DENVER AND THE WEST Development pressures prompt battle over annexations in Castle Rock

Petition to require voter approval for large annexations could gather signatures next month

By John Aguilar
The Denver Post

CASTLE ROCK — Bill Placke is a corporate attorney and a conservative. He worked on Mitt Romney’s transition team in 2012 in preparation for a possible presidential victory.

He doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a person who would serve as the driving force behind a slow-growth movement.

But Placke has become so frustrated with what he perceives to be Castle Rock’s develop-at-any-cost approach that he is launching a campaign to get on the ballot a measure requiring that any annexation greater than 5 acres first get approval from voters.

Placke and his supporters have to gather 4,103 valid signatures from registered voters to make a special election happen this spring.

It’s an unusual approach — only Greenwood Village currently requires a vote of the people for residential annexations, according to the Colorado Municipal League.

But the Castle Rock initiative has similarities, if not in political persuasion, to other recent slow-growth efforts in the metro area that have seen success at the ballot box, notably last year with campaigns to curb city urban-renewal powers in Wheat Ridge and Littleton.
In those instances, as well as in Castle Rock now, there was a perception among those challenging the cities that their elected leaders weren’t listening to constituents.

“The impetus behind this is that the town does not appear to be acting in the best interest of the citizens but rather in the best interests of the developers,” Placke said. “The attitude of the current majority on the Town Council is that they need this land to get to 100,000 population, and they’ve given away all the leverage.”

Castle Rock has just under 60,000 residents.

Placke’s effort specifically targets three large proposed annexations — totaling nearly 2,500 acres primarily on the east side of Interstate 25 — that are working their way through the town’s approvals process.

The developments the annexations would spur — Pine Canyon, Canyons South and Pioneer Ranch — could bring more than 4,000 new housing units to town, along with 900,000 square feet of retail and 208,000 square feet of light industrial.

Placke said all those new residents will clog an overburdened Founders Parkway with thousands of new cars all bottlenecking their way to I-25.

“The development plan is not accounting for any realistic infrastructure to support it,” Placke said.

The Denver Post attempted to reach two members of Castle Rock’s Town Council for this story, including Mayor Paul Donahue, but neither was able to talk because annexations are governed by a quasijudicial process while they go before the council.

Town Manager David Corliss said Castle Rock has been ably managing its growth, collecting impact fees from developers to pay for the amenities people in town want. The town also has major road and interchange improvements either completed or underway.

What would be the result of passing a ballot measure, such as the one being pushed? Builders and developers would skip over Castle Rock and submit projects to neighboring towns, such as Castle Pines, or to Douglas County itself.

“Will someone want to invest in a community if they have to put it up to an election?” Corliss asked. “It basically would stop most annexations from proceeding in the community. It would stop that growth from being in the town’s tax base.”

Colorado Municipal League executive director Sam Mamet agrees that developers may simply bypass Castle Rock with their projects if they have to deal with annexations by popular vote. He said municipalities have land-use experts on staff to deal with the intricacies of the issue, including water rights, zoning and rights of way.

“It’s also why we have planning commissions to look at these things before they go to council,” Mamet said.

Placke was a member of the Castle Rock Planning Commission until about a year ago, when he resigned in “utter frustration” over what he said was a lack of transparency and responsiveness to citizen concerns.

He’s not anti-growth. He didn’t support the citizen attempt to stop construction of the Promenade at Castle Rock retail project last year. In fact, Placke said he wants to see more commercial space built in Castle Rock so that more people can work where they live.

But more residential is not what’s needed in a town where hundreds of units are still going up on the west side of I-25, he said. And certainly not before there are the roads and utilities to support it.

Placke plans to give the Town Council a chance to adopt his petition as an ordinance at its March 8 meeting. If it doesn’t, he and about 25 of his supporters will, with clipboards in hand, hit the streets.

Placke said Castle Rock is a community “cool” enough that it doesn’t have to accept whatever plans developers turn in. It should demand the very best in terms of trails, parks and open space, he said.

“Our message should be: If you want to be a part of this town, you come in on our terms, not on developer-mandated terms,” Placke said.

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SELLING THIS WINTER? KEEP UP ON YOUR PROPERTY FOR SHOWINGS!

Written by Hans Brings

If you’re planning on selling your home this winter, you may have to put in some extra work. Between the cold weather, snow, and post holiday blues, a little bit of elbow grease can go a long way. Here are some ways to keep your property in shape for when you show your home this winter.

Clean windows

Your windows can become especially dirty during the winter months. Snow and mud are not a good mix when it comes to keeping things clean. Making sure all of your windows are clean and streak free can also make your home appear brighter. On those overcast winter days, your clean windows can help make your home shine inside and out.

