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Austin-area home sales, prices hit monthly records in February 2015

feb15_2-page-001Austin-area single-family home sales and home prices hit an all-time high for the month of February according to the February 2015 Multiple Listing Service (MLS) report released today by the Austin Board of REALTORS®.

Barb Cooper, 2015 President of the Austin Board of REALTORS®, explained, “The first two months of 2015 have broken monthly records for single-family home sales, yet nearly half of the homes sold in the Austin area in February 2015 were purchased outside of Austin’s city limits. This growing urban sprawl has put a strain on our region’s infrastructure. Long-term and sustainable solutions for statewide transportation funding in addition to policies that allow more affordable housing options inside Austin’s city limits will be critical to making Austin an affordable place to live for all residents.”

According to the report, 1,775 single-family homes were sold in the Austin area in February 2015, a year-over-year increase of five percent and the highest number of homes sold for the month of February. In February 2015, 69 percent of single-family homes sold in the Austin area were priced $200,000 or higher, outside of an affordable price range for many Austin homebuyers.

Home prices also set new records for the month of February. The median price for Austin-area homes in February increased eight percent year-over-year to $248,640 and the average price rose five percent to $307,928 during the same time period. While less than the double-digit price increases seen in previous months, the pace of home price appreciation in February 2015 remains higher than the historical norm of around four-and-a-half percent.

Austin-area monthly housing inventory ended February 2015 at 2.2 months, an increase of 0.2 months from the same time period last year but still only one-third of the 6.5 months inventory level the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University says equals a balanced housing market. Homes spent more time on the market in February 2015, increasing three days year-over-year to an average of 58 days.

Active listings in February 2015 rose nine percent year-over-year to 5,142 listings, while new listings increased three percent to 2,619 listings from the same time frame last year. Pending sales in the Austin area increased eight percent to 2,278 sales.

Cooper concluded, “The Austin area continues to see more homes on the market, rising housing inventory and homes spending more time on the market. While these trends would typically create more favorable market conditions for buyers, most all of the available housing stock within Austin proper continues to be unaffordable for the typical homebuyer. The Austin Board of REALTORS® urges statewide and city leaders to enact solutions now that will ensure the long-term sustainability of our region’s housing market and economy.”

February 2015 Statistics

  • 1,775 – Single-family homes sold, five percent more than February 2014.
  • $248,640 – Median price for single-family homes, eight percent more than February 2014.
  • $307,928 – Average price for single-family homes, five percent more than February 2014.
  • 58 – Average number of days single-family homes spent on the market, three days more than February 2014.
  • 2,619 – New single-family home listings on the market, three percent more than February 2014.
  • 5,142 – Active single-family home listings on the market, nine percent more than February 2014.
  • 2,278 – Pending sales for single-family homes, eight percent more than February 2014.
  • 2.2 – Months of inventory* of single-family homes, 0.2 months more than February 2014.
  • $546,572,200 – Total dollar volume of single-family properties sold, 10 percent more than February 2014.

The following sections describe trends in other sectors of the Austin real estate market.

Townhouses & Condominiums

The volume of townhouses and condominiums (condos) purchased in the Austin area in February 2015 was 201, a four percent decrease from February 2014. The median price for condos was $196,580, which is five percent less than the same month of the prior year. When compared to February 2014, these properties spent the same amount of time on the market, or an average of 50 days.

Leasing

In February 2015, a total of 1,265 properties were leased in Austin, which is 10 percent more than February 2014. The median price for Austin-area home leases was $1,450, which is four percent more than the same month of the prior year.

Info and Graphic Courtesy of The Austin Board of REALTORS®

Top 10 Common Home Repair Costs

In the life of every home, repairs happen. Here are the top 10 most common repairs that, sooner or later, your house will require.

Common home repair costs infographic

1.  Replace Toilet Fill Valves

That annoying sound of water continually filling and draining from your toilet tank is often caused by leaky fill valve, which a plumber can replace, stopping water waste and restoring quiet. Plumber rates vary widely around the country, from $45 to $150 per hour, and the job will take about two hours — the minimum some plumbers require just to take the job.

Labor: $50 to $200

Materials: $11 to $23

Total: $61 to $223

Related: Home Maintenance 101: 7 Things Every Homeowner Should Know

2.  Repair a Leaky Faucet

The water torture drip-drip-drip from a leaky faucet won’t just drive you insane, it can drive up water bills, too. Depending on the type of faucet you have, fixes typically involve replacing damaged rubber washers (10 for $2), O-rings (10 for $2), or a faucet cartridge ($8 to $30).

