What Renters Don’t Know

I remember what it was like to be a renter in my twenties. I watched the rent creep up each year and worried about how I would afford it. I also knew so many things about my space were beyond my control. I was stuck with the appliances and the mediocre finishes because the apartment I lived in was not mine. At the time, I also was completely unaware of what it would be like to buy a property and what I should be doing to plan for becoming a property owner.

If my parents had not encouraged me to buy a condo in my late twenties, I am not sure the thought would have occurred to me at the time. My parents are Jamaican immigrants who I admire so much for achieving the American dream despite various obstacles. Homeownership and responsible money management were always something they took very seriously. They knew I should not rent long-term well before I did, and they were happy and able to help me with the down payment on my first home. When I look back on those years I think about what I did not know as a renter and how many renters lack the information they need to make the best financial decisions before they are ready to buy. Now, as a Realtor, when I meet with renters for a counselling session they either want to buy soon or they are thinking of buying in the next few years. There are a few things that many are surprised to learn:

Renters can get my assistance to negotiate rents and renewal lease terms even if I was not engaged to secure the rental. I offer this service at no cost.

Landlords in Fairfield County consider many factors when it is time to renew a lease. They tend to want to keep current tenants in place as long as they pay on time and take care of the property. They also know that there is a risk of having 2-3 weeks of vacancy if a tenant moves out. This does not mean that landlords will not raise rents for tenants that are in place. However, it does mean that they are responsive to what the market for rentals is like when leases have to be renewed and they make decisions accordingly. When I advise renters on how to respond to proposed rental increases, I am able to provide the renter and landlord with facts about the current rental market and discern if an increase is justified. In a market where rents are improving, I can generally negotiate rents to stay the same or I can negotiate a rent that does not reflect the full market increase for comparable properties. Accordingly, if the market demand is declining and rents are going down, I can often negotiate a decrease in rent for tenants that are in place.

Middle and upper middle class renters often qualify for first-time home buyer programs.

These programs are not just for low-income residents. There are many good loan products for first-time buyers that offer reduced interest rates and savings on loan costs. May also offer low down payment options, which can allow you to buy sooner rather than later and lock in the low interest rates that we are currently experiencing. In our currently market, many condo owners have a lower monthly housing cost than renters in similar sized spaces. I help renters explore and compare the various first-time home buyer options offered by banks and also through the FHA (Federal Housing Authority) and HDF (Housing Development Fund) programs.

Buying a property in Fairfield County still affords you the opportunity to move quickly.

Of course, it is a bit easier to move if you rent versus buy. However, if you own, moving is not as difficult as many people think. We are so lucky to live in Fairfield County. We have a very strong rental market. It is fairly easy for a Realtor to rent out any property at market value and if you are really in a hurry you can rent it below market value and have basically no vacancy losses. I generally rent properties in 2-3 weeks and most or all of my owner’s expenses are covered by the tenant even when we experience the weaker rental markets. Selling a small property (especially condos) can also happen relatively quickly, and on average in about 3-4 months. I advise my clients to secure properties that have the features and locations that most buyers and renters want, so renting out and selling these properties quickly is not a huge challenge unless we are in an extreme economic downturn; and even then, you have the choice to rent or sell. Usually, one choice is better than the other and affords you the option to move with minimized risk.

I offer free counselling sessions to help people prepare for a variety of lifestyle options including, renting, buying, investing, selling, downsizing or moving into assisted living. It is never too early to start planning, so call for an appointment or let me know if you know anyone who needs assistance.

Your Home is a Small Business

This month, I reached out to Elizabeth Clark from Consider It DONE! Bookkeeping Services to have her share her take on proper bookkeeping for home owners and investors. Even if you don’t run your own business, bookkeeping is incredibly important. Every property renter and property owner should take the same care to track expenses and revenue to make the best lifestyle decisions over time.

You can apply business bookkeeping techniques to your household management so you know where you are spending your home maintenance, repair, design and home improvement budget. Tracking allocated resources and expenses is essential, not only for tax purposes but for comparing expenses over time and figuring out ways to manage them. It is also great for comparing the quality, relative cost and types of services of different vendors. I posed the following questions to Elizabeth to shed more light on the issue.

Often clients who are just starting out on their own don’t really know their cost to live. Should proper bookkeeping precede the development of a budget? 

You can’t have a budget without proper bookkeeping. In today’s world, it is easy to keep track of your finances. You can literally scan receipts on your phone and they go directly into software that will keep all expenses categorized. At the end of the month you know how much you spent on household utilities, morning coffee runs, gas for your car, and other household expenses. Once you have that information you are dealing with facts.  It probably takes about three months to put together a real working budget.  Once you have a budget, you can start saving towards an addition on your home, a startup venture, retirement, and other long-term planning.

What are the biggest mistakes that your business clients make in the bookkeeping process?