Clear walkways

This is a must if you are going to be showing your home. Make sure walkways are clear of snow, ice and other debris. You also want to make sure you salt any potential danger areas. You don’t want potential buyers having to maneuver their way through mounds of snow or slipping before they even make it inside your home.

Add some life

Unfortunately, there aren’t any plants blooming in the winter. What you can do is temporarily put out some potted winter flowers to breathe some life into your otherwise dead yard. If your potential buyers aren’t thrilled about seeing a home in the dead of winter, this may brighten their mood.
Paint the front door

Has your front door taken a beating this winter? Well, the good news is you can apply paint year round! Try applying a new coat to cover chips or try a new color to give your home a new look. Front doors that really “pop” are a growing trend among homeowners today.

Clean your roof

Ensure that your roof is clear of ice, snow and other debris. Serious homebuyers will notice this because it can lead to ice dams, which can cause serious damage. If you’re not taking the time to take care of this, potential buyers may wonder if there are other maintenance issues you aren’t addressing.

If you’re planning on showing and selling your home this winter, you must be wiling to put in the extra effort. Anything that you can do to make your home more presentable to your potential buyers will pay off in the end. Good luck!

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5 FRONT YARD LANDSCAPING TIPS THAT WILL WOW HOME BUYERS

Written by Realty Times Staff

Your front yard is the red carpet inviting buyers into the beauty that is your home. If it’s rugged, messy and unkempt, buyers will take one look and then keep on driving to the next property on their list. Don’t let that happen by making your front yard luscious and as amazing as the inside of your home.

What areas should you focus on in your front yard? Where do you start? To help you break down the revitalization of your front yard, here are the steps you should take:

1. Cut the grass.
Buyers don’t want to trudge through high grass as though they were in the Amazon or on a safari in Africa. This means the lawn mower needs to be out at least once a week if not every other week, keeping it trimmed and maintained. It also needs to be green so it looks alive and lush. Water so the sun doesn’t dry out the lawn and turn it yellow or brown. A professional landscaper can help maintain a balance of trimming and growth so it looks just right for buyers.

Close More Deals – Qualify homebuyer leads fast and free
Your front yard is the red carpet inviting buyers into the beauty that is your home. If it’s rugged, messy and unkempt, buyers will take one look and then keep on driving to the next property on their list. Don’t let that happen by making your front yard luscious and as amazing as the inside of your home.

What areas should you focus on in your front yard? Where do you start? To help you break down the revitalization of your front yard, here are the steps you should take:

1. Cut the grass.

Buyers don’t want to trudge through high grass as though they were in the Amazon or on a safari in Africa. This means the lawn mower needs to be out at least once a week if not every other week, keeping it trimmed and maintained. It also needs to be green so it looks alive and lush. Water so the sun doesn’t dry out the lawn and turn it yellow or brown. A professional landscaper can help maintain a balance of trimming and growth so it looks just right for buyers.

2. Plant more shade trees.

One or two trees in the front yard are all right, but if you want to really add some shade, plant more. Shade trees will detract from the glare of the sun, and it can help decrease the temperature of the house if they’re placed close to windows. It also will help keep the lawn green with moisture. You can plant trees that are shorter and will grow by the time the new owner buys the home, but be sure they’re strong and can handle the climate.

Close More Deals – Qualify homebuyer leads fast and free
Your front yard is the red carpet inviting buyers into the beauty that is your home. If it’s rugged, messy and unkempt, buyers will take one look and then keep on driving to the next property on their list. Don’t let that happen by making your front yard luscious and as amazing as the inside of your home.

What areas should you focus on in your front yard? Where do you start? To help you break down the revitalization of your front yard, here are the steps you should take:

1. Cut the grass.

Buyers don’t want to trudge through high grass as though they were in the Amazon or on a safari in Africa. This means the lawn mower needs to be out at least once a week if not every other week, keeping it trimmed and maintained. It also needs to be green so it looks alive and lush. Water so the sun doesn’t dry out the lawn and turn it yellow or brown. A professional landscaper can help maintain a balance of trimming and growth so it looks just right for buyers.

2. Plant more shade trees.

One or two trees in the front yard are all right, but if you want to really add some shade, plant more. Shade trees will detract from the glare of the sun, and it can help decrease the temperature of the house if they’re placed close to windows. It also will help keep the lawn green with moisture. You can plant trees that are shorter and will grow by the time the new owner buys the home, but be sure they’re strong and can handle the climate.

3. Install outdoor lighting.

Outdoor lighting is a good way to both illuminate the house at night and accent parts of your yard. Depending on where you install the lights, your house will look very appealing at night to those buyers who might not have time to do their shopping during the day. Outdoor lighting also helps to illuminate a path like a sidewalk to get from the curb to your front door for easier navigation. It helps to accent the beauty of your landscaping which all together increases the beauty of your home.

