Handling the home repair proposal

When selling a home, one of the most important steps in the process is negotiating the home repair proposal after the inspection.

Last month, we looked at the home inspection and home repair from the buyers’ perspective, so this month we want to take a look at it from the sellers’ angle. Real estate agents aren’t home inspectors, and we often don’t know everything that might need fixing in a property. If you as the owner of the property know of and share a particular issue with the agent, then of course it is our job to make sure that is disclosed as part of the listing. In fact, one of the first things I do in preparing a property to list is to provide a disclosure form as part of a set of required documents giving us permission to sale their property. This property disclosure form lists out all the items in your home or cabin that you’re aware of about the property – age of the roof, any updates or upgrades to the home, any conditions that the law requires for you to share with buyers about, etc. If you haven’t lived in the home for several years, you may choose to fill out an exemption form instead. This is often the case with vacation and second homes that are on a rental program. You’re just not going to know everything about the condition of the property if you aren’t actively living in the home. Even when you do live there full-time, you may not be aware of potential problems that your buyers could end up being responsible for if they closed on the property without discovering it beforehand. So it’s in their best interest as the buyers to have a home inspection done.

The home inspector will:

  • test the plumbing;
  • test the electric outlets;
  • inspect the crawlspace for possible cracks or mold;
  • inspect the fireplace;
  • inspect the home exterior for signs of wood destroying insect damage; and
  • look for signs of water damage or problems along the gutters and on the roof that may not be noticeable to the untrained eye.

The home repair proposal

Once the inspection is completed, the buyer will identify the items that matter the most to them and coordinate with their agent – if they have one – to put them into a home repair proposal for you to consider. As a seller, it’s important not to panic when you see the repair request items. A home inspector is hired to find every potential issue in the home so that the buyer can make the most informed decision possible. Most good home inspectors will seek out problems and potential challenges so that the buyers know as much possible about what’s going on with the house before they buy it. It’s important for you to work with your agent to help you determine the best response based on your situation. If you have the resources to make the requested home repairs, that’s often the best choice. Or if you can’t do them all, pick the ones that are the most important and offer to do those. Another option is that you could negotiate a lower sales price to allow the buyers to fix the home repair items on the home repair list themselves. Your real estate agent should be able to negotiate the home repairs on your behalf and, when needed, help you find people who can do the work to fix those items so you can get accurate estimates in case the owner chooses to reduce the price instead.

Keep in mind that simply refusing to address the requested home repair proposal items could mean the buyers will walk away, and if the items are significant, you will have the same challenge with the next buyer who comes along if you don’t work out a way to fix the items. Of course, the buyers have the choice to walk away after a home inspection is completed if they don’t like the report, so it’s sometimes good to ask your agent to follow up to see if you can find out what made them decide not to buy your home. Perhaps it’s something you can fix before the next offer comes in so it doesn’t end up being a challenge to overcome with a new buyer on the next home repair list.

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Working through the home inspection

When buying a home, one of the most important decisions you will make is whether to hire an inspector to conduct a home inspection. Real estate agents aren’t home inspectors, and we aren’t able to identify everything that may need  to be home inspectionaddressed in a property. If the owners know of and share a particular issue with the agent, then of course it is our job to make sure that is disclosed as part of the listing. In fact, one of the first things I do in preparing a property to list is to have the seller fill out a set of required documents that give us permission to sale their property. These forms include a document that lists out all of the items in a home that could have issues needing to be addressed.

If the owner hasn’t lived in the home for several years, they may choose to fill out an exemption form instead. This is often the case with vacation and second homes that are on a rental program. The owner just isn’t going to know everything about the condition of the property if they aren’t actively living in the home. Even when the owners do live there full-time, they may not be aware of potential problems that you as a buyer could end up being responsible for if you closed on the property without discovering it beforehand. So it’s in your best interest as the buyer to have a home inspection done.

What does a home inspection generally consist of?