The biggest mistake that my clients make is not having a bookkeeper! Many of my clients come to me with a shoe box filled with receipts and beg for me to get them caught up. Thankfully, at the end of the catch-up process I am able to provide reports that can be used for tax filings, budgets, and overall business planning. It forces my clients to work with facts and not assumptions; usually resulting in a new excitement and passion for their business.

Can you share some tools and tips that can help my clients stay financially organized, whether he or she is an investor, renter or home owner?

I recommend keeping business and personal expenses separate. If you were walking in to a grocery store to buy food for your family, do not use your business credit card. If you are enjoying a dinner with a client make sure you use your business account. Many business write-offs are lost because their bookkeeper does not have access to their personal bank statements.

Can you share what homeowners can learn from small businesses?

So many people run their homes and businesses in financial fear. Household management should be approached like a business. If you are building a home (or adding an addition), hiring staff, or have a philanthropic tendency, all of these expenses should be accounted for carefully. There are other tasks that my firm can accomplish such as bill paying, project management, and overall household organization. Consider it DONE! can provide efficiency to a household. This results in more time with your family and a better sense of well-being. Everyone can use that.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I am passionate about business.  The ApprenticeThe Profit and Shark Tank are some of my favorite shows!  I have owned 4 companies and I know the juggle of being a working mom.  As a business owner, I have been the office manager, administrative assistant, bookkeeper, sales team and marketing guru!  Wanting to focus my skills, Consider it DONE! Services LLC was born.

Our primary focus is bookkeeping, but sometimes we are hired for administrative or organizational tasks.  Our list of clients is varied – retail, restaurants, real estate development, art consultation, trades, interior design and even a pizza truck!  We enjoy watching our client’s companies thrive and we do our best to keep clean books for accurate financial reporting.  Also, discretion and respect for all things private are always considered. It may be a shoe box filled with receipts or just a fresh look at your books….we are here to help!

For more information about organizing your financial life, contact Elizabeth Clark at:
Consider it DONE!   
Bookkeeping & Administrative Services
203.515.1265

 

Should You Pay Points to Reduce Your Mortgage Interest Rate?

Here’s a quick way to determine if you should pay points when applying for a mortgage.

Step 1: Determine your monthly payment at the interest rate you qualify for without points.

Step 2: Determine the amount of your monthly payment at the lower interest rate if you do pay points.

Step 3: What is the difference in these payments? This is what you would save each month.

Step 4: Divide the cost of points at closing by the monthly amount saved in step 3. This determines the number of months it will take to break even or recover the cost of paying points.

Here’s an example:

Loan Amount – $500,000
Term – 30 Years

  • 4.5% interest with no points = monthly payment $2533.43
  • Buying 1 point for $5,000 generally can reduce your rate to 4% = monthly payment $2387.08
  • Monthly Payment Savings = $146.35
  • $5000 / $146.35 = 34.16 months

You will break even in 34.16 months. It will take almost 3 years to recover the cost of buying points to reduce your interest rate and loan expense (This does not take into account TVM calculations). If you plan to own your home well over three years, it might make sense to pay points.

 

Luxury Design is for Every Home

I recently caught up with Beth Krupa, an expert luxury home interior designer. She has brilliantly transformed the homes of my clients into functional, modern spaces that still feel warm, natural and inviting.

She will be featured in East Coast Home & Design magazine in the February edition and participating as a panelist at the Women Empowering Women networking event this coming February 25th at the Stamford Sheraton. Here are a few questions I posed to help my clients on their design journeys.

Aside from using more expensive materials, what differentiates the luxury design process from the design process that mid-range home buyers go through?

For us, what differentiates the two is the amount of help and service we provide. A more luxury design process includes the walkthrough, generally weekly meetings to go over new design selections, construction floor plans if needed, on site assistance with contractors and written specifications for them to have clarity about the project. We then specify every item, fabric, trim, furnishing, window and floor treatment, lighting fixture, accessory, etc. We then procure it, track the status of delivery, manage placement, etc…and take full responsibility to correct any damages or problems that can arise. We even end with a celebratory big reveal champagne party if that’s what the client enjoys.

A more mid-range home buyer might prefer to work with some of their existing pieces, and/or have a consultation with a plan they can implement themselves. This client would be more apt to buy at retail rather than take on the expense and time involved with customizing. The selections are more limited if they don’t work with a designer, but the results can still be amazing if they have a good eye and enjoy shopping. Most of the luxury clients appreciate the deep pool of resources we can provide that the vast majority don’t know exist. They want us to use their preferences but trust our direction. They don’t have the time or the desire for shopping, and they appreciate that we control the process and project.

Experienced designers who enjoy working with clients with various budgets know how to manage the scope of the project, so the mid-range client can utilize their design advice without the full process the luxury design client needs, thus avoiding costly mistakes.