Close More Deals – Qualify homebuyer leads fast and free
Your front yard is the red carpet inviting buyers into the beauty that is your home. If it’s rugged, messy and unkempt, buyers will take one look and then keep on driving to the next property on their list. Don’t let that happen by making your front yard luscious and as amazing as the inside of your home.

What areas should you focus on in your front yard? Where do you start? To help you break down the revitalization of your front yard, here are the steps you should take:

1. Cut the grass.

Buyers don’t want to trudge through high grass as though they were in the Amazon or on a safari in Africa. This means the lawn mower needs to be out at least once a week if not every other week, keeping it trimmed and maintained. It also needs to be green so it looks alive and lush. Water so the sun doesn’t dry out the lawn and turn it yellow or brown. A professional landscaper can help maintain a balance of trimming and growth so it looks just right for buyers.

2. Plant more shade trees.

One or two trees in the front yard are all right, but if you want to really add some shade, plant more. Shade trees will detract from the glare of the sun, and it can help decrease the temperature of the house if they’re placed close to windows. It also will help keep the lawn green with moisture. You can plant trees that are shorter and will grow by the time the new owner buys the home, but be sure they’re strong and can handle the climate.

3. Install outdoor lighting.

Outdoor lighting is a good way to both illuminate the house at night and accent parts of your yard. Depending on where you install the lights, your house will look very appealing at night to those buyers who might not have time to do their shopping during the day. Outdoor lighting also helps to illuminate a path like a sidewalk to get from the curb to your front door for easier navigation. It helps to accent the beauty of your landscaping which all together increases the beauty of your home.

4. Consider adding flowers for more color.

If your front yard has a lot of greenery, you should increase the yard appeal by adding more colors. Flowers are a great and simple way to do this, as well as shrubbery with different blooms. Perennials are the best for this because they last for more than a year, which means less maintenance for the seller and the new homeowner. They come in a wide variety of colors and types so the yard can be decorated with any number of them while still requiring less maintenance.

5. Keep everything clean!

In addition to keeping the lawn trimmed, everything else should be clean. Anywhere that can build up dirt or grime – siding, porch, front door, driveway – should be cleaned on a regular basis. Buyers don’t want to see a lot of dirt and mess, and it will detract from them wanting to walk into the house. So take a broom, a power washer and a few hours on the weekend to keep everything sparkling clean. Don’t have a power washer? A professional power washing service can cost as little as $293.

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Another 155 homes coming to Castle Rock

Flat Rock Village will be part of the Terrain community

By: Shanna Fortier

Another 155 single-family detached homes will be added to Flat Rock Village in the Terrain Community in the northeast corner of Castle Rock between Founders Parkway and Highway 86.

The homes will join the 189 lots that have already been plotted in Flat Rock Village, the second village to be developed in the Terrain Community. An approximate 450 homes are located in Castle Oaks Village, the first developed village in the community. Five villages total are planned for the community.

Castle Rock Town Council approved the project by Starwood Lane Ventures LLC Dec. 1 with a 7-0 vote. The project was previously approved by the planning commission.

“We’ve really enjoyed our relationship with the town and community,” said Craig Campbell, west region vice president for Starwood Land Ventures. “We have a lot of pride in our projects. We’re really trying to promote the Colorado lifestyle and be good stewards of the beautiful land that Terrain already has.”

The site development plan for the project includes approximately 60 acres, 21 of which would be developed, leaving 55 percent of the site for open space.

“What Mr. Campbell and his team have done with this community, the residents love,” said Councilmember Renee Valentine, relaying praise from her constituents.

Flat Rock Village includes floor plans by three builders, TriPointe Homes, DR Horton and Taylor Morrison. Homes range is size from 1,871 to 2,860 square feet, priced from mid-$300,000, and homes priced from the low $300,000 ranging in size from 2,059 to 2,311 square feet.

During the meeting, Castle Rock Mayor Paul Donahue addressed resident concerns about growth.

“We do have significant growth in this community,” he said. “The main reason we have this growth is to pay for the infrastructure of this community. If we didn’t have these developers coming in, the taxes here — the fees for water — would be astronomical. This growth is paying for growth and it is helping us keep our taxes low.”

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THE NIGHTMARE NEXT DOOR: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR NEIGHBOR IS A NUISANCE

Written by Jaymi Naciri
The animals that live in the house across the street bark incessantly. The people two doors down play their music so loud you now know all the lyrics to every Kendrick Lamar song ever written. And something, presumably a dog (you hope) keeps leaving presents on your lawn. Annoyances like these can make it unpleasant to live in your neighborhood. And, they can quickly escalate, becoming dangerous or even in need of legal intervention.

