Monthly Archives: August 2016

Features for Taking Outstanding Photos of Homes

You know the value of great-looking listings filled with plenty of gorgeous interior and exterior photos of homes. While this may have called for hiring a professional photographer and/or lugging along a large camera and plenty of equipment to the property, it is now quite possible to take amazing looking photos and videos with your smartphone.

Of course, in order to create eye-catching listings that will increase sales and help sell your clients’ homes for top dollar, it is important that you use your smartphone’s camera to the best of its ability. With that in mind, let’s look at two state-of-the-art smartphones and their impressive array of camera features:

iPhone 7

The Apple iPhone 7 comes equipped with a large number of features that you can use to take stellar photos and videos. The phone features a 12MP wide-angle camera with optical image stabilization that can take regular still photos as well as 4K video recordings. More specifically, the iPhone 7 comes with a built-in telephoto lens that will allow you to get up-close-and-personal shots of a home’s interior and exterior. If you put the phone’s camera into Portrait mode, you can control the depth of the photo’s field, much like you would with a DSLR camera.

The iPhone 7 Plus has a standard wide-angle lens, along with a 2x telephoto lens that you can use to zoom in on the gorgeous marble countertops or travertine tile.

The Portrait mode feature on the iPhone 7 is great when you want to get a super clear photo of your subject with a more blurred background. While this feature is especially useful when photographing people, you can also use it in a few of your real estate photos for visual impact — for example, a picture of a fountain in the backyard or a close up of some of the hardscaping in the front yard. As a bonus, your iPhone 7 will give you prompts to be sure you are using the Portrait mode correctly — for example, you might see the message “more light required.”

When it’s time to take video recordings of a home, the iPhone 7 makes it easy to do so; the 4K recordings are crystal clear and will highlight the wonderful features of the home’s interior and exterior. Once the photos and videos have been taken, it is also extremely easy to export them to either your real estate website or blog or social media pages.

Samsung Galaxy S7

If you own a Samsung Galaxy S7, you can also take phenomenal photos of houses for your property listings. When the camera is in Auto mode, you can tap on whatever type of photo you want — this includes panorama, which is great for wide shots of an expansive front yard or a huge great room, selective focus and more. Tapping on the slider button will allow you to adjust the brightness of the photo.

The S7’s camera also includes a number of built-in settings that can help the photos look as professional as possible. For example, the Filter Effect allows you to select what filter you want for the photo and if you select the HDR feature it will make the photos appear more defined with more vibrant colors.

Recording a video with the Samsung Galaxy S7 is also a breeze, and it also offers the ability to take a still photo while shooting the video. Like the iPhone 7, it is easy and intuitive to share your photos and videos from the phone to your listings, Facebook page or in an email to the client.

Dresser or Vintage Desk

It’s one of Houzz’s deign trends for 2017, and it gives you a chance to express your style, add a character piece to your home, and maybe even save some money at the same time. It’s the bathroom vanity conversion, and it just might inspire you to make a change for the better.

“If you’re having trouble finding the right premanufactured vanity for your home, try thinking outside the cabinet box,” said Houzz. “Many savvy homeowners are finding chests of drawers, old file cabinets, vintage consoles and more, and converting them into one-of-a-kind vanities.

This vintage dresser brings some richness to this bathroom, and it didn’t even need a vanity top. A drop-in sink, a mirror in a similar tone, and some fancy light fixtures finishes the look.

Looking to DIY this project? Get step-by-step instructions here.

“Thinking outside the square can turn up a one-of-a-kind vanity with character and function to boot,” said Forbes. A garage sale discard can be turned into something spectacular with a little ingenuity and elbow grease, plus a scrap piece of marble cut to size.

A simple sink placed on top of this antique table allows all the character of the piece to stand out.

Or, you can make the sink a focal point. This commercial version brings the right amount of contrast to the rustic table and helps show off all the antique touches in the space.

