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Serving our Communities by Hacking it Forward

Twice a year at realtor.com, our technology team comes together for a three-day hackathon. In the past, this has been an event where employees have a dedicated week of sprint time to focus on a new technical project outside of their normal work. Employees have proposed and created new software tools both for fellow employees and our end users, enhanced user experience interfaces, and much more. This year, we decided to do something different with Hack-it-Forward — a company-wide hackathon where every employee would have an opportunity to work on a project to benefit the communities we call home.   We have incredible employees that bring great heart and talent to work each day, focused on helping home shoppers and owners make informed real estate decisions. So, the logical question was, “Why not use our collective technical prowess to support local charities in the important work they do?”  Once the idea was born, employees throughout the company had the opportunity to nominate local charities. Together, we came up with a roster of 14 employee-nominated charities that were looking for help with a wide-range of projects.  Employees across our offices also volunteered their time to help with technical projects for charities, including: Friendship Place, Mountaineer Spay-Neuter Assistance Program, PACE Enterprises, Minds Matter, Pawsitive Friendships, Good Karma Bikes, Life Moves, Silicon Valley Pet Project, Resource Area for Teaching, Covenant House Vancouver, Home Start, Richmond Food Bank, My Brother Rocks the Spectrum, and White Heart Foundation. For those who didn’t feel up to solving a technical challenge, employees were able to make blankets for Project Linus, a charity that provides blankets to children in need. In all, we made 1,100 blankets.  It was amazing to watch employees who, in many cases, had never worked together, form strong bonds and innovate to create something powerful for a charity. For instance, one team included cross-functional employees from our Santa Clara and Vancouver offices that focused on developing a software tool to improve donation processes for Good Karma Bikes. Although the charity is always looking for bike donations, donated bikes need to be in good condition and the charity needed a way to determine if bikes were donatable before they were dropped off at their office. The realtor.com team not only created a tool to let people upload a photo of their potential bike donation so that it could be assessed, but also implemented image recognition to automate the assessment. What made this year’s hackathon so special was the collective impact we were able to make. I loved seeing the broad spectrum of all of the projects we accomplished. The thought of the ripple effect we made in helping charities themselves, and therefore help them better serve millions, is something I’m very proud that we did together as a company.  When we’re able to have that level of impact, our relationships with our colleagues are that much stronger. We made new connections with each other, learned some new skills along the way, and certainly go back to our day-to-day roles with an enhanced collaborative spirit and reminder that at the end of the day, it really is all about making our communities better.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

How to Stage a Grand Foyer

How to Stage a Grand Foyer Awe buyers from the front door. Check out REALTOR® Magazine's latest 'How I Staged It' slideshow. November 18, 2019 By:  Melissa Dittmann Tracey Being a Real Estate Professional
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Realtor.com® app – The Home of Home Search Wherever You Go

Buying a home is a complicated process, and for most people it’s the largest purchase they will ever make. There are some real pain points for consumers when it comes to buying and selling a home. Many home shoppers have a “Fear of Missing Out” (FOMO) or “Fear of Screwing Up” (FOSU). They’re also worried about what they can afford, and how they’ll make it through the process from start to finish. As a pioneer in the digital real estate space, realtor.com® has designed its mobile app for iOS and Android to make home buying and selling easier and more rewarding for everyone. We’ve improved the realtor.com® app based on consumer feedback to address these specific pain points. The app has received a 4.6-star rating on both iOS and Android. The realtor.com® app alleviates some of the pain and anxiety consumers face with features that inform, engage and entertain in delivering content that’s directly relevant to today’s home shoppers. Features like Price Perfect help home shoppers understand the costs of specific home features in different neighborhoods, removing some of the uncertainty and fear that comes with that aspect of the home search.  The app’s Commute Time filter is designed to help buyers understand how long it will take to drive to and from work before pulling the trigger on a home purchase. Buyers enter a basic search of bedrooms, bathrooms and location, and can then filter listings that match their preferred commute time in 10-minute increments up to 60 minutes or more. Users can then view all of the available homes that match their search parameters and commuting distance. Users can also click on the “traffic” toggle, and the filter will work for commute times with and without traffic. The traffic toggle is the first of its kind in the industry. Our newest feature, Photo First, helps home shoppers hone in on the home features that matter to them most. The first-of-its-kind feature is designed to deliver the best browsing experience by making photos more personalized, relevant, and seamless than ever before. Powered by deep learning, the Photo First feature automatically recognizes characteristics of a room and organizes photos into categories with more than 97 percent accuracy. Users can select room categories from the listings details page to view photos of the rooms that interest them most – whether that’s the kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, other living areas, or even the home’s exterior. In select markets across the U.S., we’re testing features on the app that help users move seamlessly between online home search and real-world experiences. Home shoppers in these markets can schedule a tour for a home they’re interested in directly from the realtor.com® app, which allows us to connect them with an agent who can best help them. In eligible markets, buyers can also receive a cash reward upon closing with their agent. These rewards create an effective incentive for home buyers, who are more likely to remain with their agent from introduction to transaction close. They also help streamline the entire search-to-close experience for today’s home shoppers.  After a buyer has agreed to be connected with a local agent in these markets, he or she can contact that agent directly from the property listing on any realtor.com® search result to ask questions about that property, schedule a tour, arrange a meeting, or request additional support from their agent – all through the realtor.com® app. Consumers are responding with enthusiasm to this experience. Since May 2019, we’ve seen marked improvement in consumer satisfaction in these markets with the realtor.com® experience, levels of engagement with real estate professionals, and close rates – anywhere from 20 to 120 percent above previous levels.    Here are two recent examples of home shoppers who used the realtor.com® app not only to find homes that were right for them, but also to connect with an agent who could best help them seal the deal.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Good Neighbors Build Better Communities