So how do you know how to handle a nuisance neighbor, and what should you do when the situation gets out of control? Knowing who you’re dealing with is step one.

Annoying but (probably) not dangerous

The situation: Your neighbor is a busybody, always in everyone’s business and clearly enjoys spreading it around. The animosity she creates is making it hard to enjoy social outings in the neighborhood.

The strategy: Have a talk with her. Perhaps the simple act of honest discourse is enough to get her to curtail her behavior. After all, no one wants a “Desperate Housewives” scenario.

Multiple people may need to be in on this act to get the point across that her behavior won’t be tolerated. As a worst case scenario, disinviting her from social events may be necessary. Uncomfortable, but necessary.

Could go off the rails if provoked

The situation: Your neighbor complains about EVERYTHING. The way your kids’ friends park on the street in front of your house. Your dog that barks exactly one time a day, for a 30-second period, when the mail is delivered. Even the way your trashcan faces on trash pickup day.

And it’s not just you. He’s been terrorizing the neighborhood since the day he moved in, and everyone’s too scared to confront him.

The solution: Kill him with kindness – but only if it seems safe. Could be the neighbor is a lonely man who doesn’t know how to reach out and is channeling his sadness/lack of social interaction in a negative manner. Taking over some cookies, bringing in his newspaper, or offering to water his flowers might be the icebreaker you need to start breaking down those walls.

But, being able to judge a situation is key to knowing how to handle it. If you’re not sure if your neighbor is just sad and lonely or if he’s going to turn into a psychopath and burn your bunny, you probably want to keep your distance.

You should definitely watch your back

The situation: There has been a rash of vandalism in the neighborhood, with cars being keyed and landscaping being ruined. Or perhaps you’ve experienced hostile behavior from a neighbor yelling profanity at you or your kids.

The solution: There are some situations that can’t be resolved any other way but getting the police involved. If you feel unsafe if anybody is being threatened, don’t be afraid to get the police involved. It could be that the scare is enough to alleviate the situation.

Involving the police could also be necessary if a neighbor is breaking the law.

“When only one person or a small number of people are disturbed by a nuisance, it is a private nuisance,” said the Chicago Tribune. “Examples include a noisy neighbor, a barking dog, a trash-filled vacant lot and trespassers attracted to a vacant building. If a state or federal law or a local ordinance is being violated, the police or other officials should be notified to abate the nuisance.”

Sometimes, a neighbor’s antics affect more than your daily enjoyment of your home. If money or land are involved, things can get beyond testy. If keeping things calm and out of the hands of professionals isn’t working, it may be time to take legal action.

“Consider having the property surveyed, which should resolve any questions about property lines. (And a survey could nip the problem in the bud, since the person who wants something to happen usually pays, said Emily Doskow, an attorney in Berkeley, California, and the editor of Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise on CNN. “The cost can vary anywhere from $300 to $1,500, depending on where you live and how complicated the survey is.”

Be aware that there are several defenses that could derail your plight (knowing about the private nuisance when you moved to the neighborhood or tolerating it over a period of time are a few of them). Your attorney should be able to advise you of whether or not you have a legitimate case.

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Guess What? Spring Home Buying Starts Now (Thanks, Punxsutawney Phil!)

By
Jonathan Smoke
This spring is shaping up to be the busiest housing market we’ve seen since 2006. Now, thanks to America’s favorite rodent, we can predict that this year’s strong spring housing market will start sooner than normal.

God bless you, Groundhog Day! When the country is so over winter, all eyes turn to one famous groundhog, Pennsylvania’s Punxsutawney Phil (sorry, Staten Island Chuck!), and await his prediction on the advent of spring.

But just how accurate is our pal Phil? I pulled the history of his forecasts and aligned them with historical weather data. The combination that gave me the most overlap and seemed a reasonable test of an early spring was to look at the average temperature in February for the contiguous 48 states as recorded by the National Climatic Data Center.

If Phil sees his shadow on Feb. 2, Groundhog Day, tradition holds, winter will last six more weeks. Logically, that would also mean that February should be average or colder than average. If no shadow is seen, spring will come earlier, and February should be warmer than average.

I assembled the February temperature data back to 1921, and found that the average February was 34 degrees Fahrenheit.

When you look at Phil’s annual predictions, you quickly see that not seeing a shadow—as happened on Tuesday—is a rare event. Over the past 95 years through 2015, Phil has been recorded as saying he didn’t see his shadow only 14 times.

OK, so let’s say that Phil is on the money this year. Given this year’s “no shadow” report, we’re likely to have a warmer February. Now, what does that mean for the housing market?