Labor: $95 to $300

Materials: $2 to $30

Total: $97 to $330

Related: The WaterSense Label: What to Look For

3.  Replace Ceiling Fan

If you’ve got a ceiling fan, sooner or later the motor will burn out, the blades will warp, and fashions will change, so you’ll need to replace it. Replacing isn’t a big deal, because upgraded wiring, a reinforced ceiling box, and a light switch with ceiling fan controls are already in place. What you’re paying for is an electrician’s time — one or two hours — and a new fixture.

Labor: $50 to $200

Materials: $54 to $1,000 and up

Total: $104 to $1,200

Related: Ceiling Fans: Know the Spin Before You Install

4.  Repair Drywall

Nicks, gashes, and smashes inevitably mar your beautiful walls. You’ll have to patch and paint to make them look as good as new. A painter can do both jobs and will probably give you a flat rate that will include patching or filling blemishes, then sanding, priming, and painting.

Painters charge $25 to $62 per hour for labor or $2.68 to $4.60 per square foot including materials. Figure it will take about three hours to repair a wall, including drying time for the patching compound and paint. It’s a good idea to save up painting chores so you have enough to keep a painter busy while repairs cure.

Materials include paint at $12 to $50 or more a gallon, which should cover about 350 square feet; plus another $10 to $50 for brushes, rollers, drop clothes, and drywall patching compound.

Labor: $75 to $186

Materials: $22 to $100

Total: $97 to $286

Related: Patch a Drywall Hole

5.  Repair Cracked Tile

Tile is hard and durable, but drop something heavy on it and it’s likely to crack — a reason to always order more tile than you need so you’ll always have spares. To replace cracked tiles, a handyman must pry out the damaged tiles, scrape away old fixative, re-glue new tiles, and spread new grout. Replacing a 2-foot-by-2-foot section of tile should take one to two hours, not including the drying time required for the adhesive to set.

Labor: $30 to $125 per hour; with possible $150 to $350 minimum charge for a handyman

Materials: $1 to $20 per square foot

Total: $34 to $430

Related: Smart Tips for Choosing Bathroom Flooring

6.  Replace Caulk Around Tubs, Sinks, and Showers

Caulk is the waterproof seal around sinks, tubs, and showers that prevents moisture from seeping through gaps and onto drywall and flooring. When caulk cracks or peels, it should be replaced immediately to prevent mold and rot.

A handyman can dig out old caulk around a tub and reseal with new in about an hour.

Labor: $30 to $125 per hour; with possible $150 to $350 minimum charge for a handyman

Materials:  $1 to $4 for a tube of bathroom caulk

Total: $31 to $354

Related: How to Remove Caulk

7.  Fix Gutters

Gutters and downspouts carry water from rain and snow away from your house and onto the ground. Sometimes the weight of wet snow and soggy leaves puts too much pressure on gutters, causing them to pull away from the house or pitch at inefficient angles.

A gutter contractor will clean gutters, and replace or reinstall supportive hardware and hangers. To restore the correct pitch, the contractor must detach and reattach each gutter section.

Labor: $127 to $282 (depending on length of gutter)

Materials: $10 for five hangers; $6 to $9 for gutter sealant

Total: $143 to $301

Related: How to Unclog a Gutter

8.  Fix Out-of-Alignment Doors

Over time, your house moves as its foundation settles and building materials expand and contract with changes in humidity. The movement often is noticed when doorframes shift slightly, causing hinges to creak and doors to not shut properly.

Adding wooden shims to frames and hinges can bring doors back into alignment and let them easily open and close once again. Replacing worn-out screws with longer screws helps secure hinges tightly.

A handyman can fix a door in about an hour. Materials will include shims and screws.

Labor: $30 to $125 per hour; with possible $150 to $350 minimum charge for a handyman

Materials: $5

Total: $35 to $355

Related: Cool Improvements: Replacing Your Interior Doors

9.  Repair Ice Damming

If your house isn’t insulated correctly or your roof isn’t designed correctly, melting roof snow can run off and freeze around roof edges. Eventually, this can form an ice dam that creeps up your roof, damaging shingles and forcing melting water into your home.

