5 Things to Look for in a Neighborhood, No Matter Where You Move

By Dixie Somers

Since relocating is such a major undertaking, it's vital to thoroughly research your options. This is especially essential regarding an overseas move. Here are five things to assess in a prospective neighborhood to ensure you'll feel at home, no matter whether your new home is here or abroad.

1. Transportation
One consideration is how you'll navigate your new surroundings. Find out whether you'll have access to public transportation or need a car. If you can use public transit, what are the service hours and stops? If you require airport proximity, determine how you'll get there. Do you currently have a job lined up? If so, calculate the distance of the commute from the neighborhood in question. Will the trip be a cakewalk, or grueling? According to World Knowing, the top-ranked countries with the best transportation systems in the world are Hong Kong, Singapore, the UAE, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Japan, Germany, France, Spain, and the UK.

Even if a REALTOR® lists the distance from a house to a public station, the calculation doesn't always include door-to-door travel time. You may be able to use Google Maps to determine this. If not, the website of a city's public transit system may provide a clue.

2. Businesses
Before visiting a neighborhood, think about businesses you'll be frequenting, such as a bank, grocery store, pharmacy and retail shops. Make sure they're a feasible distance from your prospective home. Also, ensure their customer service is reputable and prices are reasonable. For example, if there's a grocer nearby, does it stock staples, or only expensive gourmet goods? Where can you find fresh produce?

You may be able to minimize leg work by reading online business reviews. Yelp is expanding internationally, with websites emerging in Europe and Asia. Reviews are also conveniently available via iPhone and Android apps. Local Yelp announces business openings and events in major cities.

3. Schools
If you have children, REALTORS® will tell you that another must-have is access to quality education. Many overseas schools provide bus services, but trip length must be tolerable for kids. In towns where public schools are sub-par, you may want to enroll your children in private school. If so, consider the extra expense of entrance fees, tuition, uniforms and transportation.

Did you know there's a correlation between the presence of schools and crime? A 2011 study by the University of New Mexico found that elementary schools have a protective effect against property crimes. Middle schools, however, promote drug felonies, and high schools foster both property and narcotics crime. So, regarding school proximity, aim to be close enough for a short trip, though not a hop, skip and jump away.

Concerning school reputation, attend a PTA meeting at a given school. By speaking with other parents, you'll get firsthand information on the school's quality. A good school district increases a home's value, should you wish to sell in the future.

4. Amenities
Is culture important to you? If you're an avid fan of art, theater and music, this is a consideration. Do you like to frequent restaurants, pubs, or dance clubs? If these are high on your wish list, how close are they to the home you're debating? If you must travel to a distant town, factor in transit costs.

Also, research proximity to free entertainment, such as parks, museums and libraries. If you're a sports enthusiast, assess the distance to athletic arenas.

There's one caveat regarding crime: Steer clear of a neighborhood where bars are prevalent. The study mentioned above concerning schools and crime found that ready access to alcohol promotes violence and vandalism.

5. Economy
Neighborhood decline has telltale signs. Drive through the streets of a potential town, and look for financial clues. Examples of red flags are unkempt parks, littered streets and a prevalence of "For Sale" signs. Are people moving out of the area? Are businesses closing up shop?

Query librarians about the town and whether it's fiscally sound. Ask if the library has cut down its hours, another clue to a suffering economy. Look for indications that people care about their property and each other. Do houses and landscapes look maintained? Are neighbors interacting? If any seem friendly, ask about their experience of living there.

A Smart Move
Now you'll be a savvy traveler while exploring a new town. To ensure a successful move, evaluate the local:

  • Transportation
  • Businesses
  • Schools
  • Healthcare system
  • Amenities
  • Economy

Like a good journalist, get detailed information from reliable sources. Invite conversation, and record your observations. Then, make your smart move. You’ll be able to settle down for as long as needed in a wonderful neighborhood, whether that be in the United States or abroad.

This post was originally published on RISMedia's blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for top real estate tips and trends.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact us at 866-977-7623.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.


Why Women Make Great Real Estate Investors

By Joslyn G. Ewart

In the past, real estate investment has been a male-dominated arena. However, as more and more women gain financial independence, they are moving into the real estate market at rapid speed. Below are a few reasons why women make good real estate investors.
 