Over the 47 years for which we have sales data, when February’s temperature was above average, February home sales showed growth over the prior year 60% of the time. The reverse scenario does not hold out: When February temperatures are below average, there’s still a greater than 50% chance that home sales will be at least average.

Why is that? Temperature and weather are merely catalysts for what happens in the month of February. What matters more than weather is the health of the economy and the underlying demand for housing. When the market is strong and temperatures are cold, we still typically see growth. But when we have a strong market and warmer temperatures in February, we are far more likely to see growth.

Put another way, when housing is poised for a strong year, and February has above average temperatures, we see very strong growth in February sales more than 90% of the time.

That’s what I am taking away from Phil’s forecast for 2016. When the housing market is strong like it is now, and Phil doesn’t see his shadow, February sees an average 11% year-over-year increase in existing-home sales.

Thanks to Punxsutawney Phil, we know that the spring housing market starts early this year—and buyers and sellers had better be ready.

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10 Crucial Questions To Ask Before Choosing A Mortgage

By Andrea Murad

Make sure you understand your financing options before you take the important step of buying a home.
Buying a home is time-consuming. Before you even start searching for that perfect property, whether you’re searching for homes for sale in Chicago, IL, or Houston, TX, you’ll need to spend hours working with mortgage lenders to learn how to budget your finances for your home purchase.

Once you’ve interviewed multiple mortgage lenders and vetted your lender to make sure they’re reputable, explain your financial situation: What’s your monthly income, what are your other big monthly expenses, and what can you ultimately afford as a down payment? Mortgage lenders will respect that you work hard for your money — and you want to spend it wisely.

After running a credit check, your lender will present you with options for what you may qualify to borrow. The mortgage amount can be different depending on two things: the product and interest rate. Since the interest rate determines what you’ll owe every month on that balance, understanding how different mortgage products work is key. Here are 10 questions to ask to make sure you’re getting the best rate (and the best deal).

1. What is the interest rate?

Your lender will offer you an interest rate based on the loan and your credit. The interest rate, along with the mortgage balance and loan term, will determine your real monthly payment. A loan with a lower balance or a lower interest rate will make for a smaller monthly payment. If you’re not satisfied with the interest rates offered, work to clean up your credit so you can qualify for a lower interest rate.

2. What is the monthly mortgage payment?

As you develop a budget for your new home, make sure you can afford this monthly mortgage payment — and be sure to include insurance and taxes in your monthly payment calculations. And don’t forget about short-term financial goals — say, saving up for a vacation or buying a new computer — and long-term retirement goals to consider. Your monthly mortgage payment shouldn’t be so high that your money can’t work toward your other financial goals.

3. Is the mortgage fixed rate or an ARM?

Fixed-rate loans keep the same rate for the life of the loan, which can range between 10 and 30 years. Adjustable-rate mortgages, or ARMs, have interest rates that change after an initial period at regular intervals. If you don’t plan to stay in your home long-term, a hybrid ARM with an initial fixed-rate period may be a better choice, since this type of loan tends to have lower interest rates than fixed-rate mortgages.

If you do consider an ARM, make sure you ask (and understand!) when the rate will change and by how much. Ask how often the rate will change after the initial interest rate change, the index that it’s tied to, and the loan’s margin. There are usually caps to how much the interest rate can increase during one period and over the life of the loan, so recalculate the monthly payment to make sure you can afford that higher rate.

4. What fees do I have to pay?

One-time fees, typically called “points,” are due at closing. For every point you pay, your lender will decrease your interest rate by 1%. You can also inquire about whether you might have the option of paying zero closing fees in exchange for a higher interest rate.

5. Does the loan have any prepayment penalties?

If you’re saving up to make some extra mortgage payments to pay off your mortgage principal early, you may have to pay a fee. Don’t forget to ask this important question.

6. When can I lock in the interest rate and points, and how much does this cost?

Your lender may be able to lock in your interest rate for a time, and for a fee. If rates go up, you’ll still be able to benefit from a lower rate on your mortgage.

7. What are the qualifying guidelines for this loan?

The underwriting guidelines are different for every loan, as are income and reserve requirements. Along with requiring you to have sufficient funds for the down payment and closing costs, most mortgages require proof of income and reserves of up to six months of mortgage payments.

8. What is the minimum down payment required for this loan?

Different loan products have different down payment requirements. Most mortgages require a 20% down payment, but if you qualify for an FHA loan, for example, your down payment could be as low as 3.5%. In general, loans with lower down payments cost more.

9. Do I have to pay for mortgage insurance, and how much will this cost?

Putting down less than 20% on your purchase requires paying mortgage insurance until your loan-to-value, or LTV, ratio falls below 80%. Mortgage insurance premiums can be expensive, sometimes costing up to $100 per month for every $100,000 borrowed.

