Helpful Articles

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You can’t always
see everything online 

Why it’s important to have a Real Estate agent in your corner when buying a home.

The Importance of Home

Americans have long seen the purchase of a house as part of the national dream. It is a long-term aim for many and the desire to buy a home is so strong that most Millennial-aged people name the purchase of a house to be their most immediate and important goal. The procurement of a home symbolizes a sense of accomplishment or achievement. Home is an expression of who we are and our lifestyle choices.  Often people buy a house that reminds them of their childhood and brings a nostalgic sense of a happy time to everyday life. Buying a house is not just purchasing a place to live, it is a lot more than that. It is buying a place to build a life; therefore, it can be an emotional process.

Any major purchase can involve emotions, however there are other practicalities to consider when buying a residence. A home, along with where it is located such as on an acreage, urban area, cul-de-sac, places us within the larger framework of that societal community. Your domicile dictates how you live your life through your commute, your access to food and entertainment, your relationships with neighbors, and your budget. Therefore, buying a house is a functional and financial exercise as well as an emotional one.

Buying a house is aptly considered “a life event” because of the vast emotional and financial commitment involved. Most people understand that real estate agents help with paperwork, but much more than that, your agent holds a bank of knowledge. She or he will use that knowledge to help you navigate the delicate balance between your emotional and financial needs to assist you in finding that perfect home.

Information Gathering 

People often overlook the agent’s knowledge at first, typically waiting to consult with one until it is time to look at houses. This is because so much information is at our fingertips on the internet.  Given how important buying a home is, it is no wonder people want to do some research as they begin this endeavor. This is especially true for the information-hungry Millennial generation who tend to spend quite a bit of time researching on the web. Information gathering is even more important if moving a far distance or to another state and indeed, a lot of information can be instantaneously found on the internet. Within a few moments, you can see what the outside of a house looks like and what the interior style might be. Using dedicated websites, the determined researcher can glean a lot of information regarding general information about the state, city, safety of neighborhoods, proximity to restaurants, good school districts, local markets (comparables) and much more. In fact, there is so much information out there, multiple sites may need a visit as no one single website can possible contain all the information desired. However, it is important to remember, you can’t see everything online. Think of your agent as your own personal internet search machine for your particular situation. And unlike the web, your realtor will address your unique needs based on your personal circumstances and not on some formula. No computer can provide the human touch in combining all that knowledge and applying it in your distinctive context. Your agent will give you information right from the beginning that you cannot see online.

State and Municipal Level

When moving to a new state, many things need to be considered. There are different laws, differences in property tax and income tax that you may not think to look up when looking for a home. Each state has differences in lifestyle as well. An internet search may not capture all the nuances of each particular state. For example, an agent in Florida will tell you not to walk your small dog near that pond in the back during certain times of the year because of alligators. In states with a colder climate, your agent may tell you that you should consider a garage that faces south so that the sun melts the snow off your driveway rather than having to shovel it. Even a move within a larger state can sometimes catch you unaware. When moving from central California to the southern region, I was glad my agent warned me to allow extra commute time because of the dense fog in the morning that doesn’t burn off until after rush hour. I had to re-calculate the best neighborhood because driving time, as I informed her, was an important factor to me!

Drive time is a common concern when relocating and an agent can tell you about how that particular city operates. Sure, you can look online and note that a particular house is 5 miles from your job but what you can’t see online and what your realtor will let you know, is that rush hour in that part of the city will make the drive 20 minutes longer than expected. If on your computer search you find a house next to a big beautiful field, it will be your agent that will tell you that there are plans to build a big beautiful condo development there within the next three years.  Real estate agents know about the policy around infrastructure at the municipal level and will warn you about zoning changes that are relevant to you, information your computer cannot provide.

Neighborhoods 

Each neighborhood has a unique culture and quirks exist that are just not viewable online. Because you likely will be there a while, it is important to know if you will feel welcome or fit in well. Perhaps you’ve decided to upgrade to a house because you will be having a second child. You are excited that online you found the perfect place two blocks away from restaurants, shops, and in a great school district. But you can’t see everything online. Your agent will advise you that those two blocks on the way to those shops you plan on enjoying have poorly maintained sidewalks. Your dream of pushing your baby carriage with your children to the local café for coffee has now become less realistic. She or he can also inform you of that district’s school levies being quite high. That, along with the information that the area you are looking in is known for having older, retired couples, may have you think twice about how your entire family will fit into that community.