Can you tell me the latest trends in high-end design that you see most often in Fairfield County?

There is a huge return to antiques, but done in a more modern fashion. We love to mix them with new and contemporary pieces and utilize them strategically instead of a roomful. We love a room to look collected and not overly designed.

Another trend that has been around but has real staying power is pale, soft, neutral walls and changing accessories and pillows seasonally with bright pops of color. Design is more fun and whimsical than it has been in the past. An unexpected element is a fun conversation starter. Mixing metals within the same space is expected now. Mixing texture and warmth with hides or Mongolian lamb pillows, for example.

Have baby boomers had an impact on the concept of luxury and what defines it? If so, fill us in.

Baby boomers who are currently working with designers are looking to the younger ideas and not stuck in the old patterns and ways of doing things. This impacts the younger client who is also no longer looking at old rules or ways of doing things. Boomers lean toward uniqueness and design for themselves specifically, and are not drawn as much to labels and brand image.

Buyers in every price range often want to create a luxurious feel to at least one room in the home. What advice would you give someone on a limited budget?

Paint, paint, paint. Nothing changes a room with more impact and the least expense. Changing light fixtures has a huge return too and there are many great online resources at lower prices. Update pillows and accessories. Change out a rug and opt for something more minimal and on trend like a hide. De-clutter and think minimal and fresh. The basic rule of thought is to take away anything that doesn’t define or romance your space.

For more expert design advice and services check out Beth’s website, bethkrupainteriors.com.

Do we need condominiums at Harbor Point in Stamford?

I have been thinking about Harbor Point, the new 100 acre development in Stamford, and the absence of condominium development. A few years ago, I was told that the developer of the rental buildings, BLT, no longer plans to build condos. Further, the city of Stamford put no mechanisms in place that required BLT to do so. So, the lack of condo development continues to exist in Stamford, as well as throughout the country, even though there is demand for new condo inventory.

In my business as a Realtor and a small business consultant, I see having newer places to live as a growing demand for home buyers: Downsizers want low maintenance and proximity to NYC; Investors look to build a diverse portfolio of condos to keep long-term; and renters are tired of ever-increasing cost but are used to new construction and modern amenities.

The shifting lifestyle needs of Stamford residents are consistent with homebuyer trends in major metros throughout the U.S. They seek higher levels of convenience, less reliance on cars, and walkable neighborhoods. There is also a desire for smaller, renovated, functional spaces with minimal maintenance and energy efficiencies. Access to parks, meeting places, and proximity to the diversity of talent and culture are the signature of great cities. While buying a single family house can satisfy all of these needs, there is not enough single family housing in Stamford to meet this particular demand, nor is there enough variety in the current housing selection.

The most frequently asked question I hear in regard to Harbor Point in Stamford is, “When are they building condos?”. I doubt that I am the only realtor who has heard this, so why are they not being built?

If the answer came from a large single developer’s perspective, it would be about cost. The cost of building a condo building and selling it is about 30% more expensive than building a rental buildling and selling it. This is primarily because legal fees must be paid to create and close on each condo. I have also read recently in an article in Next City that financing for condos is considered more risky by lenders, so financing is more expensive and assess to funds is more of a challenge.

It seems to me that it is time for the city to provide aggressive incentives to build condos and help smaller developers and land owners overcome barriers to condo development. There would be numerous benefits for Stamford, especially if we encourage cutting edge, sustainable design. These actions would be immeasurable in terms of making Stamford a truly great place to live.

In my experience, homeowners stay committed to living in a place longer than renters and they become invested in their communities. According to a 2011 report by NAR, “American Attitudes about Homeownership,” homeowners are more satisfied with their quality of life, feel more connected to their community, report better health, are more likely to know neighbors, and engage in community life. Furthermore, since homeowners are more likely to accumulate more wealth over time than renters, home owners add to the collective wealth of our cities.

And let’s not forget aesthetics and coolness!  Condo developments can be very different in design, function, and quality compared to rental buildings. A good condo development should take into account the owners who live there longer and perhaps want a higher quality of construction, design, and floor plan. For example, many condo owners will demand storage space, private outdoor space, deeded parking, and customization in design. Since homeowners typically start buying in their early thirties, their needs are often different than many renters who are in their twenties.

Good condos can improve property values in a way different from rental development, specifically in regard to social, sustainable, and economic impact. Rental buildings are often built to be sold within 5 years; and when new owners of these buildings buy them, the owners plan capital investments based on projected rental income and disposition strategies. Since the aim of owning a rental building is to maximize profit long-term for large investors, they are not necessarily built with focus on what many long-term residents need and want.

It would be great if the city of Stamford became proactive in reaching out to the owners of land in Harbor Point and executed a plan that could benefit everyone. Specifically in regard to Harbor; the right mix of renters and homeowners will attract a broader range of businesses and cultural outlets to the neighborhood and therefore boost the convenience of living there, which in turn will boost property values further for all of Stamford, even the older condo inventory that does exist.

