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Things sellers can do now to get ready for spring buying

While 2021 just recently arrived, spring will be on your doorstep before you know it. Will you be looking to sell when the season of renewal arrives? After one of the more extraordinary years in recent history — both housing experts and homeowners were understandably fearful of how the economic repercussions of COVID would affect home values and buyer interest.

Those fears did not come to pass as not only did selling prices maintain their upward trajectory, properties were snatched up with lightning speed. According to an October survey conducted by the National Association of Realtors, over 70% of the houses that sold in September were on the market for less than a month. Experts attribute the heightened demand to record-low interest rates and the economy's ability to bounce back after the lockdown.

In short, if you're planning to sell when temperatures begin to warm up, the real estate market is poised to be red hot. Here are a few things that you can do to get ready for a seamless sale in March, April or May:

Consider renovating

Are there certain rooms or portions of your house that could use some sprucing up? Whether it's the kitchen, bathroom, living room or somewhere else, renovating and modernizing can dramatically improve your odds of selling quickly and at a price point that justifies what you spend on the project.

For example, according to the most recent Cost vs. Value report from Remodeling Magazine, minor kitchen remodels, garage door replacement and manufactured stone veneer yield the greatest resale value. Each averages a return on investment of 77.6%, 94.5% and 95.6%, respectively.

Talk to friends about any renovation professionals that they've dealt with and whether they would hire them again.

Review your finances

In order to make money, you also need to have it, and that's certainly the case for refurbishing a room or some other rehab project. Before committing to renovating, go over your finances to see if you have the available funds. You'll also need to do your research to better determine how much you can expect to spend. Using the jobs cited by Remodeling Magazine as examples, the average manufactured stone veneer project costs approximately $9,357, while garage door replacement goes for roughly $3,700.

Alternatively, you may want to consider applying for a renovation loan.

Obtain pre-approval

Getting pre-approved is traditionally recommended for those aiming to buy a house. However, as someone who will presumably be in the market to purchase another home, pre-approval for a mortgage is relevant to sellers as well. It can give you the ability to quickly place an offer on a house that you see in listings. It also provides greater certainty as to where you'll be living before you turn the keys over to the new owners.

Some of the personal items you may need for pre-approval include pay stubs (typically two weeks' worth), a copy of your tax returns (previous two years), and a statement of funds, among other effects.

Begin to declutter

It's incredible the amount of "stuff" that accumulates in a single year, never mind several, as a homeowner. Even though you may not be putting your house on the market until spring, decluttering now will help you save time, energy and hassle later on. View some decluttering tips to help you get started here. As Zillow points out, you don't need to take actions to remove items, but going over what you have and what you want to bring with you will make packing easier to manage. If you don't want to throw away items, consider donating.  

Make repairs

When you sell your property, the buyer wants it in as good of shape as possible. If you can think of anything on the outside or inside of your house that’s broken, plan now to get the issues resolved. Doing so will help avoid problems at the closing table and will help ensure you're able to sell at a price point that reflects its true value.

Putting your house on the market can bring lots of mixed emotions, especially when it feels like you haven't made the proper preparations. With spring still several months away, the efforts you take now will make the process a whole lot smoother and more coordinated when the flowers and home-selling season are in full bloom.

Please contact Residential Mortgage Services today for more information on loan products and anything else that we may be able to help you with related to real estate preparations.

Helpful Tips

Tips for heating your home more efficiently this winter

According to the Department of Energy, heating and cooling account for almost 50% of the energy used in a typical American home. Since heating your home is likely one of your largest energy expenses, you will want to take some time to make sure that you are doing it as efficiently as possible. Read on for some tips to keep your utility costs down, the environment and your wallet will thank you.

Keeping the cold air out is just as important as keeping the warm air in

  • Find and seal the drafts in your home with caulk and weather strips.

    • Caulk is used for cracks between stationary parts of your home like door and window frames while weather stripping is for moving parts of your home like doors and operable windows.