There’s something about home that makes us feel good. Home is where the heart is. Home for the holidays. There’s no place like home. For those of us at realtor.com®, it’s easy to feel good about the work we do, too. We help bring people home. And in doing that, we help connect them to professionals who can help them find the home that’s right for them. Many of those professionals are Realtors® – members of the National Association of Realtors®. NAR is a trade association that represents 1.3 million Realtors®. And every year, NAR recognizes a select group of its members for the good work they do beyond helping people buy and sell homes to improve lives and communities across the U.S. and around the world. They call them Good Neighbors.  Realtor.com is the Good Neighbor Awards’ primary sponsor; every year five Good Neighbor recipients receive $10,000 for their charity or project. This year was the 20th year of the program. So much in this industry and our world has changed over the past 20 years. Just think, 20 years ago there were no smartphones and no social media platforms!  Today, we can all leverage technology to improve the world around us, but the Realtor® Good Neighbors remind us of the value and impact of getting directly involved in our communities to make the world a better place.  When realtor.com began sponsoring the Good Neighbor Awards, we saw an opportunity to use technology and traditional media to draw public attention to what these Realtors® were doing in the real world. That’s why we promote the program across social media, run a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, and sponsor a Web Choice Favorites online voting program.    We award additional grant money to the winner and runners up from our online public voting. Nearly 55,000 votes were cast this year, and the 2019 Web Choice Favorite is Paul Wyman, who will receive an additional $2,500 donation for his nonprofit, Turning Point. Wyman established Turning Point to help people who are confronting opioid addiction get the resources and services they need. Turning Point helped 1,400 people last year access services related to addiction and rehabilitation.   Runners-up Bruce Johnson and Mark Solomon will each receive an additional $1,250 for their respective programs – SickKids Foundation and Veterans Community Project. Through SickKids Foundation, Johnson raises money through long-distance motorcycle ride fundraisers to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network’s 170 children’s hospitals in the U.S. and Canada. Solomon co-founded Veterans Community Project, which establishes tiny house developments to combat veteran homelessness. The developments include additional resources for veterans, such as medical and mental health referrals, employment assistance, and addiction counseling and treatment.  Congratulations to Wyman, Johnson, Solomon, and all of the 200 Good Neighbor Award recipients over the years. Every one of them inspires us to connect in meaningful ways to others and reminds us of the importance of building communities, one home at a time.  
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