1. Women tend to be more comfortable with longer-term investing than men, and the purchase of a home is a long-term investment. Surprisingly, lenders still get away with charging women borrowers a higher interest rate, despite their superior mortgage re-payment record. (Gender bias lives on in many forms.)
 
2. Single women want to purchase a home because it is an asset they understand. It is tangible and they can enjoy the value of it immediately as they live day to day.
 
3. Because a woman's home is a metaphor for security, her mortgage is likely the first bill she will pay monthly. If economics get tight, other payments might go by the wayside, but not that all-important symbol of security.
 
Single women need to:

  • Carefully establish a realistic spending plan prior to purchasing a home so they can determine how much they can afford to spend, as well as how much they need for a down payment to reduce the financial risk of owning the home. 
  • Consider for how long they intend to live in the home, ensuring that purchasing makes better financial sense than renting. 
  • Be sure they have a high credit score to ensure eligibility for the best mortgage interest rates. 
  • Shop around for a mortgage lender who does not charge women more than men to borrow money for a home purchase. 

No matter how perfect a home might seem, there is always another equally perfect home out there. Never, ever, overspend on the purchase of a home. This mistake is expensive—some folks never recover financially from making it. Appreciation of the value of your home is never guaranteed, even when it is in a great location.
 
Joslyn G. Ewart is the founding principal of Entrust Financial LLC and author of “Balancing Act: Wealth Management Straight Talk for Women.”
 
This was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Visit the blog daily for housing and real estate tips and trends.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact us at 866-977-7623.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.


New Home Price Report Shows Prices Up 6.2 Percent

Home prices are up both year over year and month over month, according to the CoreLogic Home Price Index (HPI™) and HPI Forecast™ for August 2016.

Home prices nationwide, including distressed sales, increased year over year by 6.2 percent in August 2016 compared with August 2015 and increased month over month by 1.1 percent in August 2016 compared with July 2016, according to the CoreLogic HPI.

The CoreLogic HPI Forecast indicates that home prices will increase by 5.3 percent on a year-over-year basis from August 2016 to August 2017, and on a month-over-month basis home prices are expected to increase by 0.4 percent from August 2016 to September 2016. The CoreLogic HPI Forecast is a projection of home prices using the CoreLogic HPI and other economic variables. Values are derived from state-level forecasts by weighting indices according to the number of owner-occupied households for each state.

“Home prices are now just 6 percent below the nominal peak reached in April 2006,” says Dr. Frank Nothaft, chief economist for CoreLogic. “With prices forecasted to increase by 5 percent over the next year, prices will be back to their peak level in 2017.”

“Housing values continue to rise briskly on stronger fundamental and investor-fueled demand, as well as lack of adequate supply,” says Anand Nallathambi, president and CEO of CoreLogic. “This continued price appreciation is contributing to a growing affordability crisis in many markets around the country.”

For more information, visit www.corelogic.com.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact us at 866-977-7623.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.


7 Brilliant Bathroom Design Ideas

By Craig Middleton

The bathroom, along with the kitchen, is the most frequently used room in many homes and the basic necessities – bathtub, toilet, sink, medicine cabinet and shower – determine how most of the space will be used. Bathrooms also require room for stashing towels, paper products, grooming appliances, soaps and shampoos, so maximizing storage is crucial in a well-appointed and well-planned bathroom. Much activity goes on in this small space and the design and decoration should emphasize function, comfort and style equally.

Utilize Extra Space
Use the space between wall studs to make shallow storage for small items such as bars of soap and nail polish bottles. Cut away the dry wall between two studs and install narrow shelves that are just the depth of the stud, usually about four inches. Possible finishes for the opening include paint, tile board, mirror tiles or wallpaper designed for bathrooms. Leave the space open or hang a door; indoor shutters work well in this application.
 
Bathroom Color
Buying and installing bathroom fixtures represents major commitments of money, time and labor. Keep permanent features such as the tub, sink and tile neutral in tone. Classic white is always popular, easy to find, and provides a versatile background for any decorating scheme. Inject color and style into the room with paint or wallpaper, linens and accessories that are easy and inexpensive to redo when a change is desired.
 