10. Do you have other mortgage products with lower rates that I qualify for?

The best way to comparison-shop is to start with your current lender. They probably offer more than one type of loan, and these may have terms better suited to your financial situation.

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21 Ways To Prepare Your Home For Selling

By: Paula Pant

Simple touch-ups can do a lot to impress a potential buyer — and possibly clinch a deal.
While small upgrades and minor decor replacements may seem like a waste of time when you’re in a hurry to sell your house, one of the biggest mistakes you can make as a seller is listing your home without any advance preparation.

Whether you’re listing your condo for sale in Miami, FL, or looking for a buyer for your home for sale in Chicago, IL, the easiest way to find what needs a little attention is to “put your buyer’s hat on and walk through your home like it is the first time,” says Marilou Young, an Accredited Staging Professional and an associate broker with Virtual Properties Realty in the metropolitan Atlanta, GA, area.

“Make notes on what you, as a buyer, would notice,” Young advises, “and then repair or replace those items.”

Be sure you prepare your home for sale — and can check off every item on this list — before you even begin to imagine hanging that “For Sale” sign out front.
Clean, clean, clean. Be sure to clean every nook and cranny. Don’t forget overlooked areas, such as dusting the fireplace mantel and ceiling fan blades, polishing appliances and faucets, and washing the windows. If you’ve already moved out or if you’re too busy to do a thorough cleaning, consider hiring a cleaning service.

Pay attention to smells. “Don’t cook bacon in your home the day of a showing,” advises Rachel Weinberg, a broker at Wright Kingdom Real Estate in Boulder, CO. “Although it might taste great, the smell is strong and lingers for a long time. You don’t want your home to smell like a fast-food restaurant!”

Clear out the clutter. You want buyers to focus on how awesome your space is, not how messy it looks. Banish that pile of shoes from the entry, that stack of mail from the kitchen table, and anything else that detracts from your home’s gorgeous features.

Repaint the walls in neutral colors. As much as you love your dramatic red dining room, it could turn off a good portion of your potential buyers. So repaint your rooms in neutral tones such as grays, tans, and whites that allow buyers to focus on the spaces, not the color of the walls.

Keep the decor simple. To help buyers imagine themselves in your space, get rid of any statement art or decor that might turn people off. A classic landscape painting? Totally fine. Your zebra-print leather couch? Might want to slip-cover that for showings or rent a storage unit until you’re ready to move it into your new place.

Get rid of personal items. Buyers want to be able to envision themselves in your home, so remove anything overly personal, such as the gallery wall of family photos or your kids’ artwork on the fridge. Let there be light!

Open all the windows (especially in warmer months) to let in natural light and add floor or table lamps to illuminate areas that are dim. A bright, cheery room looks bigger and more inviting.

Bring nature inside. Potted plants or a few pretty buds in a vase can help bring energy into a space, fill in empty corners, and even draw attention to features you want buyers to notice. Just make sure the plants are in good health (and bug-free!).

Get rid of bulky furniture. Your furniture should fit the scale of the room, so get rid of any extra or oversized items that could make your space look smaller than it really is. For example, if you have a huge sectional in your family room, consider breaking it up and use just the main sofa portion. Organize your closets.

Storage space is a huge selling point, and if your closets are stuffed to the brim, buyers will think you don’t have enough of it. Invest in some boxes, dividers, and other solutions that will help you organize your space, and remove items you don’t need (you can stow them away until you move). Tackle that honey-do list. A

ll those little things you’ve been meaning to do but never got around to? Do them. Buyers will notice minor flaws, and they’ll detract from the value of your home. So set aside a weekend to tighten those loose doorknobs, fix that leaky faucet, and paint over the scuffs from when you first moved in your sofa.

Do a faux renovation. Little tweaks can make a big difference in the overall feel of a room.

Kitchen a bit outdated? Replace the fixtures, faucets, and hinges. Family-room furniture beaten up? Throw some slipcovers over it.

Give each room a purpose. That spare room you’ve been using as an office/guest room/dumping ground won’t help sell your home unless you show buyers how they can use it themselves. So pick a use (office, guest room, crafts room) and clearly stage the space to showcase that purpose.

Turn the bathroom into a spa. Create the feel of a relaxing, luxurious bath — for less than $30. Stack a few pretty washcloths tied with ribbon, add some candles and orchids, and buy bathmats and towels in coordinating tones such as light green, blue, and white. Lower the toilet seat. When it comes to both showing and photographing your home, this little trick can make a surprising difference.

Turn the living room into conversation central. Practice the art of feng shui: Help buyers picture themselves relaxing with family and guests by grouping your furniture into arrangements that inspire conversation. Keep the flow going. The last thing you want is people bumping into furniture as they tour your home; it disrupts their focus and makes your space look cramped. Do a dry run as though you’re seeing your home for the first time and tweak anything that interrupts the “flow.” Make something yummy.

