Should I Sell My House? 6 Signs It’s Time to Move

time to sell

By Stephanie Booth

Ten years. That’s the average amount of time a homeowner stays in a house before a sale, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Think that sounds shockingly short? Or way too long? The fact is, people’s reasons for selling their homes are different, as are their time frames.

Still, there are some common reasons—financial and emotional—that lead us to sell our current home and move on to the next one. And you don’t always see the reasons coming.

Read on for some telltale signs it’s time to start looking for the next home and packing your bags (and when you should settle in for the long haul).

1. You know the seller’s market is booming and you want in

Let’s start with one of the most obvious reasons to sell: You’re eager to make a profit on your property.

You need to gauge the key indicators of a strong real estate market, explains Allen Shayanfekr, CEO and co-founder of Sharestates, an online real estate investment company.

A few signals: The price per square foot for real estate in your area is increasing, the amount of time properties stay on the market is decreasing, and you’ve noticed an uptick in brokerage activity in your neighborhood. (If you’re situated in an especially hot neighborhood, you might even get a letter or a knock on the door from a listing agent who wants to help you get in on the action.)

“If any of these are true in your area,” Shayanfekr says, “think about selling up.”

2. Because your neighbors just got what for their house?

Check online real estate listings in your neighborhood, and pay attention to the “recently sold” flyers in your mailbox to keep track of comparable home prices in your area.

“If other houses on your street with the same bedroom/bathroom count [as yours] are selling for a price that you’d be more than satisfied with, it might be time to move on,” Shayanfekr says.

Another sign of a hot home sales market is the relationship of asking prices to sale prices. If home buyers are making offers fast—for as much or more than sellers are asking—it’s a seller’s market. A buyer may offer you a sales price you can’t refuse, too.

3. You’re sick of feeling financially stressed

Not everyone sells their real estate in order to pad their bank account. Some homeowners underestimated their ongoing housing costs and simply sell to ease their mortgage burden, or to cash in their equity and use it for other purposes.

If your property taxes or mortgage pa

yments have become unmanageable, the best recourse may be to sell and find another home that’s more affordable, Shayanfekr says. Selling your home is better than struggling with a big mortgage loan, and possibly risking foreclosure.

To breathe easy, your monthly housing costs, including your mortgage interest, principal, property taxes, homeowners insurance, and HOA or condo fees if applicable, shouldn’t exceed 28% of your gross monthly income.

Before you sell your home to reduce your monthly living expenses, make sure you can find another home to rent or buy in your price range, and that you can qualify for a loan at current interest rates when you do.

4. You’ve grown—but your home hasn’t

The starter home you moved into when you were expecting your first child isn’t necessarily the house you need now that you have three preteens and a capybara. It’s bittersweet to give up the memories you’ve made in your home, but if your living quarters are causing you stress rather than comfort, “take the leap and sell up,” Shayanfekr says.

Death, serious illness, divorce—these are all emotionally wrought experiences that may warrant a need for change. Relocation is another factor. But let’s not overthink things.

“Maybe you’re just tired of the same old, same old, and it’s time for a change of scenery,” says Bruce Ailion, a Realtor® and attorney for Re/Max Town and Country in Atlanta.

5. You’re over ‘high maintenance’

The average homeowner shells out $2,000 a year for maintenance services, according to a recent report by Bankrate. Not repairs, mind you, but scheduled services such as landscaping, snow removal, septic service, private trash and recycling, and housecleaning.

Sick of watching these payments steadily drip out of your bank account? You could sell, and buy some lower-maintenance real estate such as a condo or a new-build property, Shayanfekr says. You might even want to try renting, and let a landlord worry about leaky pipes and other property hassles.

6. You’ve put at least 5 years into the relationship

“If you sell too soon—assuming you have a mortgage—you haven’t really built up any equity in the home beyond the down payment,” points out Adam Jusko, founder and CEO of personal finance portal ProudMoney.com. “In the beginning, your mortgage payments are almost completely interest payments.”