And all the members of your family should be considered, including your fur family members.  Especially if you are a dog owner, your realtor can apprise you of the local noise ordinances of the area, fines for not cleaning up, and other dog related infractions. She or he can help you find out whether the condo community you would like to buy in has breed restrictions, size or weight restrictions, the number of animals allowed if they are permitted at all. What about veterinarians in the area and dog parks that may not be listed? Again, you can't see everything online. You might find groomers, sitters and walkers on the web, but your realtor will have irreplaceable local knowledge about the reputations of certain pet store chains and other area businesses.

Lifestyle Factors 

Your realtors can advise you of other lifestyle factors including the local customs and culture. She or he can tell you whether corn hole is more popular or whether you may want to consider taking up pickle ball. They can also tell you about the political climate in the area. Will you feel a part of the community if a particular flag supporting one side or the other blankets the neighborhood? If eating out is important in your lifestyle, your agent will be able to tell you about the best pizza places, restaurants to take your kids, best places to get wine, or the best pancake house for brunch. These are the unique characteristics of the area that your agent will loop you in on. No computer can rival the local knowledge and connections your agent has and the information online is often outdated. Yes, maybe milk cost that much six months ago but your agent will tell you a more realistic amount groceries will cost as well as average electricity costs, and the local cable companies available. Especially for first time home buyers that aren’t even aware to ask about the cost of water or garbage removal, your agent is a wealth of information not accessible or seen online.

Finding the House 

Every area market is a little different and sometimes the competition for housing is very fierce depending on the supply available. Your agent will use her or his connections with other agents about houses that are about to come on the market, so called “pocket listings” that never even make it to those websites we use. People remain blissfully unaware of the flurry of activity that agents engage in out of view. They make phone calls, network, and call-in favors when it comes to listings and put forth tremendous effort to help find you your dream home, definitely something the internet cannot do for you.

And then there is the house itself. When it comes time to begin looking at properties, it is good to have the agent present. While your realtor will take into account your love for Craftsman style housing by taking you to see those, she or he will also note that the roof needs patching while you are distracted by the cute door and porch. As you are falling in love with the back-splash in the kitchen and rain shower head in the bathroom, the agent will notice the slope of the floor, and that vague water spot on the ceiling; neither one of which is obvious in those online photos or videos.  She or he will help you weigh your emotional desires with your financial constraints until you finally decide on “the one” that you would like to purchase. They will then be the one to communicate with the seller your desire to buy the home.

Conducting Business 

The first official step in buying a property is the offer. Many people again rely on online sources to find out what offer they should submit.  Many websites provide an estimate of what the house is worth and make suggestions as to what to offer. However, these sites use algorithms to come up with their approximations of value. They are often gravely incorrect as these formulas are not privy to the intricacies of each individual market and regional differences. And no matter how sophisticated, the website cannot say whether a particular home is “a bargain” or not, so it is important to get your agent’s input. Then there is business practice to consider, dependent on area and you can’t see that online either.

Every state or region of the country may have different etiquette for how business is conducted, including the making of an offer. In California, it is commonplace to offer a number substantially lower than the list price. In certain parts of North Carolina, the seller will be quite taken aback and perhaps even insulted if you offer less than what they are asking. Your agent will help you decide what offer is likely to be considered as they are intimately aware of the local market and understand how polite business is conducted in that area.

In some locales, you might be competing with many other buyers, in what is termed a “bidding war”. This involves many people vying for the same property, many resubmitting higher, more aggressive offers to beat out others. This approach usually works and typically, the house goes to the highest bidder. Your agent may be able to help pitch “your story” to the seller. One agent recalls a couple who knew they likely wouldn’t be able to compete with other offers. This realtor told the seller how important this house was to the couple, explaining they both grew up in the surrounding neighborhood.  She described how this couple was pregnant and couldn’t imagine bringing up their child anywhere else. To the couple’s delight, not only was their offer accepted, they got discounts on closing costs and the seller left many baby-related items in the house! It goes without saying, the internet cannot do this for you.

Once your offer is accepted, the real work begins and this is when you will need your agent the most. They will guide you through the often-intimidating closing process. Your realtor will advise you of things perhaps you didn’t realize you needed to know, like having to pay private mortgage insurance (PMI) if your down payment is less than 20%. They will explain what a CC&R is of a condo association. And once you’ve settled in, don't be surprised if they call to see how you are doing. Remember, you can’t see everything online. Your agent will be another set of eyes and work on your behalf. Having one in your corner will help ensure the best surprise free experience in the exciting journey of finding your home. 