November/December Southport/OakIsland Brunswick events

Veterans Day Ceremony Nov 11, 2019 - Nov 11, 2019, 11:00 a.m.
St. James Community Center, Southport ADDRESS: 4136 Southport-Supply Road , Southport, NC 28461     Veterans Day Breakfast Nov 11, 2019 - Nov 11, 2019, 8:30 - 11:00 a.m.
Cape Fear Regional Jetport, Oak Island ADDRESS: 4000 Airport Road , Oak Island, NC 28465 PHONE: (910) 471-7710 Enjoy an all you can eat pancake breakfast at the Cape Fear Jetport on Monday, November 11 from 8:30 - 11:00 a.m. PRICE RANGE: Free for Veterans; Suggested donation of $6 for all others.   Live and Local Nov 15, 2019 - Nov 15, 2019, 4:00 - 7:30 p.m.
Middleton Park, Oak Island ADDRESS: SE 46th Street , Oak Island, NC 28465 Already dreaming of next summer's Farmer's Market and Summer Concert Series? Beginning this October, Oak Island will be bringing the best of summer to Middleton Park each third Friday of the month. Join Oak Island Parks and Recreation Department for an evening of live music, local food and craft vendors, and celebrating our coastal community!  PRICE RANGE: Free     Campfire @ The Cove Nov 16, 2019 - Nov 16, 2019, 4:00 - 6:00 p.m.
Leland ADDRESS: 844 Appleton Way NE , Leland, NC 28451 PHONE: (910) 408-3092 EMAIL: Send Email   Bring the whole family to experience the simple things in life. Sit around the campfire, roast marshmallows for making s'mores while listening to music and enjoy some quality time together. We hope you'll join us for this free event! PRICE RANGE: Free     Tree Lighting Ceremony Nov 29, 2019 - Nov 29, 2019, 5:30 p.m.
Franklin Square Park, Southport ADDRESS: 105 E West Street , Southport, NC 28461 PHONE: (910) 457-7927 Join Mayor Dove and other Southport revelers in Franklin Square Park as the holiday season kicks off with a countdown to the lighting of our big holiday tree. Sing favorite Christmas songs and delight in the reading of “The Night Before Christmas.” Enjoy a cup of hot cocoa and some holiday cookies that will be provided under the glow of Southport’s holiday lights. PRICE RANGE: Free     First Friday Gallery Walk Dec 6, 2019 - Dec 6, 2019, 5:00 - 7:00 p.m.
Downtown Southport, Southport ADDRESS: 211 N Howe Street , Southport, NC 28461 PHONE: (910) 457-1129 Come to Southport for the First Friday Gallery Walk! Stroll downtown art galleries, enjoy their hospitality and the featured artists at each gallery. The galley walk takes place on the first Friday of each month all year except January, February & July. Hours of the walk are from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. at participating art galleries. The public is invited to browse and shop the latest creations of area artists.   Partial List of Participating Galleries: Art @ 211 The Ricky Evans Gallery – 211 N. Howe Street, Southport Lantana’s Gallery & Fine Gifts – 113 S. Howe Street, Southport Franklin Square Gallery – 130 E. West Street, Southport PRICE RANGE: Free Christmas by the Sea Parade Dec 7, 2019 - Dec 7, 2019, 2:00 p.m.
Oak Island ADDRESS: 4601 E Oak Island Dr. , Oak Island, NC 28465 PHONE: (910) 457-6964   Christmas is perhaps the best time of year to visit the North Carolina coast. The average air temperature is 59.4 degrees and the sun is warm. In celebration of this wonderful weather and the holidays, the Chamber organizes the Christmas by the Sea Parade for the first Saturday in December on Oak Island. The Christmas by the Sea Parade is on Saturday, December 7, 2019 at 2:00 p.m. going on a 2.4-mile parade route from Oak Island Town Hall, traveling Oak Island Drive to McGlamery Street. The parade showcases the businesses and organizations in our community. The hometown feel of the parade makes it a favorite event of locals, second homeowners and visitors. PRICE RANGE: Free   Winterfest - Schedule of Events Dec 7, 2019 - Dec 14, 2019, Daytime and Nighttime Holiday Events
Various Locations, Southport PHONE: (910) 457-7927 Kick off the holiday season with a week of celebration and events throughout the downtown area. Guests of all ages may enjoy live theater, a WinterFest Tea Party, cookie contest, supper with Santa’s elves, view the "Polar Express,” step back in history with a costumed history tour, Christmas fire engine parade, Winter Craft Festival, book sale, performing arts, Santa’s workshop, historic jail tour, WinterFest Tour of Homes, and wrap up the week with the Christmas Flotilla. For more information please visit the website. All events are free unless otherwise noted. Saturday, December 7th Winter Fest Tea - Southport Community Building, 223 E Bay St. at 1:00 p.m., $40   Sunday, December 8th A Pet Holiday Party - Keziah Park, 113 W. Moore St - pictures with Santa will be available    Monday, December 9th South Brunswick High School Choral Concert - Southport Community Building, 223 E. Bay St at 6:30 p.m. - free   Tuesday, December 10th Shop-with-a-Cop Concert - Franklin Square Park, 105 E Moore St. at 5:30 p.m. - free   Wednesday, December 11th Holiday Cookie Contest - Southport Community Building, 223 E Bay St. from 3:00 - 5:30 p.m. Supper with Santa's Elves - 209 N Atlantic Ave. from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m., $5 per child   Thursday, December 12th Christmas Movie "Polar Express" - Fort Johnston Garrison Lawn, 203 E Bay St. at 5:00 p.m.   Friday, December 13th Costumed Holiday History Tour - NC Maritime Museum at Southport, 204 E Moore St. from 3:00 - 5:00 p.m. Light Up the Night Christmas Fire Engine Parade - Waterfront Park and down Howe Street back to the Southport Fire Station at 5:30 p.m.   Saturday, December 14th Winter Craft Festival - Franklin Square Park, 105 E Moore St. from 9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Book Sale - 727 N Howe St. from 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Santa's Workshop - 209 N Atlantic Ave from 10:00 - 11:00 a.m. WinterFest Performing Arts - Southport Community Building, 223 E Bay St. from 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. Old Brunswick County Jail Tours - corner of Nash and Rhett streets from 1:00 - 6:00 p.m. A Coastal Christmas - NC Maritime Museum at Southport from 5:00 - 7:00 p.m. Christmas Tour of Homes - historic downtown Southport from 1:00 - 6:00 p.m., $15 in advance, $20 day of tour Southport Christmas Flotilla - waterfront viewing from the Yacht Basin to Kingsley Park beginning at 7:00 p.m. PRICE RANGE: Free unless listed

Katherine Farber

Katherine Farber

 

What Color Should I Paint My Walls for the Best Return?

