Last Minute Tips for Winterization

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It’s not too late to address a few home maintenance musts before winter fully sets in. Here’s a list of last-minute tasks to knock out before you go into hibernation mode. 

Photo by Mitchell Henderson on Pexels.com

1. Check and clean the gutters one last time. As the last leaves have fallen, take time now to make sure your gutters are completely cleared out. Blockages can create ice dams, which will damage your gutters and prevent proper drainage of water away from your foundation.  

2. Check your furnace. If you have a furnace, replace your filter if you haven’t already, and commit to changing it once a month. A dirty filter will increase your heating costs and reduce the life of your equipment. Home heating systems that aren’t properly maintained may be less than 50 percent efficient. If you can spring for it this year, an inspection done by a licensed professional is always recommended.  

3. Maintain your home’s exterior. Trim back trees and branches that are hanging too close to your home. Seal driveways, brick patios, and wood decks. Look for cracks and gaps around doors, windows, and eaves, and seal them.  

4. Test smoke/carbon monoxide detectors This one is easy to overlook, but takes only a couple seconds: hit the “test” button on your smoke/carbon monoxide detector. If the alarm sounds — you’re good to go. If not, replace the batteries and test again. Replace your smoke detector if fresh batteries don’t result in a proper test.  

5. Consider an energy audit An energy audit can show you how and where your home is using energy, so you can make simple updates to increase your home’s efficiency – saving you money. Home energy audits typically range in cost from $200-$400, and many energy companies offer rebates that make them even more affordable (or sometimes free). 

Perform your own quick energy audit by following some of these tips from Energy.gov. Taking these steps will not only lower your utility costs, but they will protect your largest investment, your home, from the unexpected weather conditions ahead. If you have questions about professional services for home energy audits, contact us! Kevin and Jennifer Hanley, REALTORS http://www.HanleyHomeTeam.com The Hanley Home Team of Keller Williams Realty Atlantic Partners Southside

Getting Home Insurance Right

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HOMEOWNERS INSURANCE FEELS LIKE A “NECESSARY EVIL.” BUT IT DOES SERVE A SAINTTLY PURPOSE—TO PROTECT YOU. SINCE YOU HAVE TO PAY IT EVERY MONTH, THE TRICK IS TO PAY AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE FOR AS MUCH COVERAGE AS POSSIBLE. HERE’S WHAT TO LOOK FOR.

If you own a home free and clear, you are not required to have homeowners insurance (also called hazard insurance). But if you have a mortgage on the property, your lender will require you to carry it. Here’s how to get quotes to compare prices and coverage.

What is a homeowners insurance quote?

A quote is an estimate of the price you’ll pay for a policy. It’ll be given to you either as a yearly, 6-month, or monthly amount. Make sure you’re comparing apples to apples when looking at different quotes. 

A quote will be based on the size of home, location and likely replacement value of the home, condition you want to replace it to, how far it is from a fire house, etc. 

Each company uses its own formula to calculate house insurance quotes, so prices can vary widely. You boost your chances of finding the best rate when you compare homeowners insurance rates from several companies. Get at least three quotes! The rate and amount of coverage can vary by hundreds of dollars.

A quote is only an estimate at the time it’s given. The actual amount you’ll end up paying will not be determined until the policy is issued. It’s usually close to the quoted amount, though.

Who gives homeowners insurance? 

Many companies, including the companies that you might already be insuring your car with. Examples include USAA, Farmer’s, State Farm, Travelers, Wawanesa, Desjardins, Allstate, and many others. 

What do you get from having homeowners insurance? 

Protection in case of damage or loss. These amounts can vary! These are broad averages only. If you get three different quotes, you’ll begin to see what kind of coverages are available for your property and can compare. For instance, if two quotes are similar, but one offers $8,000 of additional living expenses in case of a claim, and the other offers only $6,000, then the first might be a better policy for you (if all other factors equal).

How your price can change…

In addition to the standard coverages shown above, you’ll also need to make choices when you compare home insurance quotes. These choices will affect your price, so make sure you use the same choices when comparing different policy quotes. 