One popular solution to ice damming is to install a heating cable along the roof’s edge, which warms the area and prevents freezing. It’s not a DIY job. Roofing contractors will install the cable, and an electrician will install outlets that will juice up the cable. If you want a thermostat to turn the cable on and off automatically, that’ll be extra, too.

Labor and materials: $30 to $60 per linear foot

Total: $371 to $1,319 (average job cost)

Related: How to Prevent Ice Dams

10.  Fix a Faulty Light Switch

Sometimes you turn on the light but nothing happens; or sparks crackle, and the light turns on. It’s disconcerting, but most likely it’s an easy fix. An electrician will turn off the power, take off the faceplate, check and perhaps tighten wires; or replace the switch. All told, it will take less than an hour.

Labor: $50 to $100 per hour

Materials: $1 to $6 for a single pole light switch

Total: $41 to $106

Related: How to Repair a Light Switch

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What Not to Do as a New Homeowner

roof workWe know so well the thrill of owning your own house — but don’t let the excitement cause you to overlook the basics. We’ve gathered up a half dozen classic boo-boos new homeowners often commit — and give you some insight on why each is critically important to avoid.

1. Not Knowing Where the Main Water Shutoff Valve Is

Water from a burst or broken plumbing pipe can spew dozens of gallons into your home’s interior in a matter of minutes, soaking everything in sight — including drywall, flooring, and valuables. In fact, water damage is one of the most common of all household insurance claims.

Quick-twitch reaction is needed to stave off a major bummer. Before disaster hits, find your water shutoff valve, which will be located where a water main enters your house. Make sure everyone knows where it’s located and how to close the valve. A little penetrating oil on the valve stem makes sure it’ll work when you need it to.

2. Not Calling 811 Before Digging a Hole

Ah, spring! You’re so ready to dig into your new yard and plant bushes and build that fence. But don’t — not until you’ve dialed 811, the national dig-safely hotline. The hotline will contact all your local utilities who will then come to your property — often within a day — to mark the location of underground pipes, cables, and wires.

This free service keeps you safe and helps avoid costly repairs. In many states, calling 811 is the law, so you’ll also avoid fines.

3. Not Checking the Slope of Foundation Soil

The ground around your foundation should slope away from your house at least 6 inches over 10 feet. Why? To make sure that water from rain and melting snow doesn’t soak the soil around your foundation walls, building up pressure that can cause leaks and crack your foundation, leading to mega-expensive repairs.

This kind of water damage doesn’t happen overnight — it’s accumulative — so the sooner you get after it, the better (and smarter) you’ll be. While you’re at it, make sure downspouts extend at least 5 feet away from your house.

Related: How to Prevent Water Damage

4. Not Knowing the Depth of Attic Insulation

This goes hand-in-hand with not knowing where your attic access is located, so let’s start there. Find the ceiling hatch, typically a square area framed with molding in a hallway or closet ceiling. Push the hatch cover straight up. Get a ladder and check out the depth of the insulation. If you can see the tops of joists, you definitely don’t have enough.

The recommended insulation for most attics is about R-38 or 10 to 14 inches deep, depending on the type of insulation you choose. BTW, is your hatch insulated, too? Use 4-inch-thick foam board glued to the top.

Related: Attic Air Leaks: How to Find and Seal Them

5. Carelessly Drilling into Walls

Hanging shelves, closet systems, and artwork means drilling into your walls — but do you know what’s back there? Hidden inside your walls are plumbing pipes, ductwork, wires, and cables.

You can check for some stuff with a stud sensor — a $25 battery-operated tool that detects changes in density to sniff out studs, cables, and ducts.

But stud sensors aren’t foolproof. Protect yourself by drilling only 1¼ inches deep max — enough to clear drywall and plaster but not deep enough to reach most wires and pipes.

Household wiring runs horizontally from outlet to outlet about 8 inches to 2 feet from the floor, so that’s a no-drill zone. Stay clear of vertical locations above and below wall switches — wiring runs along studs to reach switches.

6. Cutting Down a Tree

The risk isn’t worth it. Even small trees can fall awkwardly, damaging your house, property, or your neighbor’s property. In some locales, you have to obtain a permit first. Cutting down a tree is an art that’s best left to a professional tree service.

Plus, trees help preserve property values and provide shade that cuts energy bills. So think twice before going all Paul Bunyan.

By:  at Houselogic.com

Millennials join the house hunt

A low credit score thwarted Marie Kapelke and her husband Mike Biethan’s plans to try to buy a house early last year.