Painting your home is a great way to express yourself and let your personality shine through in your living space. The colors you choose for your rooms can really bring them to life in ways that few other changes can. However, a fresh coat of paint can do more than just give your rooms some personality. With the right colors, the paint you choose can even increase the likelihood that your house will sell at a good price when you put it on the market. To maximize this effect, there are a few colors you should consider (and a few you should avoid.) Picking the Right Color If you’re looking for a good color to apply throughout the house, consider a light shade of gray or beige. Both of these colors help to liven up rooms by adding just a bit of color but are neutral enough to let each room’s other accents take command. If you want something a bit different, taupe or so-called “greige” colors (mixes of gray and beige) can also work well. Some off-white colors, especially those with hints of brown or other warm shades, can also brighten up your rooms. Many of these colors pair well with white or beige baseboards and trim. Good Kitchen Colors If you’re going room by room, the kitchen is a good place to add a bit of darker color. Darker grays and grays mixed with darker blue shades do well in the kitchen; in fact, some reports have shown that homes with a gray-blue shade in the kitchen sell for an average of $1800 more than similar homes with other kitchen shades. Depending on the size of your kitchen and the amount of wall that’s actually visible behind the cabinets and appliances, you may be able to get away with hotter colors such as deep red or dark orange. Just avoid going too bright with whatever color you choose. Living Room and Bath Colors The living area and bathroom both benefit from more neutral shades such as beige and gray, but that doesn’t mean you can’t change things up in some cases. Consider the flooring and other fixtures as well as the amount of natural light that comes into the room and look at colors that take advantage of what’s already there. Light green, blue or brown can sometimes work wonderfully, especially if they include hints of gray to keep them from being too bright. You can even choose a bit stronger blues in the bathroom as homebuyers tend to respond well to blue there, just so long as you don’t go for too bright of a shade. Bedroom Colors Blue is a popular bedroom color, especially in shades such as cerulean. There are several bold color choices that you can get away with in the bedroom, though. Don’t go crazy with the bedroom colors and avoid anything that’s too bright – but giving the bedroom a splash of color in blue, green or even red or brown can work well so long as it’s not too much of a departure from the rest of the house. Colors to Avoid There are, of course, a few colors that you should avoid when painting your walls. Anything too bright or garish should obviously be avoided since it could turn off potential buyers. Black is another color to avoid; not only do many people find it depressing, but it will also be difficult for future homeowners to cover up. Also on the list of colors to avoid? Bright white. You might think that this would give your home a clean look or make it ready for a new homeowner to customize, but bright whites (especially when paired with white trim) often create a clinical look that actually makes buyers less interested in the space.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Bee-Safe: Pest Extermination Tips

It can’t be overstated just how beneficial bees are to our ecosystem. Bees pollinate an astonishing 80 percent of the world’s plants, including fruits and vegetables that feed up to 90 percent of the world’s population. Certain nuts and beans would likely go completely extinct, as well as fruits like blueberries and cherries which are almost entirely pollinated by bees. Meat scarcity could arise as cattle feed on pollinated plants, and some common medicines may become difficult if not impossible to manufacture. Life as we know it would become a lot harder to maintain without our friend the humble bee. Given the importance of bees, then, how do you take care of other pests around your home without putting bees in danger? And what happens if the bees themselves are acting like pests? Here are a few ways to keep your home safe and pest-free while ensuring that you don’t put bees in harm’s way. Maintain Your Yard One great way to get rid of pests without running the risk of hurting the bees is to keep your yard maintained. Keep flower beds free of weeds, mow the grass as needed to keep it from getting overgrown and fill in any rodent or snake holes that you find. This helps eliminate cover and potential nesting places for unwanted pests including wasps and yellow jackets. It will also keep weeds under control which might otherwise provide both food and shelter for these pests. Remove or Contain Attractants Trash cans, outdoor pet food, spilled sugary drinks and other food sources can attract a lot of pests to your property. As much as possible, try to cover or remove these attractants so the pests don’t arrive in the first place. If you can’t completely remove the items (such as in cases where you have pets who live outside and need food and water), try creating an enclosure for the items or elevating them on stands so they don’t make direct contact with the ground. Study Pesticide Options There are some pesticides which aren’t toxic to bees but are still effective when used against other pests. Substances such as gibberellic acid pesticides, corn gluten and pesticides made using bacillus thuringiensis (BT) are not toxic or agents of disease for honeybees, provided they aren’t used in excessive doses. If you need to use a pesticide, research bee-friendly options and apply them late in the evening when bees are most likely to be back in their hives so that you don’t accidentally spray pollinating bees with large doses of the chemicals. Avoid Catch-All Traps or Baits It may be tempting to use items such as wasp traps or baits designed to attract certain insects, but these are indiscriminate and can kill bees as well. Traps are especially harmful as the attractants they use to draw in wasps and flies may also attract bees who think that they are detecting flowers in bloom. Find a Local Beekeeper If bees themselves are the problem, don’t try to get rid of them yourself. Find a local beekeeper or honey producer and let them know that you’ve found a beehive or have a number of bees on your property. They’ll come and locate the hive, capturing the bees and their queen safely so that they can be moved to a safe hive away from your home. This will not only keep you and your family safe from bee stings, but it will keep the bees safe, healthy and happy as wel
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Do You Really Need New Cabinets?

Are you in the market for some new cabinets? While it might seem like a good idea at first, replacing your cabinets might end up being more of a hassle than you expect. Take heart, though! You may be able to give your cabinets a refresh for a lot less money (and stress!) than getting full replacement cabinets. If you’re not happy with your cabinets, here are a few options to consider before you rip them out completely. Adding a Coat of Paint One of the simplest fixes you can make when it comes to your cabinets is simply adding a new coat of paint. So long as the cabinets themselves are still in decent shape, painting them can completely renew your kitchen and turn drab or ugly cabinets into virtual works of art. This can help you to match your cabinets to new appliances or a new decorating style and is also a huge help if your cabinets are a bit old and have simply faded or peeled with time. Just make sure that you take the time to do this job right; slapping new paint on top of a peeling finish without sanding or trying to cover stains and discolorations without a coat or two of primer is just asking for trouble. New Doors and Fixtures If your cabinets need a little more than just a coat of paint, consider upgrading their hardware as well. Handles, hinges and other fixtures are easy to replace and can completely change the look of your cabinets with relatively little work. You can also replace latches or cabinet locks while you’re at it, helping those cabinets that always seem to hang open to finally stay shut when you close them. If your problems are a bit more severe and you have damaged, warped or otherwise bad-looking cabinet doors, you can change them as well! New doors will completely revitalize your old cabinets and can be a great solution if the cabinet body and shelving is still in good shape. Best of all, if you still want to add a coat of paint you can easily paint the new doors before mounting them – much easier than doing it after they’ve been hung. Refacing Your Cabinets Ok, so maybe your cabinets need a little more work than just new doors but the shelves and interiors are still in good shape. This is where refacing comes in. When you reface your cabinets, you’ll not only replace the doors and fixtures but you’ll also add veneer or other coverings to the outside of the cabinet body as well. This will cover up any cracks or other damage as well as unsightly stains, giving you the look of a fresh install at a fraction of the work. You won’t have to actually remove the cabinets but everyone who enters your kitchen will think that you did! Do You Need New Cabinets? If the interiors or the shelves in your cabinets are warped, damaged or otherwise in rough shape, you might have to go ahead and replace the full cabinets. The process is fairly straightforward, insofar as it just involves removing the old cabinets and putting new ones in. It may cost more than you expect, though, and the process is often a little more involved than that basic description makes it sound. If the cabinets need to go, though, don’t settle for substandard cabinetry just because you don’t want to do a full replacement. The solutions above are great when they work, but if your problems are too severe for them then by all means get some new cabinets in there.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Deliveries, Security and You