Your deductible. This is the amount you pay out of pocket, before the insurer will pay anything per claim. It’s typically $500 to $2,000 per instance. Choosing a higher deductible will lower your monthly premium payment. If you choose a higher deductible, make sure you can afford to pay that deductible.

Earthquake, flood or windstorm coverage. Standard insurance doesn’t cover earthquake or flood damage, and windstorm coverage is limited in some hurricane-prone regions. If you live in an area affected by these risks, you may want to ask about optional coverage. Flood insurance is required for some properties in high-risk zones.

Replacement cost coverage for your belongings. Most standard homeowners insurance policies won’t pay to replace old items with new ones unless you choose this upgrade. You can ask for more coverage for your belongings (like computers, clothes, art pieces, dishes, etc.). 

Extended or guaranteed replacement cost coverage for your home. Standard policies won’t pay more than your dwelling coverage limit to fix your house. Extended replacement cost coverage will pay out more if repairs require it, up to a specified limit, and guaranteed replacement cost coverage will pay the full cost.

How to get a homeowners insurance quote

You can call a local insurance agent or broker who can give you a quote. It’s often nice to talk to someone who specializes in insurance in your area. 

You can also contact insurance companies online and fill out their online quote request form. 

I prefer talking to an agent, because many of the items in the online forms are not applicable, and you’ll end up having questions. The live agent can help you faster, and often make suggestions you won’t get online. However, it might be wise to get at least one online quote, once you know what you want to be comparing.

KNOW SOMEONE WITH QUESTIONS ABOUT BUYING A HOME? PUT THEM IN TOUCH WITH US FOR HELP. Kevin and Jennifer Hanley, REALTORS The Hanley Home Team of Keller Williams Realty Atlantic Partners Southside http://www.HanleyHomeTeam.com

Homeownership Creates Wealth Even If That’s Not the Goal

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Homeowners who spent a lifetime working, raising families and paying mortgages have a greater net worth later in life. Among U.S. families who own rather than rent, a primary residence accounts for 90% of total wealth – and 99% for the bottom 20% of low-income owners.

Source: Homeownership Creates Wealth Even If That’s Not the Goal

Stage Your Outdoor Space This Winter

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Colder weather ahead doesn’t mean you have to forfeit your precious outdoor space. This year especially, you’ll want to enjoy your backyard or balcony as long as possible. Here are some tips to make the most of your space this fall and winter. 

Clean up ahead of winter
Spruce up your yard to create an outdoor environment you’ll be motivated to enjoy. Take time to clean up and dispose of leaves and fallen branches. For your flower beds, pull out the dead annuals, add compost, then plant cover crops or add mulch. 

Warm it up
Electric or propane outdoor heaters can help extend the outdoor mingling season. With free-standing, tabletop, and umbrella-style versions available in a variety of sizes, there are options available to fit your needs. (If you live in a condo, check regulations first.) 



Use what you have
Instead of putting it all in storage, leave your patio furniture outside. Add some machine-washable covers to give your cushions a fresh look. Circle your furniture around a fire pit and you’ll be roasting (and burning) s’mores in no time. 

Look on the bright side
Garden lighting at ground level will illuminate your landscape, and string lights with clear white LED bulbs can create an inviting ambiance. Solar powered, weather-resistant lights are more affordable than ever and make for hassle-free installation and upkeep. 

Food for thought
Keep the barbecue in working order and your propane tank filled. Grill up some goodies, then enjoy them outside. It’ll be just like a winter tailgate, only cheaper and without a line for the bathroom.
Last Minute Tips for Winterizationdecorative imageIt’s not too late to address a few home maintenance musts before winter fully sets in. Here’s a list of last-minute tasks to knock out before you go into hibernation mode. 

1. Check and clean the gutters one last time. As the last leaves have fallen, take time now to make sure your gutters are completely cleared out. Blockages can create ice dams, which will damage your gutters and prevent proper drainage of water away from your foundation.  

2. Check your furnace. If you have a furnace, replace your filter if you haven’t already, and commit to changing it once a month. A dirty filter will increase your heating costs and reduce the life of your equipment. Home heating systems that aren’t properly maintained may be less than 50 percent efficient. If you can spring for it this year, an inspection done by a licensed professional is always recommended.  