    • Some places to look for drafts are attic access doors, outlets, doors, plumbing entrances, windows, and chimneys. Click here for a list of tips from the Department of Energy to make sure your home is sealed top to bottom.

  • Make sure your home is well insulated, including your attic. Click here for more information from the Department of Energy on insulating your home.

Air circulation matters

  • Reverse your ceiling fans so they rotate clockwise. This will draw rising warm air down.

  • Change your furnace filters monthly to ensure efficiency.

  • Make sure your furniture is not directly in front of vents so the warm air can circulate.

Timing is key

  • Use your curtains correctly. During winter, keep the draperies and shades on your south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sunlight to enter your home and closed at night to reduce the chill you may feel from cold windows.

  • Install a programmable thermostat to drop the temperature down 8-10 degrees while you’re at work or sleeping.

Looking for additional ways to conserve energy?

  • Switch to energy efficient light bulbs now that we have shorter days and longer nights.

  • Switch your conventional power strips to advanced power strips (APS). Advanced power strips stop your electronics from drawing power when they are turned off or not in use.

  • Turn down the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120°F). You'll not only save energy, you'll avoid scalding your hands.

  • Let your dishes air dry.

  • Wash your clothes in cold water.

  • Turn off kitchen, bath, and other exhaust fans within 20 minutes after you are done cooking or bathing; when replacing exhaust fans, consider installing high-efficiency, low-noise models.

Keep your home toasty warm and running efficiently through the winter months, and may the holiday season bring you and your family some comfort and joy.

Helpful Tips

Change the batteries in your carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms:

Did you know that the risk of dying in a home fire is cut in half in homes with working smoke alarms? Smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors save lives, but you need to make sure that that they are working properly in order to protect you and your family. Change your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector batteries twice a year, and make sure you are testing your alarms monthly by pressing the ‘test’ button. Below are additional tips to make sure that your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are working as they should.

Smoke alarms:

  • Smoke alarms should be in every sleeping room in the house, every hallway and every additional level of your home including the basement.
  • All smoke alarms should be interconnected so when one goes off they all do.
  • Smoke alarms that are mounted on the wall should be 4” from the ceiling. Smoke alarms that are mounted on the ceiling should be mounted 4” from the wall.
  • Avoid putting your smoke alarms within 10 feet of cooking appliances to avoid false alarms.
  • Replace the entire alarm every 10 years. Remove the alarm from the wall or ceiling and check the manufacturer’s date on the back of the alarm to see how old it is.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors:

  • Carbon monoxide detectors should be installed in every sleeping room and every level of the house including your basement.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors should ideally be at knee level, but they can be installed at chest level if you have children.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors should not be blocked by curtains or furniture.
  • Replace the entire alarm every 5 years. Remove the alarm from the wall or ceiling and check the manufacturer’s date on the back of the alarm to see how old it is.

Helpful Tips

Best practices for strong passwords:

Cybersecurity is critical, both in your personal and professional life, and passwords are the first line of defense against imposters gaining access to your accounts. The 2019 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found 80% of hacking-related breaches leveraged either stolen and/or weak passwords.

Follow the tips below to make sure that you are setting strong passwords to protect your accounts and information online.

Password Do’s:

  • Use a password manager: Password managers are online services that safely store and manage your passwords. Your passwords will be encrypted, so it is a secure way to keep them all in one easy to find place.
  • Change your password regularly: This will make it less likely that your accounts will be compromised.
  • Make your passwords long: Advanced hackers can use computer programs that run through every combination of numbers and letters. The longer and more complex your password is, the harder it is to crack!
  • Mix up symbols and numbers with letters: An example of this technique is using the number 1 in place of a lowercase letter l.
  • Use nonsense sequences of letters and numbers: This will make it more difficult for someone to guess your logins and harder for advanced technology to crack your passwords.