In our modern always-connected world, it seems like we’re always having packages dropped off from one re-tailer or another. If you receive packages regularly while you’re not home, though, you may be setting yourself up for problems. Packages left alone on your porch invite thieves to come up and take them, and if there are regularly people coming to your property to drop deliveries off then your neighbors might not think that it’s strange when one more person walks up with a box… even if it turns out to be a burglar with the foresight to throw on a brown shirt and carry a package. So how can you make sure that your package deliveries aren’t creating a big risk for you? There are a few ways. Establish a Delivery Area When placing orders online, you often have the option to provide instructions to delivery drivers to make sure that your packages are delivered correctly. If you’re concerned about how frequent deliveries affect your home security, you can use these instructions as a powerful tool to thwart would-be thieves. Set up a delivery area around your home that’s covered or otherwise protected but not directly adjacent to your home and leave instructions for drivers to place any packages there. If possible, place the delivery space in an area that is clearly visible from neighboring houses as well. Because this designated area stands on its own, anyone entering it to try and steal packages will be very visible. It also foils would-be burglars because they now have no convenient excuse to approach your house. Set Up Security Cameras One thing that you can do to keep both your home and your packages safe is to install security cameras around your front door. This will allow you to see who’s coming to your house and will also provide evidence in case a burglar or thief approaches. If someone comes on your porch and steals your packages, you’ll have video of the thief and you’ll have proof that a theft took place so you can file a claim with the shipping company or retailer. You can even put cameras in an external delivery area if you’ve set one up! Make sure that you purchase a high-quality camera, though; cheap security cameras provide grainy and washed out footage that makes it very difficult to identify a perpetrator. Invest in Smart Monitors If you’re worried that a burglar might dress as a delivery person to gain access to your property, consider installing smart monitors on your windows and doors. These monitors may or may not be part of an alarm system – but setting off an alarm isn’t all that they can do. When triggered, the devices can notify you not only that a window or door was opened but also which one was triggered. This allows you to call a neighbor or notify the police and provide very specific details as to where a potential burglar entered. In some cases, the monitors may even be integrated into locks so that you can lock windows or doors remotely if you realize that you left them unlocked, taking care of a mistake that might have given a burglar easy access to your home. Install a Security System If these solutions don’t do enough to keep your packages and your home safe, consider getting a full home security system installed. These systems are more than just alarms; they contain several components that work together, along with active monitoring to contact the authorities or take other action if something suspicious occurs. Best of all, they can protect your home from other problems such as fires and even water leaks.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

What’s New in Legislation for Homeowners?

Owning a home can be expensive, though the benefits of home ownership typically outweigh the cost. Occasionally, changes to the law at either the state or national level can affect how these benefits and costs affect you. This is especially true if you’re still considering whether or not to buy a house, since knowing how the law stands can have a big impact on your final decision. Some legislation affecting homeowners is enacted at the federal level, while other bits of legislation come from the state. Because of the significant differences in the reach of these different types of legislation, it can be hard to cover all of the changes in law that affect homeowners from year to year. To help keep you informed, though, here are some fairly recent legislation trends that may be worth looking into. Tax Break Changes One big change that’s hitting a lot of homeowners hard is the elimination of some tax breaks that were formerly offered for home ownership. While this doesn’t directly affect the cost of owning a home, it can have a significant impact on your tax return if you were expecting to qualify for one of these expired breaks. Tax law is complex and can change from one year to the next, so it’s possible that these breaks (or others like them) will see a return in future years. However, it’s important to check each year before filing your taxes to make sure that you haven’t gotten mixed up by tax break changes or missed a break that you could have qualified for. Roof Replacement Costs In some areas, the law allowed homeowners to replace their roof without all of the costs normally associated with such a big job. This was due to contractors being allowed to waive a portion of their fees equal to the deductible on the customer’s homeowner’s insurance. Unfortunately, changes in the law are starting to shut this down. States like Texas are changing the law so that contractors caught waiving the deductible could face fines or even jail time. Homeowners obviously aren’t big fans of such changes, since they result in more out-of-pocket expenses when having to use their homeowner’s insurance. Solar and Alt Energy Incentives There were a number of solar and alternative energy incentives available to homeowners at both the state and federal level, but some of these have been altered, were negated or simply expired without renewal in the last year or two. In some cases, federal programs have been replaced by state programs that provide similar incentives. In other cases, the incentives have been revamped and renewed later. Not all tax breaks and other incentives have been renewed, though, so it’s important for homeowners to confirm that specific programs still exist before depending upon them to add alternative energy solutions to their homes. Home Loan Changes It seems like there are significant changes to home loans every few years – and recent years have been no exception. Fortunately for those wanting to buy a new home or refinance an existing loan, some recent bits of legislation have expanded on borrowing limits for certain types of loans without adding new restrictions. Unfortunately, many of these laws affect lending through state-level programs instead of making adjustments to loans at the federal level. Some also only affect certain types of homes or houses that are built for specific uses. If you’re waiting for changes to federal loan programs, you may have to wait a bit longer before those programs see major updates. Consult the Experts It’s hard to stay on top of the changes in laws from one year to the next. Having a lawyer or real estate expert to help you sort through all of it can be a great way to keep from being caught unprepared by these new laws.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Tips For Lowering Your Mortgage Insurance Payment