Real estate agents don’t put out fresh cookies at open houses just to treat buyers. A “homey” smell such as cookies or muffins baking can help people connect with a kitchen. Not a baker? Fake it with a scented candle. Make it look lived in with vignettes. Help your buyers see themselves in your home by adding deliberate vignettes that showcase how your home can be lived in. An inviting armchair and a tray with a coffee cup and book on it can turn that empty corner into a reading nook. Pretty soaps in a decorative tray can make your tiny half bath more appealing. Highlight focal points. Draw buyers’ eyes toward any special features with bright colors or accents such as plants. A pop of red from a throw pillow can draw buyers’ attention to that lovely window seat. A striking fern on the mantel can show off your fireplace. Boost the curb appeal. Don’t spend all your time indoors. Buyers may decide to not enter a home based on its curb appeal, so make sure your home’s exterior looks excellent. Trim shrubs, weed flower beds, remove and refresh any peeling paint, and keep the walkway clear. Just adding a row of potted plants along the walkway or a cheerful wreath to your front door can make a big difference. Marilou Young recommends her clients focus on curb appeal first. If her clients are on a tight budget, she’ll advise that they at least spruce up the front entrance. That first impression goes a long way.

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7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Wait Until Spring To List Your Home For Sale

By Meaghan Agnew

Winter offers some unique opportunities for sellers, so ignore your instincts to let your home hibernate.
It’s one of real estate’s most enduring mantras: If you want to list your house, you should sit out the winter season and let it hit the market in the spring instead. But like so many things in life, finding the best time to sell a house or list that Boston, MA real estate is more complicated.

“The general school of thought — and it most often proves to be correct — is that listing your home in the spring market will reap the biggest benefit,” says salesperson Brad Malow of Douglas Elliman in New York, NY. “But late winter may actually be a prime time for coming to market as well.”

Here are seven reasons why you shouldn’t wait until the ground has thawed to hammer in that For Sale sign.

1. Less inventory = more attention

Because everyone thinks they shouldn’t list their property under threat of snow and ice, there are very few homes to buy at the start of a new year. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still potential buyers on the prowl. And if your house is the only game in town, you’re likely to have a lot more interest than in spring when the market is saturated.

“If there’s a shortage of desirable inventory, which often means a plethora of buyers waiting on the sidelines, a seller may experience multiple-offer situations whenever they choose to list,” says Malow. With fewer options, traditionally nit-picky home shoppers are more likely to forgo their “must-have” list and give your place a more open-minded look.

2. First-quarter job relocations

Companies tend to place and/or relocate their workers during the first quarter of the new year. This means that every winter, there is an assured populace that’s looking for a new home, quickly. And good news for your asking price: This group often has some credited moving expenses to burn through. If you live close to a large corporation, ask your real estate agent how to target the new employees coming to town.

3. A locked-in real estate agent

Your real estate agent is relatively idle during the frosty months, a drag from their perspective but a boon from yours. And fewer clients means greater motivation to move the properties they represent. They also have more time and energy to focus on your cause, whether it’s finessing your online listing or talking you off the ledge when the selling process becomes challenging or stressful.

4. No landscaping, no problem

Listing your place in the spring or summer means keeping up with the landscaping (curb appeal!), which can be arduous. You’ll need to invest some time and money into new plantings and possibly a little sod, or at the very least, some potted plants and lawn maintenance. And if your landscaping is actually a selling point, the pruning responsibilities are even greater. You’ll need to trim the hedges, tend the flowers, and otherwise make sure your curbfront property and backyard are up to snuff at every possible moment.

In wintertime, though, the living is easy. If there’s snow, you shovel — that’s pretty much it. No after-work and weekend hours toiling to maintain your outdoor space, and no stresses about its supposed inadequacies.

5. A lighter footprint, literally

Overall, there are quite likely fewer buyers on the prowl during the winter months — more focused and more motivated, yes, but undeniably fewer. Consider this a blessing. Fewer showings means fewer people stomping through your home, tracking dirt and mud all over your carpets as they open your medicine cabinets and peek into your closets.

It also means fewer open houses, which can take hours of preparation and don’t always pay off. If you do have a winter open house, you’ll also probably have more motivated visitors — there are very few window-shoppers during the cold-weather months, so you’re not going to see your neighbor’s son’s friend meandering over to report back on your recent kitchen reno.

6. A faster home sale

It’s counterintuitive but true: Homes actually sell more quickly in the winter months, even in cold-weather cities like Chicago, IL. There’s no general consensus on exactly why this is true, although low inventory is quite likely a big part of it. Also? In winter, most people just don’t want to slog through showing after showing. Instead, they want the buying process to be over and done with, and so they’re more willing to pull the trigger.