Drying Accessories
If you have swimmers or beach-goers in the family, a place to hang wet bathing suits and towels is a must. Look for hooks or retractable clotheslines that can be installed in a shower or tub enclosure to keep water and sand off floors and furniture.
 
Lighting Fixtures
Adequate light is needed in a bathroom where grooming tasks such as shaving, hair styling or applying makeup take place. Many bathrooms do not have windows, which means artificial lighting is even more crucial. One fixture over the vanity is not sufficient. Install decorative sconces on both sides of each mirror and add recessed or surface-mounted lighting fixtures in the ceiling, being sure to follow building code regulations.
 
Shower Designs
Shower designs should meet the needs of all family members. A built-in bench in a shower is a good choice for small children, the elderly or anyone with limited mobility. A detachable shower head brings the water to the bather. It has the further advantage of making the shower stall much easier to clean, as the water can be directed into corners to rinse away grime, soap residue and cleaning products.
 
Heated Towel Racks
For a real touch of luxury, especially in colder climates, install heated towel racks. They are available in many sizes and styles and not only supply toasty towels but will also help to warm the air in the bathroom. Towel warmers can be plugged into a nearby outlet or hardwired into the bathroom’s existing electrical system.
 
Pocket Door
For a very small bathroom with limited wall space for swinging doors, consider a pocket door that slides neatly between walls. They are available in styles and finishes that will complement any décor and are easy to install. It is even possible to mount a full-length mirror panel on the pocket door, solving two problems at once.
 
Because the bathroom is a relatively small and mostly utilitarian space, it can be overlooked when remodeling, redecorating or in a new build. However, this is not the place to pinch pennies. A comfortable, functional and attractive bath makes a home more livable and increases resale value if the home is placed on the market. Plan carefully and shop wisely to create an appealing, usable space for your family and guests without going over budget.
 
This post was originally published on RISMedia's blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for top real estate tips and trends.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact us at 866-977-7623.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.


Mortgage Rates Hover in Place

Average fixed mortgage rates remain largely unchanged ahead of this week's employment report, according to Freddie Mac's recently released Primary Mortgage Market Survey.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.42 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending October 6, 2016, unchanged from last week. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.76 percent.

"The 10-year Treasury yield leaped to a two-week high following reports of the European Central Bank retreating from its bond-buying program ahead of its initial March deadline,” says Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac. “In contrast, the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage remained unchanged. Over the past two weeks, mortgage rates have remained fairly flat while Treasury yields have fallen and risen."

The 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.72 percent with an average 0.5 point, unchanged from last week. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 2.99 percent.

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.80 percent this week with an average 0.4 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.81 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.88 percent.

For more information, visit www.FreddieMac.com.

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact us at 866-977-7623.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.


All-Cash Investment Home Prices Soar 21.2 Percent

Median sales prices for all types of residential real estate are soaring. According to the monthly HomeUnion Home Sales Report, prices for investment houses and owner-occupied homes increased 12.6 percent from one year ago to $266,500. The all-cash segment of the SFR sector also grew dramatically: then median sales price soared 21.2 percent to $186,500 in August year-over-year.

“Anyone taking out a mortgage, including SFR investors, will be able to leverage properties at historically low rates,” explains Steve Hovland, director of research for HomeUnion.

“Mortgages on those assets, meanwhile, can be covered by rising rents. This explains both the recent surge in activity among investors acquiring SFRs and last month’s continued price growth for owner-occupied housing.”

Below is a complete breakdown of August housing market conditions:


 
“Since a move from the Fed is unlikely until the December meeting, we expect investors to expand their portfolios further through the end of 2016 as the competition prevalent in the summer buying season fades,” Hovland adds. “However, lenders will begin lifting rates well in advance of the December Fed meeting, so we expect interest rates to inch higher through year end.”

For more information, visit www.homeunion.com

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact us at 866-977-7623.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.


Mortgage Rates Trickle Down

Average fixed mortgage rates have dropped slightly from last week's post-Brexit high, according to Freddie Mac's recently released Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®).
 