Mortgage insurance can be a pain, though in many cases it’s a necessary evil. Without mortgage insurance you may not be able to qualify for certain loan programs, including loans serviced through the FHA. Depending on the circumstances of your loan and the insurance you buy, this can be a considerable expense. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce this expense; in some cases, you may even be able to get rid of mortgage insurance altogether! Be sure to keep in mind that like many things loan-related, there are a lot of factors that go into determining your mortgage insurance costs. While these tips may help you to lower that payment, their effectiveness will vary from person to person. Build Your Credit As with loan interest rates, mortgage insurance costs can be affected by your credit score. Mortgage insurance is designed to provide additional safety for the lender that extends the loan. As such, the better your credit score is, the less risk there is that you’ll default on the loan. If you can improve your credit, you’ll have a much stronger case for negotiating a lower mortgage insurance payment. Pay Down Your Loan Mortgage insurance is typically required when your down payment is under 20 percent of the value of your home. As such, you can usually renegotiate it or have it removed entirely as you build equity. If you can afford it, make additional payments against your loan to pay it down and build equity faster; this will get you in a position to renegotiate your mortgage insurance sooner than you would otherwise be able to. Refinance Your Mortgage Provided that you can get a good deal on your new loan, refinancing is a great way to reduce the cost of mortgage insurance. Because you’re taking out a new loan to pay off the previous one, any mortgage insurance that’s required will be based on the new loan amount in comparison to your home’s value. If you refinance with a loan that’s for 80 percent or less than the total value of your home, then you likely won’t have to take out mortgage insurance for the new loan at all. Likewise, if you can refinance with some government-backed loans such as those offered through the Department of Veteran Affairs or the Department of Agriculture, then you should be able to skip the mortgage insurance as well. Increase Your Home’s Value Another option for reducing or eliminating your mortgage insurance payment is increasing the value of your home. In some cases, this is simply a matter of having the property appraised again; there are a number of external factors that can affect property value, and if your property sees a value increase then you can use this to renegotiate your mortgage insurance rate. If that isn’t an option, consider home improvements or similar actions that will increase the value of your property so that you can get out from under that insurance umbrella. Talk to Your Lender If you aren’t sure what to do, talk to your lender and see which options are best in your situation. They may look at your mortgage payment history and other factors to help you find a way to reduce that insurance cost. They can also help you calculate your equity and see exactly how much more you’ll need to significantly reduce (or completely eliminate) your mortgage insurance obligations. If you’ve already built over 20 percent equity then you may be able to simply ask for the insurance to be cancelled in your first contact with the lender. Ask the Experts Since mortgage insurance costs can vary from person to person, it’s always a good idea to find a professional to advise you about your specific loan situation.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Finding home features that matter most with the realtor.com Photo First℠ feature

A photo is worth a thousand words, especially when you’re looking for a home. Until now, home shoppers have had to scroll through dozens of listing photos to see if a home has the features they are looking for. With the new realtor.com Photo First℠ feature, you can say goodbye to endless scrolling and instead, hone in on the home features that matter to you most. The first-of-its-kind feature is designed to deliver the best browsing experience by making photos more personalized, relevant, and seamless than ever before.  The Photo First feature is now available on Android and iOS, and will be coming soon to web and mobile web. Powered by deep learning, the Photo First feature automatically recognizes characteristics of a room and organizes photos into categories with more than 97 percent accuracy.  If for instance, an open-concept kitchen is a non-negotiable for you in your home search, you may want to ensure the home has that feature before looking at other photos of the listing. And now you can. Simply select the kitchen category from the listing details page, and that category’s photos will be brought into view. You can do the same with other feature categories such as exterior, bathroom, bedroom, living room, or dining room. Browsing kitchen photos with the Photo First featureDeveloped with colleagues on our mobile and data science teams, the Photo First feature was a rewarding feature to develop. We know that photos are an essential element of home search, particularly given that many people are visual learners, and that our photo experience is currently the most engaged part of our app. By taking users through our reimagined photo experience, the home-shopping process can be expedited and make buying and selling a home simpler and more enjoyable. We also understand that the home-shopping process can be time consuming. If we can shave off some of that time by leveraging the power of AI and implement a proprietary deep learning model for image classification, that’s a win for everyone. And thanks to the feature’s deep learning-based algorithm, there is no additional work required for the seller or listing agent to optimize the photos.  The result is a simple and streamlined interface that during beta testing, 100 percent of test users preferred the Photo First feature interface. This new functionality led to more consumers viewing the home details, getting delighted about the home, and connecting with a real estate professional to take the next step. Photo categorization is the first of several planned AI-powered photo feature updates designed to help make buying and selling a home more gratifying than ever. We are excited to release this product feature and hope that you enjoy using the Photo First feature as much as we enjoyed developing it.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Our Picks: 10 Most Horrifying Decorative Trends