When the couple, both 26, met with a mortgage specialist in December 2013, they found out Biethan would need to improve his score in order for them to get pre-approved for a mortgage. In fact, neither of them knew their credit scores before meeting with the banker, but they were ready to buy their first home after living in Seattle for about six years.

“We found out, OK your credit score really affects your interest rate,” Kapelke says. Biethan worked to improve his score over the past year, and the two revisited homeownership in the fall. They closed on a townhouse in West Seattle last month.

With rents rising into unaffordable territory, housing inventory up and mortgage rates hovering below 4%, 2015 may prove to be the year of homeownership for millions of Millennials. Real estate website Zillow predicts Millennials will overcome Gen X as the largest group of home buyers this year — more than half of 18- to 34-year-olds said they plan to buy a house in the next one to five years, according to a survey by Zillow last summer.

But after putting away enough savings, the biggest hurdle for Millennial buyers may be the learning curve that comes with understanding the process, as well as a host of new financial terms, trade-offs and commitments to consider.

It’s a stressful process, especially when you’ve never done it before, recent first-time Millennial buyers say. Kenny Coleman, 25, bought his first place — a loft-style apartment in Cincinnati — in December. He says the first bank he went to for a mortgage wasn’t good at explaining the financing process to a first-timer. “They used all this jargon,” he says. “And they’re talking about all these different insurances.” Coleman, who says the process took him from “complete idiot to pretty well versed” in a matter of weeks, ultimately went to a different bank that was willing to give him a fixed-rate mortgage instead of an adjustable-rate mortgage.

Heading into the popular spring selling season, some real estate companies say they’re already seeing interest spike from new buyers. Listings for townhouses and starter homes have seen more traffic in the past month on john greene Realtor’s website, says Scott Parker, vice president and sales manager.

“There are Millennials on the sidelines that when we provide the right supply on the market are going to be very curious and interested in buying,” he says.

If you’re one of them, here’s what housing experts and recent Millennial homeowners say first-time buyers absolutely need to know before getting into the housing market:

• First, as Kapelke attests, find out what your credit score is. It’s the main factor determining what rates you’ll get on a mortgage or whether lenders will work with you in the first place.

• Kapelke and Coleman both say they realized it was the right time to buy when they knew they’d be living in their respective cities for the foreseeable future. “Personally, are you going to be living in that area for at least the next five to seven years?” Kapelke says. “You kind of need to be settled, otherwise you’re just going to lose money when you’re selling (your house).”

• You don’t have to have the traditional 20% down payment to become a homeowner, says Tim Savoy, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker in Washington, D.C. He says many of his clients aren’t aware of programs, like a local one called DC Open Doors, that will cover much, and sometimes all, of a down payment.

And Svenja Gudell, senior director of economic research at Zillow, says more lenders now are willing to work with clients on a conventional loan if you have 10% down or even as low as 5%. FHA (Federal Housing Administration) loans allow you to pay as little as 3.5% down, but are often more expensive than conventional loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Gudell says.

• Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced in December that they would back mortgages with down payments as low as 3%. But Gudell says not many lenders will work with buyers putting that little down.

Plus, be aware of how much more it will cost you when you have a lower down payment. Anything less than 20% will require that you also pay a monthly mortgage insurance. FHA loans will lock you into private mortgage insurance for the duration of the loan. But if you take out a conventional loan with less than 20% down, you can stop paying mortgage insurance once you have 20% equity in your house, Gudell says. FHA loans also often have higher interest rates and require an up-front mortgage insurance payment in addition to the monthly payment.

• Don’t become fixated on the listing price of a home, says Parker, calling it one of the biggest pitfalls first-time buyers fall into. Buying a house means you’re not only responsible for a monthly mortgage payment but other expenses, such as homeowners insurance and property taxes. Fees associated with closing a sale — such as the origination fee, appraisal fee and courier fee — can also equal another 2%-5% of your loan, Gudell says.

Rob Keiser, a financial aid officer and executive management trainee at his family’s Keiser University system in Florida, says he didn’t realize how expensive homeowner association fees could get, especially in Florida, where certain neighborhoods require homeowners to join nearby golf or country clubs.

“There were places that were cheap and then had over $1,000 in HOA fees (due quarterly),” says Keiser, 25, who bought his first house in May in Delray Beach. He also recommends reading HOA contracts and making sure your lifestyle will fit with rules on pets, curfews and visitors.