The idea works just as beautifully with a more modern piece. “This mirrored console table was beautiful as a dining room accent, but it’s absolutely stunning when recycled for the bath,” said DIY Network. “The top was sealed with polyurethane – an important step when repurposing furniture to accommodate plumbing – and the square vessel sinks were sealed with caulk around their edges. Hardware was added in varying shades of brown and a mix of finishes to preserve the vintage vibe.”

Organization to end veteran homelessness

Military Outreach USA, a partner of the Department of Veterans Affairs launched a program to encourage communities to connect with local VA offices and help support homeless veterans and their families.

This program, the Adopt-a-VA program, connects individuals and community organizations such as schools, faith-based groups and businesses with a local VA homeless program case manager at the VA Medical Center in their area to help meet the veterans’ non-medical needs.

“VA remains committed to preventing and ending Veteran homelessness, but we cannot achieve this goal alone,” said Anthony Love, senior advisor and director of community engagement for VHA’s Homeless Programs Office.

“Partnerships are critical to providing the support needed to help veterans exit homelessness, and to identifying local housing and employment opportunities that help them remain stably housed,” Love said. “Military Outreach USA’s Adopt-a-VA program makes it easier than ever for everyone to get involved and support veterans in their communities.”

The VA’s partnership with Military Outreach USA in 2016 led to donations of more than $700,000 for homeless veterans.

“Adopt-a-VA gives those who want to help our Veterans a way to help,” said Joseph Palmer, Military Outreach USA executive director.

Communities will be able to participate in the program by donating household items and assisting with collection drives for move-in essentials such as cleaning products and small appliances.

Since 2010, veteran homelessness decreased by nearly 50%, and decreased four times more than the previous year with 17% from 2015 to 2016, according to the VA.

Although VA loans don’t need a down-payment, increasing home prices can make it difficult for this population to become homeowners.

auction sales for all types of real estate

Mortgage Specialists International announced it acquired a majority interest in Oklahoma-based Williams, Williams & McKissick, including its subsidiaries Williams & Williams Auctioneers and online real estate auction destination Auction Network.

MSI, a national property management company, acquired the real estate auction firm to grow its suite of services that includes property inspection, preservation and real estate owned asset management. Additional terms of the deal were not dislcosed.

“After a thorough assessment, MSI determined that this acquisition would be a benefit to both existing and potential clients,” MSI CEO Jim Shivers said. “We’ve expanded our services now to include auction sales for all types of real estate – commercial, residential, luxury, farms and ranches, specialty government and bank-owned.”

MSI is based in Texas, however company president Steve Stallard announced Williams & Williams will remain in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the company performs live and online auctions throughout the country.

The needs of renters are important

The National Association of Realtors drew a line in the sand between homebuyers and investors, but one investor says he’s had enough.

NAR made its stance on investors clear on several occasions: Investors are creating more competition for first-time homebuyers, possibly even keeping them from homeownership.

Back in January, the initial public offering for Blackstone Group’s single-family rental operator, Invitation Homes, became one step closer to reality, as the company disclosed the terms of its initial public offering.

What was unusual about this deal was the fact that it happened with the backing of mortgage giant Fannie Mae, as noted in the Wall Street Journal.

NAR did not wait long to criticize the GSE, sending a letter to Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, according to an article by Lorraine Woellert for POLITICO.

“Rather than focusing on allowing well-qualified Americans to build wealth through affordable mortgages options, Fannie Mae is actively financing large institutions to compete with them,” NAR President William Brown wrote in the letter.

“These investors do not expand the affordable housing stock,” Brown wrote. “Rather, in this limited market they drive up the price of rents and remove affordable inventory from the hands of American homeowners.”

But that was far from the end. In January’s Existing Home Sales report, which came out on Feb. 22, Brown once again mentioned the challenge investors pose to first-time homebuyers.