7. A higher listing price

Another surprise: Statistics show that homes actually sell at a slightly higher price in winter. This owes to several less mysterious factors. For starters, your real estate agent is going to be more adamant about pricing the property just right out of fear the home will languish on the market until spring. (If a property price reflects both the current market and the surrounding neighborhood, that home is more likely to go under agreement at a favorable price.) Motivated buyers might also submit a price that’s too good to refuse. Finally, a fear of rising mortgage rates — rates tend to go up in the spring — might cause a buyer to be more willing to pay a higher price upfront. Whatever the reason, it’s a happy discovery for many people who finalize a home sale when the weather outside is frightful.

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10 Numbers You Need To Know Before You Sign A Mortgage

Trulia’s Blog/Money Matters
By: Gina Roberts-Grey

Make sure you’ve got these numbers in hand before you head to your closing appointment.
Your offer has been accepted and you’ve been approved for a mortgage. But along with knowing the purchase price of a home and the size of your down payment, there are a lot of numbers to consider before you arrive at the closing on that home for sale in Athens, GA.

On October 3, 2015, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) made it easier for homebuyers to find and digest the numbers related to their mortgage payment. The revised loan estimate form explains the terms and costs of a mortgage you’re considering and details a number of numerical nuggets you need to know. Here’s the rundown.

The loan terms

These amounts, which include the loan amount, interest rate, and monthly principal and interest payment, are locked in and cannot increase after closing. However, your monthly payment could still vary because of homeowners’ association fees or escrow amounts for taxes and/or insurance.

This section of the new form also details any applicable prepayment penalties, says Roland Narofsky, regional vice president of Maine Savings FCU in Bangor, ME, and a 17-year industry veteran. “This is a fee charged to the borrower if they pay off the loan early, and is typically charged if the loan is paid off within the first five years.”

Your estimated total payment

It’s important to know what size nut you’ll have to crack each month. And along with the principal and interest already listed, you’ll want to know your estimated escrow payment for property taxes and insurance, along with any other assessments such as homeowners’ association fees that can drive up your monthly costs.

Closing costs

Closing costs include a lot of line items and fees. One biggie? Origination fees. “Most banks charge a fee of approximately $1,000 to originate a loan,” says Narofsky. That covers the application and underwriting costs incurred by the bank.

Mortgage points, which equal a percentage of the loan, are also usually included and will be spelled out. “Points are negotiable by most banks, and many lenders often charge three to four points,” says Narofsky.

“This is one of the charges you need to watch out for, as it can get pretty expensive,” cautions Narofsky. “Some lenders may allow you to bundle this in with the loan, so ask before closing.” You can also lower your mortgage payments by offering to pay more points at closing.

You may be able to shop around for values when it comes to some of your closing costs, such as survey and title fees. Others, such as appraisal fees, title services, and tax services, are probably non-negotiable. Closing costs also include prepaid interest (for the number of days you’ll have the loan until the first payment is due) and property taxes from the day you close on the property until the time the next tax bill is due.

Cash to close

To calculate the amount of cash you’ll need to bring to closing, subtract the earnest money you’ve already paid from the total of all closing costs.

APR

The last number you’ll find on the loan estimate is the annual percentage rate (APR). This is not the interest rate. Instead, it is your cost over the loan term expressed as a rate. “When the difference between the interest rate and the APR is greater than 0.5%, you may be paying high fees,” says Narofsky.

Even though the new loan estimate statement packs a lot of detail into a few pages, Narofsky says there are a few other numbers you need to know.

Rate-lock period

“New regulations will make it almost impossible to close a loan in 30 days,” says Narofsky. If your rate lock expires before closing, or before funding in case of a refi, the lock is worthless — so you need to make sure the expiration date extends beyond the closing date. Keep in mind, closings don’t always occur on time.

Total cost of borrowing

This is how much it actually costs you to borrow the money over the length of the term.

Amortization length

Ask for a detailed schedule that breaks down how much of each payment is going to principal and interest.

Prepayment option amount

Generally around 15% to 20%, this, says Narofsky, is how much of a lump sum you can put down on principal every year without getting charged a penalty.

Insurance charges

If you’re putting down less than 20% of the purchase price of the home, you may be charged a mortgage insurance premium until the principal is 80% or less of the cost of the home.

Despite having to crunch a lot of numbers, Narofsky says, the process shouldn’t be overwhelming. “Your attorney and/or lender representative should be equipped to walk you through each of these numbers,” he says.

And if at any time something seems out of whack or confusing, don’t be afraid to speak up. “It’s much easier to correct a mistake, negotiate, or discuss options before you’re sitting at closing,” he adds.

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