The home inspector will:

  • test the plumbing;
  • test the electric outlets;
  • inspect the crawlspace for possible cracks or mold;
  • inspect the fireplace;
  • inspect the home exterior for signs of wood destroying insect damage; and
  • look for signs of water damage or problems along the gutters and on the roof that may not be noticeable to the untrained eye.

Once the home inspection is completed, you will receive a copy of the report that details all of the items they checked and the condition each was found to be in. If there are any serious problems, the home inspector will go through those with you at that time. Feel free to talk with your inspector and definitely ask additional questions when there are items in the home inspection that you don’t completely understand.

As a buyer, it’s important not to panic when you see the home inspection report. Any inspector that we recommend is going to be thorough! You are going to know more about the property than you may want to! They will tell you everything that is a problem now, everything that may be a problem in the near future, and the many things to look for in the distant future. This will place you in the best position of comfort and power, although it also will be disconcerting. It is kind of like when you go to the doctor and see an x-ray of your spine or an ultrasound of your organs. It’s a little disturbing! Just remember that a home inspector is hired to find every potential issue in the home so that you as a buyer can make the most informed decision possible. The good news is that 99% of issues can be addressed. The main questions are how best to address those issues, what might it cost to address them, and who is going to complete the remediation?

Once you have received the home inspection, this is the point where you would need to work with your real estate agent to send a request for items identified in the home inspection to be repaired or replaced, or for the owner to agree to reduce the sales price of the property to account for the repairs you will need to make. Your real estate agent should be able to negotiate the repairs on your behalf and, when needed, help you find people who can do the work to fix those items so you can get accurate estimates in case the owner chooses to reduce the price instead.

Its all part of buying something amazing! While often one of the more stressful parts of buying property, it can also be an exciting part – learning about your property and how to care for it in order to keep its value strong in the years to come.

Let the adventure begin! If you have more questions about the home inspection process, I and my staff are always here to help!

Understanding the appraisal

In this article, I’d like to share with you about one of the most important steps in a home sale where a lender is involed – the appraisal.

If you’ve been following my articles over this past year, then you already know our region – the Great Smoky Mountains, including Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Sevierville, and the surrounding communities – are in a season of very low inventory for property sales. This is especially true of our rental and vacation cabin market. As a result, the values of these properties have increased and the market for vacation and rental cabins has climbed steadily over the last couple of years at a rate that has outpaced lender appraisal values.

Appraising the value of a property can be one of the most challenging, and probably the most stressful, aspect of the process for buyers in a market where appraisal values don’t reflect where the market is at in terms of purchase value. This is mostly because lender appraisers are looking at the value of the property in a different way than everyone else, and with a different purpose. The purpose of a lender appraisal is to determine how much the lender can sell the property for in the event of a foreclosure. So even though the buyer is paying for the appraisal, the appraiser making the determination is actually working for the lender.

Appraisal is an art, not a science

As you know, when a foreclosure is put up for sale by a lender, it’s not priced at the market value. It’s priced below the market value because the financial institution is just trying to recoup as much as they can get for the property. So appraisers have to work from that angle in determining the appraisal value for the lender, and they have to follow specific restrictions. They have to find comparable sold listings within the last 3 to 6 months. If the property is in a subdivision or resort, they must use sold properties from that particular location. Obviously, appraisers can’t go into homes that were sold and take a look around. So the most efficient method for them is to look at closed listings in the association MLS, tax records, and any photos that are included with the closed listing report. It’s a difficult job, especially when you begin to understand some of the problems with doing it this way.

First of all, the reports don’t always accurately reflect the condition of the property. Rarely do tax records identify updates to the interior of the property. Sometimes the square footage is recorded incorrectly. The cabin could be smaller or larger inside than the tax record indicates. Regarding MLS records, the photos may be out of date. That pristine looking cabin exterior in the front photo could have been taken a week after it was built… 10 years ago. Today it might be full of bee holes and in serious need of a new staining. So of course it sold two months ago for $15,000 less than the one you’ve made an offer on where the one you want to buy today has been well taken care of and doesn’t need any major updating.