“Supply and demand imbalances continue to be burdensome in many markets, and now Fannie Mae is supporting a Wall Street firm’s investment in single-family rentals,” he said. “This will only further hamper tight supply and put major investors in direct competition with traditional buyers.”

But now, one investor says he’s had enough. Greg Rand, CEO of OwnAmerica, a broker in the single-family residential space, explained that in NAR’s quest to protect homebuyers, it forgot another important housing secgment – renters.

“They shouldn’t necessarily be considered second-class to a homebuyer,” Rand explained in an interview with HousingWire.

Rand questions why the idea of homeownership is limited to owner-occupied homeowners, saying that investors such as Blackstone are some of the largest homeowners in the U.S.

“If you’re not a homeowner or a homebuyer who’s going to occupy the property, you don’t belong in [NAR’s} world and it’s just strange to see,” Rand said.

Rand pointed out that NAR’s numbers show about 20% of home sales are non-owner occupied, noting that is a large segment of the market to simply dismiss.

In fact, Rand said homebuyers are not competing with investors at all, but are actually competing with home renters.

“If a first-time homebuyer loses a house to an investor, that means that a renter family is going to live in that house, and they’re people too,” Rand said. “So I don’t think they’re right to carve them out, but it’s simply them drawing a competitive line where investors are on one side and homebuyers and [NAR] are on the other.”

“I would say homebuyers are competing with renters, and that’s life,” he said. “You don’t have a right to own a home if somebody else wants to own it more.”

Rand says that while it is ultimately a free-market situation, many in the market benefit from the presence of investors.

“The existing homeowner benefits from the competition because it helps support their price,” he said. “For the people who are already owners in the marketplace, it’s a good thing; for the people who are renters in the market place it’s a good thing; and for folks who are first-time homebuyers they’ve got some competition that they didn’t have before.”

Tips for Renting Out Your Home

As Airbnb and other short-term rental sites gain in popularity, property owners are putting more consideration into curating their spaces to cater to guests. Thoughtful design can make a home feel fresh, unique and inviting – qualities that are exceptionally important when your space moonlights as a vacation rental. A little effort can go a long way in making your place hospitable and appealing to prospective renters. Here are a few design elements to be mindful of when getting your home rental-ready.

Planning ahead is key if you’re reconfiguring rooms or designing from scratch. Figure out optimal room layouts by identifying the best features of your home.

Sketch a layout and then map out which areas would ideally be used and for what purposes — think entertaining, movie watching, game night, extra guests, dining or workspace. Give each space or area a job.

Have a great view, beautiful fireplace or cozy nook? Make sure to arrange seating areas that take advantage of it. You’ll also want to consider whom you’re trying to appeal to — your ideal renter. Is it the family on vacation? The person visiting on business? Make sure you can cater to that target audience, whether that means focusing on kid-friendly features or providing a laptop-friendly workspace with office amenities.

Once you’ve determined the best area in the space for each functional zone, then plan furniture and accessories that support that zone.

Always measure your space first, and take the tape measure with you while you shop for furniture to spare yourself from waiting in the return line.

Invest in furniture pieces that are multifunctional and offer flexibility, especially in smaller spaces. Sleeper sofas, coffee tables that convert to work or eating surfaces, fold-down tables, and desks will ensure you can accommodate a variety of guests.

Storage benches or ottomans are great for tucking away spare blankets, pillows and other housewares that may come in handy. Keep in mind your furniture will be seeing a lot more traffic, so make sure you’re using pieces that can withstand heavy use.

To increase longevity, look for commercial-grade or sturdy fabrics that are stain resistant. Go for cotton, polyester and other fabrics that can be tossed into the wash once the guests leave.

Use furnishings that are easy to clean, too. Rather than an expensive wooden credenza, opt for a more reasonably priced piece that can be wiped down after each stay. And be mindful of expensive, fragile or meaningful items you may have in your home, making sure they are stored out of harm’s way.

Where does your state fall

When it comes to buying a home, buyers often focus on the mortgage payment, down payment or even closing costs, however, there is yet another cost to owning a home that comes after the deed is signed – property taxes.