3. Maintain your home’s exterior. Trim back trees and branches that are hanging too close to your home. Seal driveways, brick patios, and wood decks. Look for cracks and gaps around doors, windows, and eaves, and seal them.  

4. Test smoke/carbon monoxide detectors This one is easy to overlook, but takes only a couple seconds: hit the “test” button on your smoke/carbon monoxide detector. If the alarm sounds — you’re good to go. If not, replace the batteries and test again. Replace your smoke detector if fresh batteries don’t result in a proper test.  

5. Consider an energy audit An energy audit can show you how and where your home is using energy, so you can make simple updates to increase your home’s efficiency – saving you money. Home energy audits typically range in cost from $200-$400, and many energy companies offer rebates that make them even more affordable (or sometimes free). 

Perform your own quick energy audit by following some of these tips from Energy.gov. Taking these steps will not only lower your utility costs, but they will protect your largest investment, your home, from the unexpected weather conditions ahead. If you have questions about professional services for home energy audits, give us call before Spring is already here! Kevin and Jennifer Hanley, REALTORS Keller Williams Realty Atlantic Partners Southside 904-515-2479 http://www.HanleyHomeTeam.com

Thinking About Buying a New-Construction Home? These Are The Things To Look Out For

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There are a lot of buyers that prefer new-construction homes, thinking that they’ll be in better condition (and be a better long-term investment) than existing homes.

And while that certainly can be true, there are also things buyers need to be aware of when shopping new builds.

recent article from realtor.com outlined the essential elements that should be on your radar when shopping for a new-construction home, including:

  • Build quality. Not all new-construction homes are created equal—and some are higher quality than others. Before you purchase new construction, make sure you ask to review the home’s architectural plans to check for any issues and get insights on the materials used to build the home.
  • Builder reputation. Before you buy a home, you want to make sure you’re buying from a reputable builder—so do your research and find out everything you can about the builder and their reputation in your area.
  • Upgrade and design options. Many builders offer buyers the option to customize different features in the house (like countertops, flooring, and fixtures). Before you commit to building a new build, make sure you understand the features that come standard with the home, the different design and customization options, and how much it will cost to upgrade.

The Takeaway:

Bottom line? Buying a new-construction home can be a great choice for your next home purchase—as long as you know what to look for during the home buying process.

Most Tax Friendly States of 2020

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Retirees are often the main group we imagine moving from higher-tax states to states considered tax-friendly. The coronavirus pandemic, however, has led younger people, many of whom are in their prime career years, to also look for low-cost places to relocate. Telecommuting has made it possible to leave big (often expensive) urban areas and work from anywhere, which is one factor behind the shift. 

The following are some of the country’s most tax-friendly states right now, regardless of why you might be relocating. 

Wyoming
There’s no state income tax in Wyoming, and the average state and local sales tax is just over 5.3%. The average property taxes are $635 per $100,000 in home value. Wyoming has a strong mineral and energy extraction industry, and that’s one of the reasons the state can keep taxes low for residents. 

Nevada
There is no state income tax in Nevada, and the average property tax in the state is $693 per $100,000 in home value. The tax-friendly nature of Nevada may be one reason there’s an influx of Californians moving to the state and the scenic Lake Tahoe area in particular. Nevada receives over a billion dollars each year from the casino and tourism industry, which helps them avoid imposing a state income tax. 

Bienvenidos a Miami!

Florida
Florida has no state income tax, but property taxes tend to hover around the national average. The state and local sales tax rate is also somewhere around average for the country at 7.05% combined. 

Alaska
Alaska may not provide you with sunshine and beaches, but it could be an economically sound decision. Alaska residents pay neither state income taxes nor state sales tax. Certain municipalities in Alaska might impose local sales taxes that are as high as 7.5%, but even so, the average local sales tax hovers around 1.76%. There’s also the Permanent Fund Dividend ($992 for 2020), which is paid to every Alaska resident who’s lived there for a full year. 

Tennessee
Prior to 2016, Tennessee did not tax wages, but still taxed income from investments and other “unearned income.” Legislation was passed in 2016 to gradually eliminate taxes on investments by 2021. The state currently carries the third lowest tax-burden in the United States.