"The 10-year Treasury yield declined after last week's post-Brexit high in anticipation of the Fed's September policy meeting,” says Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac. “The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage followed Treasury yields, falling 2 basis points and settling at 3.48 percent. Despite the decrease in rates, the Refinance Index plunged 8 percent to its lowest level since June.”

The 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.76 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.77 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.08 percent. 

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.80 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.82 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.91 percent.
 
For more information, visit www.freddiemac.com

For more real estate information, including a FREE Home Market Analysis and Market Area Statistics, please contact us at 866-977-7623.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2016. All rights reserved.


Mortgage Rates Land Near 2016 Low

Mortgage Rates Land Near 2016 Low

Average fixed mortgage rates declined after nudging slightly higher for three consecutive weeks, according to the recently released Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®).

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.43 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending August 4, 2016, down from last week when it averaged 3.48 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.91 percent.

Additionally, the 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.74 percent with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.13 percent.

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.73 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.78 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.94 percent.

“Treasury yields fell last week following both the FOMC’s meeting and a disappointing advance estimate for second quarter GDP,” says Sean Becketti, chief economist, Freddie Mac. “Mortgage rates, which had moved up 7 basis points over the past three weeks, responded by erasing most of those gains, falling 5 basis points to 3.43 percent this week for the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. Mortgage rates have been below 3.5 percent every week since June 30. Borrowers are taking advantage of these low rates by refinancing. The latest Weekly Applications Survey results from the Mortgage Bankers Association show refinance activity up 55 percent since last year.”

For more information, visit www.FreddieMac.com.


Home Values 77 Percent Higher in Zip Codes with Good Schools

Home Values 77 Percent Higher in Zip Codes with Good Schools

Homes in zip codes with at least one good elementary school have higher values and stronger home price appreciation over the long term than homes in zip codes without any good elementary schools—where homes lost more value during the housing downturn but have seen stronger appreciation during the housing recovery of the last five years. This data comes from the recently released ATTOM Data Solutions 2016 Schools and Housing Report.

For the report, ATTOM Data Solutions analyzed 2016 home values and price appreciation along with 2015 average test scores in 18,968 elementary schools nationwide in 4,435 zip codes with a combined 45.9 million single family homes and condos. For purposes of this report, a good school was defined as any with an overall test score at least one-third above the state average.

Out of 1,661 zip codes with at least one good school, the average estimated home value as of July 2016 was $427,402, 77 percent higher than the average home value of $241,096 in 2,774 zip codes without any good schools.

“While good schools are one of the top items on most homebuyer checklists because of the quality-of-life benefit they provide, this report shows that high-performing schools also come with a financial benefit for homeowners in most markets—at least over the long term,” says Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions (parent company of RealtyTrac). “Meanwhile, home prices in zip codes without any good schools tend to be more volatile, which might work to a homeowner’s financial benefit in the short term but not over the long term of at least 10 years.”

83 percent of metro areas post higher home values in zips with good schools
Out of 173 metropolitan statistical areas analyzed for the report, 143 metros (83 percent) had higher average home values in zip codes with good schools than in zip codes without good schools, including Los Angeles (65 percent higher); Chicago (65 percent higher); Atlanta (91 percent higher); New York (52 percent higher); and Miami (31 percent higher).

Metro areas where home values in zip codes with at least one good school were at least 95 percent higher than home values in zip codes without any good schools included Birmingham, Alabama (169 percent higher); Flint, Michigan (129 percent higher); and St. Louis (99 percent higher); Detroit (97 percent higher); and Baltimore (95 percent higher).

“In my experience, buyers will almost always choose to buy a home in a good school district. In turn, this creates greater demand for homes in high-performing school districts and causes these sub-markets to appreciate in value at higher rates than other neighborhoods,” says economist Matthew Gardner, covering the Seattle market where average home values were 64 percent higher in zip codes with goods schools than in zip codes without good schools. “Interestingly, we see demand for these homes from buyers without school-aged children as well because they look at the school district as an added layer of protection should home prices start to soften.

Homeowners gained $51K more since purchase in zips with good schools
Homeowners in zip codes with at least one good school have gained an average of $74,716 in value since purchase, an average return on investment of 32.0 percent. Meanwhile homeowners in zip codes without any good schools have gained an average of $23,311 in value since purchase, an average return on investment of 27.5 percent.