Appraisers also are required to look at square footage differently than the average buyer or seller. A lot of times, people look at the total square footage to determine how big the cabin is. Even when these numbers are correct in the written record, what the lender’s appraiser is looking for is how much is “above grade” and how much is “below grade.” So maybe you picked out a cabin that has a total of 2,000 square feet, but the appraiser who looks at it notices the cabin square footage is perfectly split between two levels. So, the 1,000 square feet above the mountain’s edge in that hypothetical cabin is considered above grade and worth more than the downstairs – even when that lower level has a window facing the perfect mountain view. Any level of the cabin that is 1 foot below ground is considered basement.

So that’s how the appraiser works through the process. In my next article, I’ll share some ways you can handle an appraisal that might come in below the offer price.

Setting the right sales price

When home and cabin owners make the decision to sell, the first thing they want to know, of course, is what the correct sales price for their property should be. Working every day with the market, I watch what’s happening with sales prices and I keep up with the trends of what’s happening. Right now, we are in a sellers’ market due to the low number of properties for sale, so the demand for homes and cabins is continually driving up the sales price.

Before most clients contact me, however, they’ve already turned to the internet for their research into setting the correct sales price. Real estate marketing websites use computer generated figures based on a total sum of properties without any input from a human. So they don’t take into account all the little things that appraisers are going to care about when they come out to see if the lender should finance the purchase. As a result, the internet estimates are generally incorrect. Sometimes, they are too high. Other times they are too low. For cabins, this number is derived by including all the very expensive log cabin construction in our county – lumping every kind of construction together. To the computer there is only one category and it is called “residential,” whether it is overnight rental cabins or true residential like your house. Clients who list with me will ask if the estimated sales price will hurt the sale of the home if it doesn’t match what we have priced it at based on market comparisons that are more “apples to apples.”

Well, here’s the good news, sellers: the online sales price estimate isn’t going to hurt us.

As a matter of fact, we’re going to use it as a marketing tool! We have estimates like this all the time and we make them work in our favor – even though you and I know that the estimate is not accurate (and actually buyers and buyers agents do as well).

In the Great Smoky Mountains Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service, there is no division for the type of properties we have in Sevier County. If it has bedrooms, it’s a residence – even if it is a 12-bedroom log lodge bringing in an income of $300,000 a year.

The sold numbers that throw this off are our new construction log home cabins which run $170-$280 a square foot. (True residential properties are still running right at $100 a square foot to build.) When the computer picks up these log cabin numbers it just creates estimates that are well, not accurate. It doesn’t fit the programming pattern, so it messes it up. Some computer programs also don’t seem to be able to keep up with the pace of the market, which can be a problem for someone who is selling their house based on today’s sales prices and not on a price from 90 to 120 days ago.

Until we’re all replaced by computers, sellers and buyers still need people who can look at all of the data and not just one piece of it to help determine the correct sales price for a listing on the market.

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Buying property in a sellers’ market

We – like many communities around the country – are in a sellers’ market.
If you’ve discovered that finding the perfect vacation cabin or second home in the Smokies hasn’t been the dream you imagined this year, don’t fret – you aren’t alone.

We have had a shortage of properties for sale this year. Even now, there are only about 1,000 active market listings for sale in our local Great Smoky Mountains MLS association. At the same time, we have seen our number of buyers increase, but with less properties to consider, it’s definitely driven the demand, and the sales prices, up.

Winning the bid for the cabin in a seller's market isn't easy.However, if you’ve found a property your heart is set on, there’s hope. There are things you can do and ways you can approach the seller with an offer that will make them choose yours over everyone else’s. Here are few ways you can make the successful bid.

Be prepared to go above the asking price. This is just the reality in a sellers’ market. When supply isn’t keeping up with demand, the market value – what someone is willing to pay – inevitably goes up. We’ve seen a number of properties on the market sell for an amount above asking price, particularly when the property is in what agents will call a “multiple offer” situation. This is where the seller has received more than one offer, and instructed the agent to give all of the people making offers the chance to submit the very best offer they can within a set amount of time (usually a day or two). So if you had offered a little less than asking but someone else offered asking price or even just a couple of thousand dollars more, it’s more likely they will take that bid over yours.