 
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Tips for dog owners when buying a home 

Even before Covid-19 drove so many people to adopt an animal that it emptied out local shelters, we in the US have a long history of loving our pets, especially our dogs. This is seen in many statistics such as the poll conducted by the Humane Society in 2015/2016, that found almost 164 million cats and dogs occupy almost 80 million American homes. In other studies, couples cited their dog as the number one reason driving their decision to buy a house, getting married was second, and having a child was third! Presently, one third of millennial home buyers made decisions about which house to buy based on the needs of their dogs. Dogs were listed as a key reason driving decisions to buy a home, even if they didn’t even have the dog yet but were planning to obtain one in the future. 

It is quite an endeavor to buy a house but certainly there are additional elements to consider as a dog owner searching for the perfect home. This is more relevant when looking in an unfamiliar area. Every city and state differs in how “dog friendly” they are so it is important to make sure you are aware of the restrictions and ordinances of that particular location. For example, it is against the law to allow your dog to bark for more than ten minutes in the state of Oregon. In California, animals are not allowed to mate in “close proximity” (500 yards) of a school or church. In certain cities in Montana, you are required to have an actual kennel license if you have more than two dogs in your household.  There may be other related limits, such as fencing practices. Some cities allow only electrical grids or require permission from adjoining neighbors to erect a fence. Other cities stipulate a permit is needed when putting up barriers around a stand-alone house. In addition to the existence of these limitations one must also consider the penalties for infractions. Being aware of these restrictions may help you decide between locations or help prepare you in advance of moving. 

Being cognizant of these types of rules is even more pertinent when buying a condo or home within a community organization. The Home Owner’s Association may or may not even allow dogs. Most have conditions of some kind including weight of the dog, number of dogs and even the banning of certain breeds.  Some communities even limit dogs to ground level units or end units in attempts to reduce noise.  And it’s not just the rules you should investigate, you want to ensure you and your dog are welcome in your new neighborhood. It is worth the time to take a look around at the other units and immediate area of the community. Are there signs related to dogs/or doggy bag stations present? It may give you an idea of how receptive the area is to your dog. People in a dog friendly neighborhood may be more inclined to help out if a problem occurs such as your dog getting free of your yard. They are more likely to keep an eye out for your wandering pooch and may even hold onto him for you if needed.

And it is not just the community that may have limitations on your dog. Whether you choose to buy a free-standing house or a condo, you will likely need insurance. Be aware, some insurance companies also have restrictions. You might be charged more for liability for example, as they may see your breed as being more of a risk for biting incidents, or property damage. Be sure to ask how your pet might affect the liability portion of your insurance if you are seeking coverage.

Other considerations when investigating the community at large are the  pet amenities in the neighboring area. Try to anticipate what types you will need including a veterinarian, animal hospital, groomers, walkers and possibly pet sitters. Definitely research whether the potential home is near a dog park where your dog can run off-leash or perhaps in close proximity to a dog beach. Some areas are so dog friendly that not only do they have dog parks, they have doggie restaurants and dog friendly eateries. Some cities even allow you to bring your pet on public transport. For example, you can bring your pet on a trolley called “The Buzz” in Palm Springs that will take you on a 30-stop loop around the city at no charge. 
At a minimum, a good veterinarian is a must. The proximity to a good pet clinic will again depend on your lifestyle and your pet’s overall health needs. If your dog has chronic health issues and needs to be seen regularly, you may want to make sure there is one in the vicinity of your neighborhood. If you anticipate only needing an annual visit, it may not be as important to have one so close by.  Also, you may also think about how important it is to have an Animal Hospital in the vicinity. If your dog is accident prone, has a chewing habit, or even is very curious about wildlife, porcupines for example, it may bring you great comfort and security to have an easily accessible hospital nearby at the ready.

There is the grooming and upkeep of your pet to consider as well. If you like your dog to be coiffed on a regular basis, you may want to make sure there is a doggie salon that is easily accessible that you trust. You can save yourself some irritation in the future by making sure you won’t have to drive for 30 mins to the groomer every 6 weeks! This planning will also serve you well if you travel a lot and often need pet sitting services. That drive back from the airport will be more pleasant if you don’t have to extend the drive for too much longer to pick up your dog. Life will be easier if there is one nearby.