Average ROI for homeowners was higher in zip codes with at least one good school than in zip codes without any good schools in 114 of the 173 metro areas analyzed for the report (66 percent), including Chicago, Atlanta, New York, Miami and San Francisco. Notable exceptions where homeowner ROI was higher in zip codes without any good schools included Los Angeles, Riverside-San Bernardino in Southern California, Sacramento, Orlando and Washington, D.C.

Home price appreciation more volatile in zips without good schools
The report also found that home price appreciation has been more volatile in zip codes without any good schools over the past decade compared to zips with at least one good school.

Year-to-date 2016 median home prices in zip codes without any good schools on average are still 1 percent below median home prices during the same time period in 2006, while median home prices in zip codes with at least one good school are up 4.5 percent on average compared to 10 years ago.

10-year home price appreciation in zip codes with good schools outpaced 10-year HPA in zip codes without good schools in 128 of the 173 metro areas analyzed for the report (74 percent), including Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, New York and Miami.

Meanwhile, home prices in zip codes without good schools dropped more precipitously during the housing downturn. Between 2006 and 2011 median home prices in zip codes without any good schools decreased an average of 28.9 percent while median home prices in zip codes with at least one good school decreased 23.0 percent during the same time period.

Home price appreciation in zip codes without any good schools has outpaced HPA in zip codes with at least one good school over the past five years during the real estate recovery (47.9 percent increase versus 42.2 percent increase respectively).

Ranking of “Good School Bargain” zip codes
The report also ranked 117 zip codes as “Good School Bargains.” All of these zip codes had at least one good school along with a year-to-date 2016 median home sales price of $150,000 or lower. School scores and home prices have improved compared to one year ago and five years ago in all of these zip codes, with the ranking based on 10-year home price appreciation, from lowest to highest (lowest indicating the best bargain relative to the peak).

The Top 10 zip codes with good schools that represent the best bargain home buying opportunities nationwide include zips in Chicago; Cleveland; Saginaw, Michigan; Milwaukee; Tampa-St. Petersburg; Orlando; Las Vegas; Homosassa Springs, Florida; and Riverside-San Bernardino, California.

For more information, visit www.RealtyTrac.com.


55+ Housing Market Remains in Positive Territory

55+ Housing Market Remains in Positive Territory

Builder confidence in the single-family 55+ housing market remains in positive territory in the second quarter with a reading of 57, up one point from the previous quarter, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) 55+ Housing Market Index (HMI) released today. This is the ninth consecutive quarter with a reading above 50.

“Builders and developers for the 55+ housing sector continue to report steady demand,” says Jim Chapman, chairman of NAHB’s 55+ Housing Industry Council and president of Jim Chapman Homes LLC in Atlanta. “However, there are many places around the country facing labor and lot shortages, which are hindering production.”

There are separate 55+ HMIs for two segments of the 55+ housing market: single-family homes and multifamily condominiums. Each 55+ HMI measures builder sentiment based on a survey that asks if current sales, prospective buyer traffic and anticipated six-month sales for that market are good, fair or poor (high, average or low for traffic). An index number above 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

One of the three index components of the 55+ single-family HMI posted an increase from the previous quarter: traffic of prospective buyers increased four points to 42. Present sales held steady at 61 while expected sales for the next six months dropped two points to 69.

The 55+ multifamily condo HMI dipped one point to 47. The index component for expected sales for the next six months rose three points to 54, while present sales remained even at 49 and traffic of prospective buyers fell seven points to 38.

Three of the four indices tracking production and demand of 55+ multifamily rentals decreased in the fourth quarter. Present production fell nine points to 51—from a record-high reading in the previous quarter—while current and future demand for existing units both dipped one point to 68 and 67, respectively, and expected future production rose three points to 56.

“Much like the overall housing market, this quarter’s 55+ HMI results show that this segment continues its gradual, steady recovery,” says NAHB Chief Economist Robert Dietz. “A solid labor market, combined with historically low mortgage rates, are enabling 55+ consumers to be able to sell their homes at a favorable price and buy or rent a home in a 55+ community.”

For the full 55+ HMI tables, visit www.nahb.org/55hmi.