• Shop around for mortgages and get at least three quotes, says Alison Paoli, a spokeswoman for Zillow. And pay attention to both the interest rate and APR, she says. The APR is the rate that will reflect the true cost of your loan including financing charges, such as the loan origination fee and appraisal fee.

By:  Hadley Malcolm, USA TODAY

Austin home prices hit all-time high for January, home sales rise in January 2015

Jan15_2-page-001The Austin-area housing market started the year strong in January 2015, with single-family home prices reaching all-time highs for the month of January and home sales posting double-digit increases according to the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) report released today by the Austin Board of REALTORS®. This marks the fifth-straight month of annual home sales increases and the fourth-straight month of double-digit gains in home prices, as housing affordability continues to be a challenge in the Austin market.

Barb Cooper, 2015 President of the Austin Board of REALTORS¬®, explained, “With housing affordability already a challenge for many Austin residents, this increasing pace of home price growth is concerning. More than half of the homes sold in the Austin-area are now priced out of an affordable range for much of Austin’s workforce.”

In January 2015, the median price for Austin-area homes increased 13 percent year-over-year to $240,000 and the average price jumped 14 percent to $310,187 during the same time frame. January 2015 marks the highest year-over-year home price increase since September 2013 and all-time high for home prices in the month of January.

According to the report, 1,547 single-family homes were sold in the Austin area in January 2015, an 11 percent increase compared to January 2014. However, 54 percent of the homes sold during this time frame were in the $200,000-$500,000 price range, whereas only 35 percent sold for less than $200,000 – the typical price range for first-time and low-income homebuyers.

“Housing inventory is rising, but the current pace is not enough to alleviate Austin’s affordability challenges,” added Cooper. “Furthermore, more homes on the market will not increase housing affordability if those homes are all priced for move-up homebuyers. Austin needs a regulatory environment that will ensure development of all housing types, priced in an affordable range for all Austin residents.”

Austin-area monthly housing inventory was 2.2 months in January 2015, 0.2 months higher than January 2014 but still well below the 6.5-month inventory level the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University cites as a balanced housing market.

Active listings in January 2015 rose nine percent year-over-year to 5,005 listings, while new listings increased one percent to 2,360 listings from January 2014. Austin-area homes spent the same time on the market as January 2014, or an average of 63 days, and pending sales increased four percent to 2,026 sales during the same time frame.

Cooper concluded, “While single-family homes will always be a part of Austin’s fabric, Austin’s city leaders should consider housing types that cost less to develop and can allow for a greater range of affordable infill options, such duplexes and small apartment buildings, in neighborhoods where they are needed most. The Austin Board of REALTORS® is hopeful that the Austin City Council will embrace changes to the land development code and permitting process to allow for an abundance of housing in all neighborhoods.”

January 2015 Statistics

  • 1,547 – Single-family homes sold, 11 percent more than January 2014.
  • $240,000 – Median price for single-family homes, 13 percent more than January 2014.
  • $310,187 – Average price for single-family homes, 14 percent more than January 2014.
  • 63 – Average number of days single-family homes spent on the market, unchanged from January 2014.
  • 2,360 – New single-family home listings on the market, one percent more than January 2014.
  • 5,005 – Active single-family home listings on the market, nine percent more than January 2014.
  • 2,026 – Pending sales for single-family homes, four percent more than January 2014.
  • 2.2 – Months of inventory* of single-family homes, 0.2 months more than January 2014.
  • $479,859,289 – Total dollar volume of single-family properties sold, 27 percent more than January 2014.

Info and graph courtesy of:  Austin Board of REALTORS® (ABoR)

 

How To Set Up A Budget For Your Home Remodel

To calculate how much remodel you can afford, follow these four steps: Ballpark the cost, establish a spending limit, get quotes from contractors, and set your priorities.

budget-home-remodel-living-room_7a16baa8ce313cf6d95f31209b20f55c_vvytQAV_3x2_jpg_600x400_q85When it comes to home improvements, knowing what you want is the easy part. The tougher question is figuring out how much you can afford. Follow this four-step plan to arrive at the answer.

1.  Ballpark the costs. First, get a handle on how much your remodeling dreams will cost. In general, major upgrades, such as a bathroom remodel or a family-room addition, run $100 to $200 per square foot.

“Remodeling” magazine’s 2015 “Cost vs. Value Report” gives national averages for 36 common projects. You’ll find many of those project costs and other good info in our Cost vs. Value section.