Our Picks: 10 Most Horrifying Decorative Trends October is the month for thrills and chills, but your sense of interior design shouldn’t be what’s scaring people. October 25, 2019 By:  Melissa Dittmann Tracey Design Trends
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Keepin’ it Weird and Wonderful in Austin

Realtor.com® isn’t just a great place to find a home, it’s also home to more than 1,700 people in North America who come to work every day with the goal of being a trusted partner, helping people find and buy their dream home and sell with confidence. On Sept. 30, we opened our second office in Austin, Texas – our eighth realtor.com office.  We recently sat down with Erin Koops, director of partner success, to learn more about work, life, and home in one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. What do you do at realtor.com? When prospective home buyers and sellers are looking at homes on realtor.com and ask to be connected with an agent, we take the time to understand each consumer’s specific needs, then match him or her to a local agent who fits those needs.  I work with the brokerages and agents we partner with to provide this service.  We, of course, want to make sure our partner agents know how to easily navigate the technology we use, so right now I’m helping to grow our training library. How did you end up in Austin? My wife and I always dreamed about living in a warm weather climate and enjoying an outdoor lifestyle.  After enduring decades of Chicago winters, we decided not to wait for retirement to enjoy both. I’d been visiting friends in Austin for years, so knew the city had everything we were looking for in addition to great career opportunities. What do you like most about living here? Did I mention the gorgeous weather? All kidding aside, we’ve really fallen in love with the entrepreneurial spirit that is Austin. It’s inspiring to see so many independent companies and restaurants sprouting all over town and it’s amazing to watch how quickly businesses evolve and transform here, including countless tech start-ups. We’ve both benefited from that in our careers here in Austin – realtor.com actually has two offices in Austin, and I’m lucky enough to be one of 600 employees in those two offices. Outside of work, my wife and I take full advantage of the year-round warm weather and hilly terrain to hike and bike. Our favorite weekends are spent road-tripping to tiny towns peppered all over the beautiful hill country or boating on Lake Travis. Hill Country is just gorgeous – it’s different than what many people imagine when they think of Texas.  Describe your current home. Moving to Austin was a big change. My wife and I lived in a tiny high-rise apartment in the West Loop of Chicago – a very urban environment. Now we live in a big ranch-style home in a quiet southwest suburb of Austin. The house suits our lifestyle, though, since we can step out our back gate and take the dogs for a hike on the Violet Crown Trail (one of many trails snaking through Austin’s protected greenbelt).  It’s been nice to get to know the families in our neighborhood – and learn how to take care of a yard!  But, in a fun twist, we can and still do walk to the grocery store, just like we did in Chicago. And I still enjoy my fill of city living during the week, sampling the restaurants, coffee houses and art studios that surround the new realtor.com Tech Center in East Austin.   How did you find your home?  Before we visited Austin to house hunt, we were constantly looking at homes on realtor.com. Online, my wife and I could get a sense of what we could afford and which neighborhoods looked like they might be a good fit. I loved being able to set up alerts so I could find out about new homes for sale as soon as they came on the market; it was always exciting to get a new notice!  My wife loved the ability to filter for special features, like a 3rd garage for her home-gym.  I knew from my time working with brokers and agents across the country that realtor.com had the most MLS-listed for-sale homes among all national portals, and most of the listings are updated at least every 15 minutes – so we were much less likely to fall in love with a home only to learn it was no longer available.  In addition to our online house hunting, finding an agent that was right for us was huge! The agent we worked with is from a local Austin brokerage, and she really knew the city. We actually started working with her while we were still in Chicago, so as she got to know us, our agent helped us match neighborhoods to our personalities and understand the city from a different perspective. Thanks to her help, we narrowed down our search considerably, so we were able to find our first Austin home during a quick weekend visit.   Ultimately, our agent helped us feel so much more comfortable and excited in the otherwise overwhelming process of relocation, and in the end, we bought a home in her neighborhood, so she’s also now our neighbor and friend. What advice would you give to someone who, like you, may be moving to a different city or state and is looking for a home?  It’s great to look and get excited, but you can only do so much online. The real magic happens when you visit in person, explore neighborhoods and start walking through homes with an agent, someone who really knows the ins and outs of the area. So my advice is to connect with an agent sooner rather than later. They love guiding and welcoming transferees into the communities they call home. The right agent can be your city ambassador. Beyond helping you find a house, he or she can introduce you to the people and places that are part of what we all think of as “home.”             
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

Kitchen Hoods That Steal the Spotlight

Kitchen Hoods That Steal the Spotlight From metal to mismatched finishes, a stylish range hood can give your kitchen an instant upgrade. October 21, 2019 By:  Melissa Dittmann Tracey Design Trends, Kitchen & Bath
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

The Statement Ceiling: A Reason to Look Up!