In fact, unless the housing market is seriously booming (see above), you might lose money when you sell. You might even owe more than you can get from your house after closing costs.

Remember: Selling isn’t free: You’ll have to shell out to cover all of the costs associated with hiring a real estate agent, closing, and, of course, purchasing another home.

That’s why Jusko recommends staying put for at least five years, unless you have an urgent need to move. In addition to everything else, moving too quickly sends potential buyers a bad message.

“Buyers don’t feel good when it appears you are selling too soon,” Jusko cautions. “What was wrong with the house? Why are you leaving so fast? Are the basement walls about to collapse? Are the neighbors selling drugs and shooting fireworks at your house? Buyers can dream up all kinds of negative scenarios when a seller hasn’t owned the home for very long.”

Another reason you may not want to sell is if you don’t meet the qualifications to avoid paying capital gains tax on your profit from a home sale. Generally, you can exclude the gain from the sale of your home if you owned and lived in the home for two of the past five years. A sale before the two-year mark, if you don’t meet any of the exceptions, could be a costly mistake. By the time you pay capital gains tax, you won’t have as much equity left as you’d planned.

But beware of snap decisions

Of course, there are no promises that selling will be better for you in the long run. Take your time deciding if you should sell, and then study the local home sales market, with the help of your real estate agent, before you price your home. If you underprice your home, a buyer may snatch it up too cheaply. If you overprice it, the right buyer may pass it by.

Jusko and his wife lived in Chicago in the early 2000s, when home values were through the roof. After about three years, they sold at a 40% profit. But soon after moving to the Cleveland area, where they’re both originally from, home values plummeted.

“For many years, our home was worth less than what we paid,” Jusko says. “It’s only now—more than 15 years later—that I believe we could sell for more than our purchase price. And don’t get me started on how much money we’ve put into the house over that time.”

Selling your home is, above all, a personal decision. Do what will help you live—if not happily ever after—happily for now.

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7 Things Financial Planners Wish You Knew About Buying a Home

buying a home

By: Daniel Bortz

Financial planners don’t just help people balance their budgets or plan for retirement; they also help their clients buy homes. After all, a house is very often the biggest financial investment you’ll ever make—so, it makes sense that these professionals would have some strong opinions on just how to go about it.

Curious what they want you to know? Read on for their top, no-nonsense tips.

  1. Buy only if you plan to stick around

When you purchase a house, you have to shell out a significant amount of cash for closing costs—fees paid to third parties that helped facilitate the sale. Closing costs can vary widely by location, but they typically total 2% to 7% of the home’s purchase price. So on a $250,000 home, your closing costs would amount to anywhere from $5,000 to $17,500. That’s a serious chunk of change!

Consequently, Craig Jaffe, a certified financial planner at United Capital in Boca Raton, FL, says it’s important to calculate your break-even point—i.e., how long it will take for you to recoup those costs.

“Typically, you want to own a home for at least three years in order to recoup the initial costs of buying the home,” says Jaffe. You can use realtor.com®’s rent or buy calculator to see whether purchasing a house makes financial sense for you.

2. Factor in the full costs of homeownership

When weighing whether it makes more sense to buy a house or continue to rent, don’t focus solely on your mortgage payments—you’ll also have to pay property taxes, interest, home insurance, utilities, and other expenses.

“A lot of people don’t budget for hidden costs” such as maintenance and repairs, says Jaffe.

You should also have an emergency fund set aside in case something goes wrong with the house.

“If your roof gets damaged or a major appliance breaks, you want to have cash on hand to pay for those costs,” Jaffe says. (If you don’t have a rainy day fund in place for those kinds of expenses, you could be forced to take on high-interest credit card debt.) Jaffe recommends building an emergency fund of 1% to 2% of your home’s value.

3. Try to make a 20% down payment

Unless you qualify for a Department of Veteran Affairs loan or Federal Housing Administration loan, you’re going to need to obtain a conventional home loan from a private mortgage lender.