Password Don’ts:

  • Don’t use the same password for everything: If you do, and an imposter gets your password for one account they can use it for all the other services and platforms you have.
  • Don’t keep passwords in areas people can access: Storing logins in your desk or easy to access places in your computer puts you at risk. Instead use a password manager that encrypts your passwords for you.
  • Don’t use common words or phrases: If the letter sequences you use are found in the dictionary, an intruder will be able to crack your passwords easier.
  • Don’t use personal information: Logins that include birthdays, names of loved ones, or streets you grew up on will make it easy for someone to hack your accounts.

Don’t give your password to anyone: Not even coworkers or good friends.

Helpful Tips

Why email is not considered a secure method for supplying mortgage documents 

If there is anything that most Americans have in abundance, it's email. Whether it's their personal inbox or their work-related account, emails practically never stop. In fact, the typical worker receives an average of 126 emails a single day, according to estimates from Radicati.

It's easy to understand why. Emails are simple, convenient, quick and can be sent from virtually anywhere, any time and by multiple means, be it personal computer, laptop or mobile device.  

Since mortgage providers aim to simplify the mortgage application process, supplying the required documentation via email would seem to make sense. While undoubtedly convenient, delivering the necessary materials for a home loan electronically may be inadvisable.  

The primary problem with this mortgage application method boils down to one thing: security. Think about what is included in your typical mortgage application. You name it, it's there, including your name and street address, Social Security number, bank accounts, available savings, where you work and the names and numbers of people who may be cosigning.  

While internet security software has improved dramatically in recent years as tech experts learn the duplicitous strategies of cybercriminals, identity theft remains an ongoing and far-reaching problem. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, 1.6 billion private records have been exposed since 2005 in the U.S. alone and in 2019, breaches impacted 493 million people

Email is regularly abused and exploited 

Hackers seek to exploit any opportunity to steal data, be it through unsecured Wi-Fi networks, ransomware or denial-of-service attacks. But among the most common methods of all is by email.  

Email-based hacks are frequently designed to look like they're from someone you know or a reputable organization. In reality, the perpetrators are merely pretending to be someone they're not and seek to fool email recipients into clicking on a link that is embedded with malicious code. Just by clicking on the link can be the key the cyberattacker needs to access all your sensitive data or potentially steal documents you're sending as part of the mortgage application process.  

Another problem with emailing mortgage documents is the HTTP connection or Hypertext Transfer Protocol. This is the portal used to visit websites by entering the appropriate address. When there is an "S" written after the HTTP (HTTPS), it means that the connection is encrypted. Should there be an attachment with the email, there is no risk of it being intercepted.  

However, the same may not be true for the recipient. In other words, their HTTP connection may not be properly secured. That's because there is no knowing what type of network they're using. For example, if it's public Wi-Fi and it's unsecured, the attachment could be stolen or compromised. 

The risks associated with sending mortgage applications are better understood now, but that wasn't always the case. For instance, in 2014, 70% of mortgage lenders allowed loan applicants to submit their financial information through email, according to a study conducted by HALOCK Security Labs.  

The comprehensive nature of mortgage applications is yet another reason why emailing them is inadvisable. Here is a list of what information is typically included or asked for in a mortgage application: 

  • Copy of driver's license  

  • Social Security number(s) 

  • Paystubs from last two payment periods 

  • Current and prospective home addresses 

  • Retirement assets 

  • Bank account information 

  • Federal tax returns 

If even one piece of information was stolen, it could be potentially devastating, ruining years of hard work. But for all of these details to fall into the wrong hands can be crippling. 

What should you do instead? 

While submitting documents in person is a safe option, it isn’t always the most convenient, especially during these unprecedented times. Reach out to your lender to see what security measures they have in place so you know that your sensitive material won't fall into the wrong hands. For example, many lenders require those who are submitting documents electronically to set up an account with their own username and password. Sometimes, this method requires multifactor authentication, which adds an extra layer of security.  

Residential Mortgage Services has a secure mobile application, RMS Ready, that allows you to upload documents easily and securely from the comfort of your couch! Security should be your utmost concern, and at RMS, it's ours as well. Contact us today and learn how we prioritize your protection and convenience simultaneously.    

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