ($200,000 home value less the $25,000 school tax exemption). Other taxing authorities (e.g. county, city) may offer exemptions of up to 20% of your home’s value, so filing for a homestead exemption is worth your while.

Who is eligible for a Homestead Exemption? 
Homestead Exemptions in Texas are granted to homeowners who apply for the exemption on the home they consider their primary residence. A new law effective January 1, 2022, will provide property tax relief by allowing homebuyers to file for homestead exemptions in the year when they purchase the property. Previously, new homeowners must wait until the following year to file for the exemption.

What is the Homestead Exemption Application process?
It’s a simple form – typically 2 pages that ask for basic information such as the owner’s name, property address, and type of exemption requested. Harris County has a mobile app to file electronically which makes it even simpler and you avoid the actual paperwork and having to mail anything out. For county-specific information click the applicable link below:

That’s the basics but here are some key things to remember:

  • It’s free to apply for homestead exemption. If you get a letter from Home Designation Services or any company asking for money, throw it away. Don’t get scammed! If you’re unsure, call your local property tax office.
  • Once you are granted the exemption, you do not have to reapply for it annually unless the Appraisal District notifies you that a new application is required. This is rare so it’s unlikely.
  • Homestead can only be used for your primary residence only. It can’t be used for secondary homes, vacation homes, or investment properties such as rental properties.
  • When submitting the form you need to prove your homestead. That’s done by including a copy of your driver’s license. The important thing here – The address on the driver’s license must match the address of the property you are applying.
  • For married couples, either person may be listed as the owner, just be sure the required documents that are submitted are for the person listed as an owner. 

Disclaimer and Additional Information The information above is not to be considered tax advice but is provided as a helpful reminder. For the official rules and details on Texas Homestead Exemptions, visit the Texas Comptroller’s website for additional information on Texas Homestead Exemptions.

How To Check Your Homestead Exemption Status

Brazoria County Homestead Verification

Galveston County Homestead Verification

  • Go to https://actweb.acttax.com/act_webdev/galveston/index.jsp
  • Search for the property by owner name, address, account number
  • Select the property from the search results
  • Next to the Exemptions field, you will see “Exemptions: HOM” if you have homestead exemption. Note: If you see “Exemptions: None” you do not have homestead exemption.
  • Click the link “Exemption and Tax Rate Information” to see exemption value, taxable value, and tax rate for the property

Harris County Homestead Verification

Montgomery County Homestead Verification

  • Go to https://esearch.mcad-tx.org/
  • Search by proprty address, owner, or property identifier
  • Under the Owner Information section you will see the Exemption

19 Things Nobody Tells You About Selling Your Home

In case no one has told you this yet, selling your house is a lot of work, and it’s stressful. Here are 19 things you probably won’t be expecting when you list your house for sale:

  1. You have an incredible amount of stuff. I know you think you don’t, but when it’s time to start prepping your house for sale and clearing all your clutter, you’ll realize just how much has accumulated. Throw out, donate and store your stuff – think of it as pre-packing for your upcoming move after a successful sale.
  2. Your feelings will probably be hurt by what the Stager or REALTOR® recommends. If you’re working with a full-service agent, they’ll probably send in their Stager (don’t worry, the agent usually pays). If they don’t work with a stager, at a minimum you can expect your agent to walk through your house, room by room, and tell you what needs to be done to improve the saleability of your house. This part of the selling process is personal…and it’s usually pretty painful. Keep in mind: the goal is to market your home to its highest and best use and appeal to as many buyers as possible – it’s not a personal attack on your decor style. Professional stagers know what buyers want to see and what catches their attention, online and in person.
  3. Your renovations may not have added as much value as you think. We call this the HGTV curse – the idea that everybody has been brainwashed into thinking that if they invest $10,000 into renovating before they sell, that they’ll make $20,000 in return. Truth: it doesn’t always work out that way, in fact sometimes, people lose money on the work they’ve done. Truth. Before you invest even a penny into renovating pre-sale, call in an experienced Realtor. He/She will be able to tell you what’s worth doing and what’s not.
  4. Some agents are rude: they may show up for a showing appointment late, or not at all. And many of them will leave their shoes on, despite the sign that tells them to remove them. I can’t defend this behavior, but at least, I can warn you. With tens of thousands of agents in the Houston area, you can expect a good chunk of them won’t respect your time (sorry).
  5. While your property is on the market, you’ll have daily stress about the number of showings: shouldn’t there have been more showings by now? What’s normal? An experienced agent should be able to predict mostly what to expect for the type of property you have and tell you in advance what’s normal in your neighborhood and for the time of year you list. The number of expected showings will change depending on how long you’re on the market, and hopefully, your agent will let you know at the first sign of something that isn’t normal and expected so you can react and adjust accordingly.
  6. While your property is on the market, you’ll wonder about every showing: was that my Buyer? Did they like it? Are they going to make an offer? In most cases, your agent won’t actually be at the showing, unless he or she is bringing their own potential buyer through the home. Good agents will ask for feedback – but they’ll usually wait a day or so to do it so as not to signal desperation. Unfortunately, most agents won’t actually give much, if any, feedback.
  7. Between the time after you’ve accepted an offer and the close, you’re responsible for making sure that nothing happens to the home. Buyers are entitled to the home in the same condition it was in when they purchased it, so if something breaks, you’ll need to fix it before close. If it was already broken – hooray! Not your problem. You’ll need to maintain home insurance until you don’t own it anymore.
  8. On that note: sometimes, sales don’t close on the day they’re supposed to, and while this is a huge pain, you may want to consider extending the insurance on your home a day or two past the closing date, just in case. If you don’t do that, and something goes wrong, and the closing gets delayed, don’t forget to call the insurer and tell them to extend your insurance! You don’t want to be the person telling the ‘if only I would’ve’ story at a cocktail party.
  9. You need to disclose defects. As much as I’m sure it’s fun to fantasize about not telling potential buyers about what’s wrong with your home, that’ll hurt you in the end. As a seller, you have a legal duty to disclose anything that could impact the new buyer’s use and enjoyment of the house.
  10. You’re likely to be expected to leave the property in pristine condition on closing. Your offer agreement probably stipulates that you can’t just move out and leave your home a mess. Think karma and have your house professionally cleaned before you move out.
  11. When agents bring their clients back to see your property a second time, that’s a good sign, but far from a guarantee of an offer. Also true: most condo buyers only visit a property once before putting an offer on it. I don’t know why it just is.
  12. Your buyer will probably see your home for the first time online. Gone are the days when realtors introduced buyers to properties. Motivated buyers are online, obsessively checking listings multiple times per day. If your home doesn’t look good online – spectacular photos and wicked marketing copy – and they aren’t falling in love right away – you’ve got a long road ahead of you.
  13. You’re going to become all stalker-y. While you’re listed, you’ll wonder about your competition, how many showings they’re getting and how busy their open houses are. Truth: I’ve had sellers go undercover to their competitors’ open houses. Truth: I’ve done that too. You’ll also wonder how much everything around you is selling for. Totally normal. A good Realtor will pre-load you with all that intel.
  14. Buyers don’t care what’s convenient for you – they want to see your home on their own schedule. Sellers who turn down showing appointment requests often don’t realize the risks they are taking. Stats show that 50% of the showings that get refused don’t get rebooked. Buyers are fickle that way, and you may have just refused a buyer who wants to close when you do.
  15. In my experience, the average condo gets an offer after 12-15 showings, and the average house gets an offer after 8-10 showings. Those are totally unscientific stats, but in my experience in selling homes, it’s almost always the case – at least if the property is property staged, photographed, priced, marketed and it’s easy for agents to show.
  16. Leaving your home every time there’s a showing sucks – but it’s worth it. No buyer can comfortably look through your home while you’re there, watching their every move. You’ll spend a lot of time at Starbucks, the park, or at your in-laws – but that discomfort will payback, I promise.
  17. Unless you own everybody’s dream home (most of us don’t), expect some low ball offers and don’t let your feelings get hurt. Even in bidding wars, we see low ball offers regularly. A good agent will be able to justify your asking price and negotiate the price to market value. Don’t be afraid of negotiating.
  18. Bidding wars don’t always work. I know you read about crazy bidding wars all the time, but it doesn’t always work. Getting multiple buyers at the table at the same time is an art, and depends on your property, your neighborhood, your competition, your asking price, the marketing and more. Don’t assume you’ll get a bidding war – and be prepared with a backup strategy if you don’t.
  19. Every property sells when the price is right. It doesn’t matter if you own a really gross house full of mold or a condo next to the party room and across from the elevator – there’s a market for every home.