When doing so, “you want to aim to make at least a 20% down payment,” says Jaffe. Why? Because if you put down less, you’ll have to pay private mortgage insurance, an additional monthly fee that protects the lender in case you default on the loan.

PMI can be pricey, amounting to about 1% of your whole loan—or $1,000 per year per $100,000. The good news? You can typically get PMI removed once you’ve gained at least 20% equity in your home.

4. Don’t raid your retirement funds

While it’s tempting to borrow from your IRA or 401(k) to amass a down payment on a home, “a retirement account is the last place you’d want to go for your down payment,” says Jaffe.

Indeed, if you borrow from either plan before age 59½, you’ll get slapped with a 10% excise tax on the amount you withdraw, on top of the regular income tax you pay on withdrawals from traditional defined contribution plans. Making early withdrawals also obviously prevents the money from accruing interest in these accounts, which could force you to delay retirement.

A better alternative? You could qualify for one of over 2,200 down payment assistance programs nationwide, which help out home buyers with low-interest loans, grants, and tax credits. Home buyers who use down payment assistance programs save an average of $17,766 over the life of their loan.

5. Make sure your credit score is up to snuff

You need to have solid credit—typically at least a 650 credit score—to qualify for a conventional home loan, and you need to have excellent credit (think 760 or above) to qualify for the lowest interest rates.

Hence, “you want to get pre-approved for a loan when your credit is at its strongest point,” says Jaffe.

To assess where you stand, pull a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major U.S. credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) using AnnualCreditReport.com. Your report doesn’t include your credit score—you’ll have to go to each company for that, and pay a small fee—but it shows your credit history, including any black marks (e.g., missed credit card payments, overdue medical bills).

If you notice errors on your report, contact the credit-reporting agency immediately, Jaffe says.

6. When buying a home, watch your spending carefully

In the months leading up to your home purchase, make sure you don’t take any actions that could hurt your credit score. These mistakes include closing old credit card accounts, opening a new credit card, maxing out your credit cards, and making a large purchase such as a new car, says Jeremy David Schachter, mortgage adviser and branch manager at Pinnacle Capital Mortgage in Phoenix.

7. Don’t bite off more house than you can chew

This one might sound obvious, but a lot of people make the mistake of buying a house that’s simply outside what they can comfortably afford.

“You don’t want to stretch yourself so thin that your housing expenses are going to stress you out each month or prevent you from saving for retirement,” says Jaffe. You can use realtor.com’s home affordability calculator to determine a price range that fits your budget.

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Don’t Budge: 7 Compromises You Should Never Make When Buying a Home

7 compromises on home buying

By: Wendy Helfenbaum

Every successful home search begins with a wish list. Armed with your inventory of must-haves, you’ll know how to focus your search and recognize a potential home that isn’t worth your time.

Still, there’s a strange thing that seems to happen when you’re deep in the trenches of house hunting: The more you look, the longer that wish list seems to grow. But sooner or later, you have to own up to the fact that you can’t have everything—it’s inevitable that you’ll make some compromises somewhere.

And, in these days of tight inventory and cutthroat competition from other buyers, you might feel forced to waver far afield from your hallowed wish list in order to land a home.

That’s OK—it’s important to be flexible. But there are a few times when you absolutely should draw the line. Here are seven areas where you’ll want to dig in your heels.

1. Buying a fixer-upper when you really want turnkey

You have never swung a hammer, have a phobia of power tools, and always pictured yourself in something new and shiny. But that doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with a charming, century-old farmhouse that needs a ton of work. Now’s when you have to decide: Are you up to the financial and emotional challenges of taking on major renovations?

It’s an option you should seriously consider (with the help of an experienced general contractor) if you’re in a highly competitive market. But if you don’t think your bank account or your marriage could survive many months of upheaval, stick to your guns and insist on a turnkey home, says Mike Kessler, a broker with TSG Residential, in Davidson, NC.

“There have been times when I’ve said to clients, ‘after being with you for a week, I really think we need to look at new construction,'” Kessler says. Many of those clients, he adds, were later grateful for the course correction, saying, “We would never have been able to enjoy ourselves in [an older] house.”