The potential for Harbor Point to be a great urban development hinges on the creativity and proactive strategy development by the city of Stamford and its urban redevelopment commission, not private developers that may or may not be invested in Stamford’s future. While BLT has done a great job in starting the process of a better Harbor Point, it is up to our leaders (along with our help, of course) to build upon this progress with a plan for more housing diversity. I know the city of Stamford is up to the task and I am eager to see results.

FAQ’s About Stamford, CT Housing Inventory

How many buyers purchase single family homes in Stamford each month?
In 2014, an average of 53 single family homes were purchased per month across all price ranges and styles (CMLS recorded sales only). As of the end of July 2015, 344 single family homes have closed; an average of 49 per month.

How many residential properties sold in Stamford in 2014?
In 2014, 1233 residential homes (condos and single family) were sold in Stamford (excluding multi-family homes); 642 singles family homes and 591 condominiums.

How many residential property listings expired in 2014?
505 residential property listings (312 single family homes and 193 condominiums) and about 1700 listings expired in 2014. This means almost 1 in 3 property listings resulted in no sale; this was often due to an agent’s failed strategy. As of the end of July, 122 homes have expired in 2015.

What are homes selling for per square foot (psf) in Stamford?
Since the start of January 2015, single family homes have been selling for $87 – $853 psf.; New, completely renovated, and waterfront homes fall at the high-end of this range. Tear-downs and homes with lots of deferred maintenance fall at the low-end of the range. Most homes fall in the $200 -$400 psf range. 209 Dolphin Cove Quay, a waterfront colonial, had the highest sale price psf so far in 2015 at $853 psf. The split level home at 8 Barmore Drive East had the lowest sale price psf at $87.

How do I get the highest price per square foot for my home?
I have developed a strategic system to make sure that everything that impacts your sale price is covered and there are no loose ends. I outline this process in my consultation with sellers. Also, many agents spend more time marketing themselves than marketing your home. I have two important priorities i.e. #1) to take care of you and your home; and #2) to attract and manage the strongest buyer team through to the closing.

 If you have any questions, please feel free to send an Email: prattray@kw.com.

 

Where is HGTV? Real estate agents are weekend and weekday warriors!

Many people assume that weekends are the busiest days of my week. And I can understand why! That’s when the most visible real estate activities take place – property tours and open houses.  It’s true that open houses always occur on weekends, mostly on Sundays. (I have observed that half of my buyer property tours actually take place during the week). However, I estimate that these visible and some would conclude TV-worthy activities only consume about 25% of my time. I would say that the rest of the time is consumed while undertaking very important strategic, administrative, and marketing activities that would not be dramatic enough for HGTV.

So what about the other 75%? It is mandatory for great agents to accomplish a diversity of crucial tasks to attract clients, sell homes, and keep deals together. These include but are not limited to home previews, property and town hall research, home and business marketing, lead generation, contact management, transaction management, managing logistics, lining up referrals, and other essential activities that cater to each individual client’s needs.

So is technology really taking over our jobs? Not in the short-term. While technology is constantly allowing us to improve efficiency in our business, it has a far way to go before it can cover what we do 7 days a week. Complete reliance on technology by consumers is highly unlikely in the short-term., just as dating websites and dating apps fall short of completely solving the relationship search puzzle. We can’t ignore the fact that technology has simplified the process of listing property and searching a database of listings, and now it provides effective resources for valuation and marketing. In spite of that, a good agent is still required to manage information, people and transactions through to closing.

Why is this the case? When you assess the range of things that can go wrong with a real estate transaction, they are extensive; and since a home purchase is a relatively rare occasion in a person’s life most buyers can’t rely on past experience as a guide. Even a buyer that has purchased several properties can make costly mistakes; for instance, applying an experience gained in one geographical area to a completely different place.

Every real estate transaction is unique in terms of its context, characteristics, and the team of people involved. Therefore, no outcome is guaranteed. Appraisers can make mistakes, attorneys can miss clauses and deadlines, buyers and sellers can have logistical problems, property information can be inaccurate or inadequate, inspections can be mishandled, personal issues can obstruct or delay the best course of action, unexpected financial and work events can destroy a deal, and a buyer or seller could just get turned off by a member of the opposing transaction team and consider halting the entire sales process. I take pride in finding ways to anticipate and resolve all of these potential stumbling blocks.

As a full-time agent with 15 years of experience, I know my role goes well beyond property listings and buyer tours. I manage the important details in often one of the most vital moments in a person’s life: renting or buying one’s first home, expanding a family, changing jobs, getting divorced, etc. That’s what makes my work fulfilling and exciting. Technology can’t do that.

 If you have any questions, please feel free to send an Email: prattray@kw.com.