Deed vs Title: The Absolute Distinction

Deed and title are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. One is an actual document. The other is the rights given by the document. Here’s the difference between deed vs title to clear up the confusion and misunderstandings.

A deed is an actual document that conveys ownership of real property. It is the document used to transfer ownership of real property such as a house from one party to another. It is evidence of a title.

A title is the legal ownership of a property and the rights conveyed in the deed. It is not a document. It is the concept of the bundle of rights acquired by having a deed.

When a home is sold the owners on the deed are updated with the name of the buyers and the name of the sellers are removed. This update is typically done by the title company handling the sale of the home. Depending on the number of deeds that need to be updated it can take a few days to a few months for the deed to be updated.

Title companies are almost always part of the home buying process. As the name states, title companies ensure all processes are followed to ensure a smooth transition of title from the seller to the buyer by sending the change of deed information to the county.

You can check the ownership for a deed online for Harris County, Galveston County, and Brazoria County.

4 Questions to Ask When Touring a Home

Going to a showing soon? Make sure to ask these questions as you tour the property:

1. Does it look maintained and well-cared for? When sellers put their home on the market, they usually put a lot of time into the landscaping and curb appeal, do a deep clean of the interior, and dec-clutter to show off the space of the home. If the home does not look well-maintained or cared for, there may be costly repairs necessary.

2. Will this fit my needs? Evaluate space, storage, layout, etc. Will the layout of the square footage meet your needs? Do you have a hobby or special needs that require unique storage or flex space?

3. Is there work to be done to get it to my liking? If you’ll need to do renovations, you will want to factor this into your decision (and make sure it will fit your budget). Most sellers try to make their home move-in ready while others leave them as-is for the new buyer to put their personal touch.

4. Will it fit in with your long-term goals? Is there room for a growing family or a yard for your future pups? If the home works for you now does not fit into your long-term goals, can space in the home be modified to meet future needs or are you ok with this being a starter home with plans to buy again?

4 Contingencies That Protect You As A Homebuyer

Including contingencies in your contract can help protect you, your finances, and your family when buying a home.

Here are some important ones to consider:

Option period contingency, which is a specified amount of time – usually 7-10 days – that allows you to back out of the contract for any reason or no reason at all during that time period. During that time you will want to have the home inspected. If necessary you will also use this time to negotiate repairs.

The appraisal contingency, which protects you from owing extra money should your lender’s appraisal come in low. Most lenders allow a variance of 3-5% between the appraised value and offer price. For example, if you offer $200,000 on a home, at a 5% variance, the home could be appraised for no less than $190,000 because $200,000 x .05 = $10,000. If the home is appraised at $185,000, you must either pay the additional $5,000 or walk away from the offer.

The financing contingency, which allows you to back out if your mortgage loan doesn’t come through – even if you were pre-approved at the time of submitting the offer.

The sale contingency, which says your purchase is only valid if you’re able to sell your existing home first. Sellers are typically reluctant to accept an offer with this contingency unless your home is already under contract.

Make sure to talk through possible contingencies with your agent before making an offer. The most appropriate ones vary from buyer to buyer.