2.  Figure out how much you have to spend. Once you’ve zeroed in on a project, the next question is whether you have the money. If you’re paying cash, that’s easy to answer. But if you’re borrowing, you need to assess how much a bank will lend you and what that loan will add to your monthly expenses.

There are three basic types of loan options:

  • A cash-out refinance
  • A home equity loan
  • A home equity line of credit (HELOC)

For the vast majority of homeowners, the best way to borrow for a home improvement is a home equity line of credit. A HELOC is a loan that’s secured by your home equity, which means that it qualifies for a lower rate than other loan types, and you can deduct the interest on your taxes.

Because a HELOC is a line of credit rather than a lump-sum loan, it comes with a checkbook that you use to withdraw money as needed, up to the maximum amount of the loan.

For help shopping for a HELOC, download our free worksheet.

The catch is that the minimum payment on a HELOC is just that month’s interest; you’re not required to pay back any principal. Like only paying the minimum due on a credit card, that’s a recipe for getting stuck in debt.

Instead, establish your own repayment schedule. You can do this by paying 1/60th of the principal (for a five-year pay down) or 1/120th (for 10 years) in addition to the monthly interest. If you can’t afford that much, then you should reconsider your project.

Related: 6 Ways to Pay for a Remodel When You Can’t Tap Home Equity

3.  Get quotes from contractors. Before seeking bids, determine exactly what you want, right down to the kitchen countertop material and the type of faucet. By specifying these details up front, you ensure that prospective contractors are all pricing the same items.

Get recommendations for at least three contractors from friends, neighbors, and other tradesmen who you trust. Give each one your project description and specific product lists and request an itemized bid. To find the right contractor:

  • Ask to see their recent work
  • Check references
  • Look at online sites that provide peer reviews of contractors

Related: 5 Essential Questions to Ask Before Hiring a Contractor

Reality Check: Cost Overruns

Take the winning contractor’s bid and add a 15% to 20% contingency for the unforeseen problems and changes that occur on every project. Is the total still within your ability to pay? If so, you’re ready to get started. If not, it’s time to scale back your plans.

4.  Set priorities and trim the project to fit your budget. Dreams and budget not in alignment? Carefully scale down your dream — chances are you’ll end up satisfied and solvent. Enlist your contractor for suggestions on cutting costs — that way, he’ll be an ally in helping you stick to your budget.

Possibilities include:

  • Low-cost alternatives. For example, specify laminate countertops instead of granite.
  • Keeping older items that are still in working condition. Appliances, furnaces, and lighting fixtures can be upgraded later.
  • Making the project smaller. Trim that bathroom addition from 100 square feet to 80 square feet.
  • Buy it yourself. You’ll save up to 20% on your project costs if you buy materials and appliances yourself. Be sure to coordinate your BIY efforts with your contractor.

 

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Top 10 expert real estate tips for 2015

texas flagAnother year of strong economic growth, improved employment and pent-up housing demand bodes well for most sellers in 2015, particularly in the Farm Belt and in energy-producing states such as Texas, North Dakota, Louisiana, Montana and Wyoming, and urban areas like Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and Boston.

In fact, the National Association of Home Builders, or NAHB, predicts that the 2015 single-family home sector will outperform a strong 2014. There are cautions: Moody’s predicts mortgage rates will rise from about 4 percent now to 6 percent by 2017.

The recovery has yet to arrive in many states, reinforcing the notion that real estate growth is regional. No one can accurately predict when this real estate uptick will end or how hard, or soft, a landing it will make. In the meantime, let proven fundamentals, applied with a few modern wrinkles, rule the day. Here are 10 tips for 2015 to help the real estate process.

1. Do sweat the small (cheap) stuff, sellers

Little touches go a long way in the buyer’s eye, starting logically with the entry. Trim bushes, wash walkways and change out trampled welcome mats. Inside, de-stink with candles and counter sprays, de-jam closets and de-clutter rooms, focusing keenly on kitchen counters. Hide scrub brushes and other fantasy-killing labor tools. Dust, wax, scrub toilets, wash windows, test and clean lights, put out fresh towels, winnow family mementos, harness or hide that avalanche of toys, remove prescription drugs from medicine cabinets and police the yard for “pet bombs.” It’s time well-spent.