Also contemplate the walkability factor of the neighborhood. Especially in relation to bigger dogs, if your budget does not allow for a large yard, living in an area that has good walkways nearby is essential. Consider how easy it is for you to walk as well, an especially important factor in climates with more extreme temperatures. If it snows a lot at your new home, it is very important to have sidewalks to walk on, otherwise you will walk on the road. This may be fine for spring time when the roads are clear, not so fine when you might get hit if someone’s brakes fail in the winter. Conversely, if your new home is in a hot climate, are the sidewalks made of concrete or dark pavement? Lighter cement walkways are less likely to burn your dog’s paws than the darker pavement materials. Are there cooler areas to walk your dog? Walkways with plenty of shade?

Aside from climate, every geographical area has unique hazards to contemplate. Rural areas may have wildlife such as scorpions, and snakes that may be hazardous. Other places may have coyotes, skunks, raccoons, alligators, fox or mountain lions that roam the area. Consider also that many new building projects are forcing more wildlife from their habitat and into nearby yards. It is less of an issue for big dogs, but your small dog may inadvertently startle wildlife and get hurt, or carried away in the encounter. 

Once you have honed in on a particular neighborhood area, there are characteristics of the house itself you should contemplate when deciding on which one to purchase. Starting with the interior aspect, flooring is one feature you should take into consideration. It is common knowledge that carpet is the least recommended flooring for the obvious fur and tracked-in-dirt reasons. You may mention this as a priority to your agent when looking at houses or be willing to replace some flooring if your budget allows.  

If you do choose to replace carpet, there are many dog friendly options.  Tile is scratch resistant and often keeps the dwelling cooler in warmer climates. For those who prefer wood, solid hardwoods are often endorsed as they can be refinished if your dog scratches them. Floors that are very light in color or very dark in color tend to “hide” the scratches better. Whatever kind or color of flooring you chose however, they should be triple sealed with a high-grade polyurethane. Be sure to get confirmation about water versus oil base material for the particular kind of wood you are installing. You may also consider using reclaimed or a distressed wood which naturally has grooves or scratches already. 

Other pet friendly materials that have become trendy include luxury vinyl, and poured concrete is increasingly being implemented. Laminate flooring remains a go-to for its durability and strength, and is difficult for pets to scratch up. Of course, there is one exception to the “no carpet” rule, and that is on stairs. You may consider a carpet runner on steps so your dog, especially if older, can negotiate the climb more easily.

In fact, you may want to rethink having stairs at all when considering a home. Depending on breed and age, stairs may become a hindrance to your pet (and you also) as they age. Similarly to humans, joint problems increase in dogs with aging, making ascending the stairs more difficult. Bigger dogs will have a harder time as they have more weight to contend with. With small dogs it might not be an issue as you can carry them up yourself. If you’ve created the habit of having your pet sleep in the same room as you at night, you may elect to have a main floor bedroom, or rethink a multilevel home as you consider the functionality of the house. 

And while the interior features of a home are important, the exterior elements must be taken into account as well. Many house hunters list the outdoor space for their dog as an important factor when searching for a home. Most dog owners really want a yard, but find that their dream outdoor space very costly. However, the yard space doesn’t necessarily need to be large. The dimensions should match the size of your dog and more importantly, their energy level. If your dog is large but older and doesn’t run around a lot, the green space doesn’t have to be as sizeable as for a smaller pup that has high energy output. 

Although the size of the yard is important, you should also be concerned about what is growing in it as it may be hazardous to your pet. Take note of the plants and flowers in the yard of your potential house as you may have to do some “pet-scaping” if you purchase the home.  There are many plants that are poisonous to animals. The azalea shrub can cause copious drooling, lethargy, tremors or seizures among other symptoms. Many species of fern are entirely safe but the Emerald fern has small berries that are toxic if ingested. The symptoms of poisoning include mild to moderate cases of diarrhea and vomiting. Certain species of outdoor ivy can cause similar symptoms ranging in severity and can include seizures, tremors and even coma. Daffodil flowers can cause a variety of symptoms depending on whether it is ingested, inhaled (the bulbs have a dust) or merely touched. The symptoms range in severity but are most serious if ingested and can include irregular breathing, irregular heart-beat and convulsions. 

And while a lot of this data can be found on-line before you move into a new area by searching “Is city-you-are-moving-to a pet friendly city?”, your real estate agent can be a wealth of information. She or he will be happy to inform you of the benefits and drawbacks of each city and will help ensure the house you choose will bring you and your dog the greatest happiness.