Some states have relatively low property tax rates, while others can add up to quite a hefty sum. The highest rate is in New Jersey, where homeowners pay a property tax of 2.35% annually.

The average American pays about $2,149 per year in property taxes, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, however about $11.8 billion in property taxes go unpaid each year, according to the National Tax Lien Association.

WalletHub, a personal finance website, used data from the U.S. Census Bureau to show which states charged homeowners the most in property taxes.

This chart ranks the states by applying the state tax rate to the national median home price of $179,000.

However, perhaps a better way to determine the ranking of each state is to apply each state’s property tax rate to its own median home price. Using that data, here are the top 10 states that charge the most in property taxes each year:

Maryland – $3,142

Property tax rate: 1.1%

Median home price: $286,900

Wisconsin – $3,248

Property tax rate: 1.96%

Median home price: $165,800

Vermont – $3,795

Property tax rate: 1.74%

Median home price: $217,500

Rhode Island – $3,884

Property tax rate: 1.63%

Median home price: $238,000

Benefit Owners Of Historic Properties

Owners and prospective owners of historic California properties would do well to familiarize themselves with the Mills Act. (O.K., O.K. At the outset we acknowledge that some of our friends on the Right Coast, who live in neighborhoods that date back to the 1800’s, might find it amusing that, in California, some houses from the 1940’s are considered “historic.” Just give us a little slack, all right?) Agents also can benefit from having some familiarity with the provisions of the Act.

In short, the Mills Act provides a way whereby owners of designated historic properties may receive significant property tax relief in return for restoring and maintaining their property.

The Mills Act was enacted in 1972. Its provisions are found in sections 50280 — 50290 of the California Government Code and sections 439 — 439.4 of the California Revenue and Taxation Code. The Act has been called “the single most important economic incentive program in California for the restoration and preservation of qualified historic buildings by private property owners.” What it does is to give participating local governments “the authority to enter into contracts with owners of qualified historic properties who actively participate in the restoration and maintenance of their historic properties while receiving property tax relief.”

Under the Mills Act a local jurisdiction may enter into an “Historic Property Preservation Agreement” (HPPA) with owners of historic properties whereby those owners agree “to preserve and maintain the Historic Property and its character-defining features”. In return for the owners’ pledge, the local jurisdiction agrees that the property’s assessed value will be determined by the procedures set out in the tax code.

The Mills Act method of determining a property’s assessed value is based on an income approach. It will use actual rents or, in the case of a non-rented property, market-based projected rents. A capitalization rate is computed according to a formula that is distinctive to the Mills Act.

Generally, the valuation of a property based on a Mills Act calculation will be much lower than valuing the property on the basis of purchase price or comparable sales. It is not uncommon for a Mills Act valuation to be 50% or more lower than it would be by using those standard methods. This, then, results in a comparable reduction in property tax.

The Mills Act assessment value is reviewed each year. It can change based on changes of its component factors (e.g. interest rates or projected rents).

The HPPA has a ten-year term. Unless the owner has filed a notice of non-renewal, each year it automatically adds on a one-year extension, thus continuing the ten-year term.

Prior to entering into the agreement, the jurisdiction and owner will have agreed on any restoration work needed, and a time frame by which it is to be completed. There is a significant financial penalty if the owner fails to maintain the property according to the terms of the agreement.

An important point to note is that the terms of the agreement “run with the land.” If a property under the Mills Act is sold, the new owner will have the same rights and obligations as did the former owner. Moreover, a new owner will benefit from the assessed valuation received by the original owner.

Not every California city or county participates in the Mills Act program. That must be determined locally. Any property listed on a Federal, State, county, or city register will qualify for the Mills Act program. The property may be commercial or residential, leased or owner occupied.

Not everyone who owns qualifying property will want to participate in a Mills Act program, but it is certainly worth investigating.