The Statement Ceiling: A Reason to Look Up! Make a space memorable by dressing up the fifth wall. See how these stagers and designers did it. October 7, 2019 By:  Melissa Dittmann Tracey Staging, Design Trends
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Lean into Lending Support

“What’s a mortgage?” “It’s like waterboarding, but you do it to yourself.” So goes the conversation from a recent ice cream commercial. But in reality, securing the right mortgage can be just as rewarding as a scoop of rocky road; it’s an exciting step on the path to living your best life in a home that suits you and your family. If you’re looking for a home, chances are you’re in the market for a mortgage. You’re not alone; more than 6 in 10 of all U.S. homes carry a mortgage. Whether you’re buying your first home or moving on to your next, finding and securing the loan that’s right for you can be time-consuming and stressful. After all, a home is the largest investment most people will ever make. Luckily, realtor.com® helps make it as easy to find a mortgage lender as it does to search for homes on the site. We also offer tools and resources that I dare say can help make your financing journey kind of enjoyable – or at the very least, help give you the confidence you need to find a lender who can work with you to secure the mortgage that’s right for you. As you begin your search, you might be wondering how much home can you can afford. The terms of your mortgage ultimately will depend on several factors, including your down payment amount, home price, length of the loan, credit score and current interest rates.  When I bought my first house in the mid-1990s, my 30-year mortgage carried an interest rate of 7.5 percent, and that was a good deal at the time! With interest rates predicted to remain below 5 percent for the rest of the year, though, that 7.5 percent rate seems almost like usury by today’s standards. And when my parents refinanced our family home in the early 80s, interest rates – at around 18 percent – were as high as the hairstyles on some of my favorite glam rock bands at the time. Even a 1 percent change in mortgage’s interest rate can make tens of thousands of dollars’ difference in total payments over the life of the loan, so it makes sense to educate yourself. Using the various tools on realtor.com® in the “Mortgage” section, you can research current interest rates, calculate your monthly mortgage payments, explore how different features may affect a home’s price, and find a home within your budget.     You can even search for homes from many of these features. And while you’re searching, you can contact lenders who do business in the markets and neighborhoods you’re interested in. Realtor.com® helps make it easy for you to find the professional support and guidance you need to get your finances in order. It’s the better way to buy your home. So as you embark on your home search journey, spend some time learning about your financing options, and consider contacting a lender who can help you along the way. Perhaps the two of you can enjoy a celebratory sundae once you’re settled in your new home.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

 

The Post-Inspection Negotiation Two-Step: What You Can Expect

Inspections are an important part of the home-selling process. The home inspector will locate any potential problems with the property, making sure that all involved know what’s wrong and what needs to be fixed. What happens then, though? Whose responsibility is it to fix the issues that the home inspector discovered? As with a lot of problems, the answer is a resounding “It depends.” Gauging Severity One big determining factor in how problems found in a home inspection are dealt with is how severe the issues are. A major problem with a property can be a deal breaker for many buyers. Depending on where you live, such a problem may even have to be addressed before the property can be sold. State-level restrictions vary, but most are rooted in making sure that sellers can’t avoid fixing potentially dangerous problems or leave them for the buyer to discover on their own. Even if a problem isn’t critical, most states require that any problems found by a home inspection be disclosed to potential buyers. This disclosure is a big deal, as it can significantly affect how much the buyers are willing to pay. Loan Program Requirements Beyond repair and disclosure requirements that vary from state to state, different loan programs (such as those offered by the Federal Housing Authority or Department of Housing and Urban Development) may have additional requirements when it comes to problems discovered during a home inspection. Many programs have very specific guidelines regarding the condition of the property that a buyer can purchase using those loans. If a loan program won’t allow a purchase while unsatisfactory conditions exist, the issues must either be repaired or have satisfactory arrangements made to facilitate the repair before the purchase can continue. Keep in mind that not all loan programs will make allowances for future repairs, either; in those cases, the repairs will either have to be made in full or the buyer will have to find a different lender that does not follow the same strict requirements. Negotiating Repairs In the event that there aren’t specific regulations at the state level or restrictions in the buyer’s loan program concerning problems with the property, it falls to the buyer and the seller to determine what repairs will be made. This is typically part of the price negotiation, as buyers are willing to pay more for a property that they don’t have to make extensive repairs to. In many cases, sellers may offer to cover the most pressing repairs and address any serious issues while the buyer assumes responsibility for any other issues found in the buyer’s home inspection disclosure. In many cases this will be agreed to in writing, either at the request of one of the parties or as a condition of the mortgage loan that the buyer is using for the purchase. By formalizing the agreement in writing, it ensures that both parties understand their responsibility and protects the seller from potential legal action regarding issues that weren’t addressed (provided that the seller completed all of the repairs that they agreed to.) Market Strength The strength of the housing market can have a big effect on who does the bulk of repairs on a property. If similar properties are plentiful and interest rates are low, it creates what’s referred to as a “buyer’s market”; buyers have a lot of options and can easily walk away from the purchase if they don’t get what they want. In this situation, the buyer has a lot of leverage and can usually get the seller to agree to either a lower price or a higher percentage of the repairs. When the opposite occurs and there are few choices and higher interest rates, a “seller’s market” is created. Buyers can’t walk away as easily and be guaranteed a good deal elsewhere, so sellers can often hold their ground more and get buyers to agree to higher prices or a greater percentage of repairs. Need Some Help? Regardless of whether you’re buying or selling, having a seasoned pro on your side can make navigating repair negotiations a lot easier. Sign up for HomeKeepr for free to find the help you need to ensure the deal you deserve.
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Brandon Farber

Brandon Farber

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