Do anything you can to make your offer the most appealing. Going above asking price, particularly in a multiple offer situation, isn’t a guarantee you will win the bid. What matters the most is which offer looks to have the strongest chance of making it to closing. Can you buy the property with cash? If you can, that is usually the offer that will win. If not, then you will need to consider some other ways to make the offer more appealing. Get prequalified with a lender who will provide a letter. These days, lenders can get prequalification within five minutes, and most have an app where you can do it from the ease of your cell phone. Have a larger down payment or offer a higher escrow. Agree to take the property “as-is.” “As-is” is a real thing that happens frequently these days, but it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with the property if there’s something seriously wrong. You can still order a home inspection and go through the normal procedures, and if your inspector finds a problem that the two parties can’t resolve a way to fix, you can still will walk away from the purchase. Most sellers and their agents understand that if it is a serious issue with the property, it will have to be addressed if you decide not to buy the property after all. So that tends to make the seller a little more open to negotiating the repairs for those types of issues. And lastly…

Don’t wait to make the offer if it’s the one you really want. This is the hardest part of the home search for many buyers. Buying a home or cabin is a big decision and most people, understandably, want to take some time to think on the decision before they make an offer. Impulsive buying really goes against human nature, and rightly so. Unfortunately though, time is of the essence these days. While you’re sleeping on it, someone else is making an offer that could be accepted by the seller. It’s not uncommon for a buyer to miss out on the cabin or home they really want because they didn’t want to make an offer immediately.

The bottom line is, it’s a sellers’ market and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

Going into the home search with that understanding in mind will make the process of finding a home in a sellers’ market much less stressful for you and give you the edge in making the best, most attractive offer you can in order to win the bid for the home or cabin you really want.

Whether you’re buying or selling, the time to get started is now

If you’ve been thinking about buying or selling your home or cabin, now is the time  – whichever side of the process you are on.

buying or sellingFor sellers, it’s the right time to sell because you can ask for a higher price these days. The number of properties – including homes and vacation/rental cabins – is low, creating a market where those properties that are priced competitively will sell for very close to asking price and very quickly, too. It has also meant an increase in sales prices as people are willing to offer more to get the home they want and face a greater number of buyers competing for less inventory. We’ve seen properties with offers on them within as little as three days of being listed, and usually at or above the asking price of the cabin or home.

For buyers, it’s the right time to buy because interest rates are still relatively low and down payment terms are reasonable. If you are considering a cabin as a second home property, you should also talk with your accountant because it’s been reported that second homes are still eligible for some tax deductions that were removed from other types of home ownership in the tax bill the federal government adopted at the end of 2017. National outlets such as realtor.com are telling us to expect the rates to reach 5 percent before the end of the year, so the longer you wait, the more it may cost you in the long run. Of course, buyers who are working with lenders are getting some tough competition from buyers who are willing to bring cash to the table, so that’s something to keep in mind when making an offer on a home or cabin.

If you’re a buyer, another thing to consider is that homes are continuing to increase in value. So, if you wait another year, you’re going to pay more for the same square feet or the same house than you would right now. However, you don’t want to panic or settle for something that you don’t love, but waiting to start the search isn’t a good idea.

If you’re preparing for the process of buying or selling and want to learn more about the local market, need help determining the value of your property in order to sell it for the most appropriate price, or need help finding the best second home/investment cabin to buy, we are here to answer any questions you may have.

Six commonly asked questions about selling

selling a homeAre you thinking about selling your home?

Recently, I wrote an article for the Sevier News Messenger about the questions I am most commonly asked by new homeowners planning on selling their home or cabin on the market.

You can read the article in its entirety here.

If you are thinking about selling your home and have other questions you’d like to ask, don’t hesitate to call! I stay busy, but I’m never too busy to help you with any of your real estate needs. Call me anytime at 865-765-6157 or 865-429-2121. You can also call my support line at 865-654-2111.