2. Take note(s), buyers

In a whirlwind house-hunting tour of several properties, buyers benefit by keeping a pro-and-con checklist of each home they visit. Otherwise, the features of several homes tend to blend together in a tired brain by day’s end. Creating a rating scale of 1 to 10 also helps, as does carrying a checklist of specific features that you seek in an ideal home.

3. Sell by season

Though spring is optimal, home selling is a year-round sport. Use seasonal accents to make buyers linger longer.

Winter: Unfurl throw rugs and spotlight functional fireplaces. Near holidays, add touches like wreaths and pine-cone centerpieces. Display photos of your home a season ahead, particularly in winter, so buyers can see the house ensconced by greenery.

Spring: Fresh-cut flowers and candles bring spring scents indoors. For that new-start look, do extra spring cleaning and use brightly colored linens, spreads and pillows. Add little pops of color to the entry and landscape.

Summer: Highlight patios and other outdoor areas. Swap out dark towels and curtains for light colors. Put out a seasonal fruit basket or add hanging flowers. Keep the house cool but not cold.

Fall: Display pumpkins by the door and vases of fall foliage or tricolored corn inside. Use seasonal scents such as baked apple. Keep those leaves at bay.

4. Drill deeply

Buyers are regularly advised to scope out the block at varying hours, but why not drill down further to see if your potential new neighborhood is fading or flourishing?

  • Bad signs: A major local employer is struggling or moving away; adjacent neighborhoods are progressively turning into rentals; and a few too many for-sale homes are lingering on the market. Nearby commercial spaces remain persistently vacant.
  • Good signs: Schools are in high demand and well-rated. Young families and artsy types are moving in. Older couples are “aging in place” and nearby commercial properties are getting redeveloped and quickly leased. For-sale homes are generating multiple offers.

5. ‘Big data’ is everywhere, so tap in

While local knowledge and old-school networking will always be valuable, the latest technology lets agents offer much more. Some agencies offer “livability” ratings by ranking and contrasting neighborhoods by air quality, traffic choke points and specific data on a home’s energy efficiency. In 2013, the National Association of Realtors introduced its Predictive Analytics group. Banks already use “big data” to gauge the worth of foreclosures and short sales, and mobile apps now offer it for consumer and agent use. Ask agents if they offer this and other edgy technology such as high-definition aerial footage shot by drones. Should your grandiose home merit that, go big!

6. Transparency equals trust

Buyers will certainly enlist inspectors to twice-over your home, Mr. Seller. So instead of inviting disappointment, delay and distrust, go transparent with your own presale inspection. It’s far better to know now about issues with the plumbing, HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning), foundation, electrical systems and roof. Provide the buyer a copy of the inspection along with repair receipts, and explain if or how you’ve adjusted your price accordingly. Buyers appreciate candor.

7. Math versus ego

Too often, buyers get caught up in win-at-all-costs negotiation. They’ll stubbornly let as little as a few grand lock them out of the right house. At an interest rate of 4.5 percent, the difference between paying $200,000 and $195,000 — assuming 1.25 percent property tax and 15 percent down — is only about $25 per month on a 30-year mortgage, or about the cost of lunch for two at a fast-casual eatery, before the tip. Don’t let that ruin your chances at your dream home.

8. Retain mineral rights

With so many giant natural-gas fields (shales) in play across the U.S. and new ones pending, homeowners should exercise “seller’s market” clout to retain mineral rights. While that intent needn’t even be mentioned in the sales contract in some states, it’s always safest to note it, provided the buyer doesn’t protest. Avoid that scenario by conveying those rights to a trustworthy relative or to an energy company buying them before putting the house on the block. “Mineral rights? Oh, so sorry, I no longer own them.”

9. Buying? Then cool it for a while

Refrain from making big capital purchases like a new car, opening new credit cards or amassing big chunks of other new debt before buying a home. These raise your debt-to-income ratio, which lenders examine to determine the mortgage amount you can afford. Also avoid moving large sums of money around, changing banks, changing jobs and becoming self-employed before buying a home.

10. The price is right

Trite, you say? Perhaps. But accurate home pricing from the outset never goes out of style because it sells homes. Some agents advise sellers to overprice because inventory is low. Others say go below market to spur a bidding war. Don’t get caught up in pricing games.

Activity in the first month of a listing is always the best, so don’t risk wasting it. Price too high, and scare off many buyers and agents. Price too low, and risk leaving dollars on the table. Hiring the right agent based on recommendations, response time, in-person interviews, track record and data support will yield that pricing expert you need.

By • Bankrate.com

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