2. A good school district

Even if you don’t have children, you should make sure the house you’re eyeing has desirable schools nearby, says Tina Maraj, a Realtor® with Re/Max North Orange County in Fullerton, CA.

Does it matter if you’re not looking to have a few kids? Well, things can always change. But even if they don’t, good schools typically translate to a higher resale value—potential buyers with families will want to be in the right district.

Just make sure to do your research and determine where the home sits in relation to the school district boundaries.

“Often agents will advertise a property as being near such-and-such school area, but not necessarily specify the district, which can be very confusing,” Maraj explains. “It can be a real eye-opener if a buyer closes and they’re on one side of a main street that is the dividing line between the top-rated and the lowest-rated high schools.”

Go to the school district’s website to get a map of the district boundaries.

3. The floor plan

Does the home fit your minimum criteria in terms of number of rooms and the flow of the main living areas? If not, cross it off your list, says Sarah Garza, a Realtor and military relocation specialist with Trident Homes Realty in Arnold, MD.

Garza can share some personal cautionary tales: A military spouse, she’s moved 12 times in the past 20 years, buying and selling nine homes in the process.

“I regret that I compromised on layout in the past,” she says. “When I really needed four bedrooms, I’ve gone to three and then wished I hadn’t.”

Sure, you can add on. But don’t use that option as a fallback, Maraj warns.

“You can change a layout to make it an open floor plan, but it’s a lot more difficult to change the bedroom and bathroom count,” she says. “In the long run, you could end up having a lot of problems and taking on a really big financial undertaking.”

4. The neighbors

During your search, don’t just focus on the house you’re interested in—check out the neighboring homes as well, Maraj says. Are the properties well-kept, or candidates for an episode of “Hoarders”?

The condition of the properties around you can affect your future resale value. And they can just plain drive you crazy. Make sure you look—and listen—any time you visit your prospective home.

“You can’t change the house in front of you or to the side of you,” Maraj cautions. “And if there’s a barking dog every time you’re viewing the property, that’s another thing that you absolutely cannot change.”

5. Your budget

You’ve probably already determined how much you’re willing to pay for a home—and you shouldn’t budge on that number. But you should also dig in your heels on the additional costs beyond the sticker price. That means setting a budget for your monthly payments, HOA dues, utility costs, and real estate taxes—and sticking to it. (Hint: You want to do this before you start looking at homes, and definitely before you start making offers.)

Yes, a lender will give you a pre-approval and tell you how much house you can afford. But this is just one piece of the puzzle, and the costs of homeownership can still land you in a mountain of debt if you’re not careful, Kessler points out.

“I try to do a lot of pre-planning with clients about what can they really afford, as opposed to what the bank tells you,” Kessler says. “You never want to be house poor.”

6. Commute time

If you’ve already determined that you’re willing to take on a 30-minute commute, don’t allow yourself to be swayed into anything longer, Garza says.

“Sometimes buyers fall in love with all the shiny bells and whistles of a house that’s an hour away from work, and want to compromise on what they’ve told me from the beginning,” she notes. “I tell them, ‘I know it doesn’t matter right now because you really love this house, but that’s two hours every day that you’ll be sitting in the car and not enjoying your house. Is that worth it to you?’”

She adds: Until you’ve actually driven the route to and from your potential home and your office, at the times you’ll be commuting, you should never consider compromising.

In some large cities, being just a few miles from the highway can tack on an additional hour of commuting. Could you handle that after a long day in the office? Think carefully before making the sacrifice.

7. Parking

Speaking of your car, if you own one (or two), you absolutely want a guaranteed spot to park, whether that means an enclosed garage, a driveway, or assigned parking.

“There are many communities that now restrict outside parking, guest spaces, and overnight parking, which could be a real homeowner nightmare if you have to fend for yourself,” Maraj says.

To avoid frustration after you’ve closed a deal, stick to your guns about the things that are most important to you while making your choice, and ignore the rest of the noise.

 

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