We can help you buy or sell a home ANYWHERE! Kevin and Jennifer Hanley, REALTORS The Hanley Home Team of Keller Williams Realty Atlantic Partners http://www.HanleyHomeTeam.com 904-515-2479

How to Buy a Home Sight Unseen

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If you’re thinking about buying a house right now, you’re probably wondering how best to go about it. The truth is, you can still do in-person tours in some places, depending on the local regulations, but many people are buying homes right now without stepping foot inside until the deal is done.  

Virtual Tour

Sight unseen deals are nothing new, but up until recently they were used mostly for foreign buyers, investors, or long-distance home shoppers. These types of remote deals have become more mainstream in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there’s evidence to suggest they’re more than a passing trend. 

A survey from 2018 showed that about 20% of homebuyers had made an offer on a home without seeing it first. A more recent, COVID-19-influenced survey, found that 45% of homebuyers in the last year had made an offer without seeing the property in person. In April of this year, Realtor.com found that “24% of 1,300 consumers surveyed said they’d be willing to buy a home without first seeing it in person.” 

If you’re considering purchasing a home sight unseen, keep these tips in mind: 

Work with the right agent
If you’re buying a house without touring it first, you have to depend on your agent to be your eyes and ears. It’s crucial that you go with a local expert, especially if you aren’t super familiar with the area. 

Take advantage of technology
Online listings with 3D home tours are up by more than 600% since the pandemic hit. Listings that have this functionality are likely to rise to the top because they give you a better feel for the home. Remember, whether you’re looking at a carousel of images or a 3D tour, don’t forget to ask your agent to go a step further.  

“Once you know which homes you’re most interested in, have your agent book some showings and take you along on the tour using FaceTime,” said HomeLight. Being able to view the property with someone in real-time will allow you to ask questions while getting an understanding of the “flow” of the home. 

Then, ask for a floorplan
Today, you’re more likely to find home listings that include a floorplan image. If you don’t see one, make sure to ask. While video tours offer an understanding of how a home feels, a detailed floorplan helps you ensure it measures up to your needs. 

Knowing the full layout of a home will give you some insight on what day-to-day life will be like. For example, watching a video tour might not reveal the fact that the new home office you’re excited about shares a wall with a noisy laundry room. Also, being able to quickly reference dimensions will allow you to imagine how you and your furniture will fit into the new space.  

Order an appraisal and a home inspection
Even in cases where they’re not required, you don’t want to skip these steps. Especially when you can’t or don’t want to tour a home yourself, having expert and objective documentation regarding the value and condition of the home is more important than ever.

It’s ALWAYS better to work with a team of agents with years of experience in helping buyers buy sight unseen. That’s where we come in! Kevin and Jennifer Hanley, REALTORS (with a combined 28 years of real estate awesomeness) The Hanley Home Team of Keller Williams Realty http://www.HanleyHomeTeam.com 904-515-2479

Should You Apply for an Online Mortgage?

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A mortgage is a big financial responsibility. Yet, if you’re like half of all home buyers, chances are you won’t shop around for the best mortgage. The result could be the loss of thousands of dollars…both in up front costs and in monthly payments. It pays (a lot) to shop around.

As a home buyer, you have three options for getting a mortgage: a traditional bank, a mortgage broker, and an online mortgage lender. Here’s a quick breakdown of the differences. 

  1. The Traditional Bank

A traditional bank offers in-house loans. You may get better rates and closing costs from your own bank if you’ve banked there a long time. On the other hand, you will only get the rates and terms they dictate, which might be limited. You probably won’t have a lot of choices. It pays to check at other institutions to compare the rates and terms of your bank’s offer. 

  1. A Mortgage Broker

A mortgage broker’s job is to act as your guide to helping you find a mortgage that fits your needs. The broker can shop around to find banks and other sources of funds that are the best rates and terms, based on your credit and income. 

Brokers are usually experienced loan specialists. Unlike big-bank loan officers, brokers will work with you to answer your questions and look for options. If you bring your big bank’s offer to a broker, he or she can compare for you. 

Brokers promote loan products that provide them with a finders’ fee. Since those fees are already built into the loan products (whether to benefit a broker or a bank’s own loan officer costs), you likely won’t see much of those fees passed on to you. 

  1. An Online Mortgage Lender

The great advantage to using an online mortgage lender is that you may get great rates and fees. Online lenders don’t have to cover a lot of overhead, so they can offer discounts to their borrowers through lower rates or closing costs. Even a quarter of a percent lower interest rate can potentially save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.

Another advantage is that you don’t need to talk to anyone. How convenient to have a burger, watch TV, and fill out a loan application all at once! Of course, convenience is also a big drawback. 

If you have a question, no matter how small, you won’t be able to get a quick answer, if at all. With online lenders, they will assign someone to work with you (a loan officer). That person has a huge work load and is often fairly inexperienced with nuanced questions. And in my experience, the questions are always nuanced. 

For example, take the question of assets and liabilities. Do you include your child’s college savings account? Is that going to risk you using that account if needed to pay for tuition next month? Should you include the fact that you’re on your nephew’s car loan, even though he’s paid it on his own for years and it’s almost paid off? Is your secret PayPal account going to show up on your assets, even if you don’t want it to?  

So Which Should You Use?

Use at least two sources. Make sure one of them is a mortgage broker. 

The Online Lender: If your situation is relatively straight forward…you have a regular job, a regular pay check, no weird debts or assets, then an online lender can be a great option. Make sure you read about warnings in the section below.

Big Bank or Credit Union: If you have a great relationship already, see if they have special rates and terms for long-time customers. In my experience, you’ll often end up in a situation similar to working with an online lender, because the bank is going to assign a loan officer, who may or may not be able to answer your questions. 

The Mortgage Broker: I highly recommend that one of your comparison points be a mortgage broker. Brokers are usually very experienced and can answer a lot of your questions. They’ll be able to shop around to find loans that might have comparable rates and terms to the ones offered by your bank or online lender. And they’ll let you know if your bank or online lender is a better deal. 

The biggest problem with applying to multiple sources is the fees. You’ll have to fill out the loan application multiple times, and your credit will be pulled multiple times, and you’ll have to pay multiple application and credit report fees. This is the reason most people don’t apply to multiple sources. However, you may be able to do a preliminary application, especially at the online sources.  Find out before completing the application if there are fees.

Warnings about Online Lenders

Most of them are not lenders at all. They might be brokers, they might “non-bank investment companies,” or they might simply be third-party comparison sites. There’s nothing wrong with any of these, but you should know what you’re getting. 

Lendingtree or Bankrate are examples of third-party comparison sites. They won’t give you a loan and can’t tell you which loans are best for you. They’ll simply show you funding sources that they have affiliate agreements with. You may find this useful for comparing different lender rates. Google “Mortgage Comparison Websites”.

Most online lenders are non-bank investment outlets. Quicken Loans or Meridian are examples. They’ll process your application and fund the loan using large institutional investor funds. They’ll likely sell your mortgage as part of a package of loans to other investors. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s very common in the mortgage world. Before filling out any online mortgage application, check on the site’s credentials. You don’t want to start giving financial information online without vetting them first. Google “Non-Bank Mortgage Lenders”.

A few of the online lenders are in fact mortgage brokers, such as Intellimortgage. You’re simply filling out a loan application in advance, and they’ll consult with you to find you the best mortgage. I’d personally rather meet with a mortgage broker in person or talk by phone, rather than using an online mortgage broker. It’s just easier to get answers from a live person. Google “local mortgage brokers in (your location)”. Find a live person to talk to.

And of course, big banks like HBSC and Chase are online, too, so when you get a list of options from LendingTree or you Google “online mortgage,” there’s a very good chance you’ll simply be getting a bank. Double check whether the name of the company you’re shown in any online search or list is a bank, a non-bank, or a broker. 

Will Applying Ruin My Credit? 

It’s true that applying for credit can lower your credit score. However, when applying for mortgage loans for comparison purposes 2-3 times, your credit score will likely not be affected. Even if it is, it’ll usually only drop a little and only after you’ve already applied. If your score drops, a simple explanation that you were comparing lenders will suffice and your original rate at the time of application will stand.

Ask us for some recommendations for mortgage brokers in our area! Kevin and Jennifer Hanley, REALTORS http://www.HanleyHomeTeam.com 904-515-2479 Team@HanleyHomeTeam.com