3 Ways to Make Selling Your Home During the Winter Months Easier

Preparing and listing your home for sale during the winter months can feel overwhelming. The holiday preparations and gatherings of the past few months haven’t given homeowners much free time to prepare their house for the winter market. Maintaining a house that is cleaned and staged to attract buyers can also be tough when snowy sludge and salt are tracked into the house every day.

Fear not. Below are three ways that you can make this winter’s home selling process less stressful.

Let it Go

Of course, you want to get the largest return possible when selling your house – it’s one of the biggest investments many of us make in our lives. Making sure the snow is cleared, floors gleam and your closets look nicer than they ever did the entire time you lived there is one of the ways sellers get their asking price. That said, this is the time of year to make things easier, not harder, on yourself.

Consider hiring a snow removal and cleaning service if you don’t have them in place. Even if it’s a point of pride that you clean your home and shovel your driveway better than anyone else, it may be unrealistic to expect yourself to keep your house and walkways in perfect shape for buyer visits during the winter months.

Amazon hosts a marketplace with home cleaning and snow removal services where you can comparison shop. Your local Facebook community page can also be a great source of referrals.

Less Stuff Means Less Work

Stash away what you don’t need so there is less clutter to tidy up. Companies like PODS will bring a furniture-sized storage container right to you and then take it away once it’s full. Consider pairing everyday items down to the essentials. Place things like toys, dishes, blankets – anything that creates extra work for you to do while tidying up or doing laundry in your storage container.

HGTV suggests that this may be the year that you scale back your holiday decorations as well. “Adornments that are too large or too many can crowd your home and distract buyers. Also, avoid offending buyers by opting for general fall and winter decorations rather than items with religious themes.”

Join Forces with Your REALTOR®

The winter holidays can be an especially busy time of year for both you and your REALTOR®, so the more you can do to make sure you’re both on the same page, the better.

  • Sync your calendars. Sit down and talk about which days will be off-limits for buyer visits and open houses. Your REALTOR® is willing to go the extra mile to be available for you, but you may need an occasional break. Map out a few days where you can count on having the house to yourself to regroup.
  • Have your phone at the ready and carry a spare charger so you aren’t caught with a dead battery. Your REALTOR® needs to be able to communicate with you and vice versa.
  • Grab a coffee and ask for tips. If you’re working with a seasoned REALTOR®, this won’t be their first off-season listing. Ask them what you can do to help them sell your house faster and be open to suggestions. Each area may have unique tricks to help you optimize your home. For example, sellers on the East coast or Midwest may need to keep their thermostat cranked up a bit higher than they normally would at this time of year to ensure their house is always cozy and welcoming.

Selling your home during the holidays, and winter months that follow, doesn’t have to take over your life. Strike a balance by outsourcing what you can, making less work for yourself and taking advantage of your REALTOR’S® time and advice.

How Massachusetts’s Hiring Boom is Impacting Home Buyers

Massachusetts has been enjoying an impressive hiring boom since the unemployment rate dropped to 3.4% in 2018, the lowest it’s been in 15 years. The current unemployment rate is 2.9%, demonstrating that the state’s job market continues to thrive. Labor and Workforce Development Secretary Rosalin Acosta reported that “Over the last year, the labor force has increased by 18,000.”

“Governor Baker’s administration has been taking a proactive approach to help the Massachusetts housing market find balance.”

While these statistics are great news for job seekers, the employment boom is actually making it harder for new and existing residents to find an available and affordable home to buy. Northeastern professor Alicia Sasser Modestino’s recent housing study directly connects the increase in jobs with the difficulties prospective homeowners are experiencing.

“We’ve had a lack of supply that’s been a chronic problem for decades, but when you combine that with a booming economy that’s drawing in more residents from other parts of the United States as well as abroad, then that just means that prices and rents skyrocket.”

The higher cost of land in business-heavy areas like Boston means that developers are more apt to invest in the construction and redevelopment of homes and multi-family rental units that will yield a large return. This approach has improved the inventory of higher priced homes, while leaving a gap in the middle market.

Governor Baker’s administration has been taking a proactive approach to help the MA housing market find balance. Back in May of 2018, Baker signed a housing bill dedicating $1.8 billion dollars to the state’s Workforce Initiative Program. Program funds go directly towards the “production and preservation of affordable housing for low- to moderate-income households, supportive housing and housing serving vulnerable populations.”

When the GE Headquarters were sold, the administration invested a large portion of the state’s profits into the program, contributing an additional $86 million – $60 million of which went directly towards the creation of workforce housing. The state plans to create “500 new workforce homes that will be affordable and accessible for moderate-income, first-time homebuyers. The remaining $26 million will support the creation of roughly 260 new workforce housing rental units.”

MassHousing, a semi-public agency dedicated to providing loans for affordable housing projects in MA, has also been working to bring solutions to the state’s housing shortage. Most recently, they’ve committed $7.9 million to The Neighborhood Developers (TND) and $35.8 milion to Trinity Financial. Both organizations are using the funds to build affordable housing complexes. Combined, the two projects will bring more than 160 attainable housing units to residents.

There is no denying residents are still feeling the housing crunch, especially in population dense areas like Boston. However, with the state and agency’s like MassHousing continuing to invest in housing solutions, prospective home buyers may just find the process will get easier over time.

3 Ways Winter Benefits Home Buyers

Most people think of springtime as the ideal time of year to search for a new house. However, the winter season offers some unique advantages to homebuyers. Below, are three of the top reasons why the off-season can actually be a great time to explore the market.

1. Sellers Are Motivated

The National Association of REALTORS (NAR) reports that November, December, January and February are the slowest month for sellers. This means that sellers choosing to list during these times, rather than the busy, competitive spring months, are highly incentivized to sell.

Shannon Kutchek, Broker SRES at Smother’s Realty Group in Illinois shares, “The sellers that I work with during the winter months are usually listing in the off-season because of a life change such as a job relocation. Because they need a faster sale, they’re more open to negotiating a lower price.”

The article “10 Best Days to Buy a Home” by ATTOM Data Solutions, a leading property data company, confirms Shannon’s experience, noting that buyers can expect to save an average of 11.3% by buying a home on December 26.

2. Fast, Cheap Home Financing

NAR’s Chief Economist Lawrence Yun reports that mortgage rates are currently at historically low levels. At the time this article was written, was listing 30-year fixed mortgages at 3.70% with an APR of 3.81%.

In addition to the low rates, winter home shoppers can obtain approval for their home loans faster than ever before. found that “LoanDepot is offering what may be the fastest quick-closing mortgage in the race. Their new product mello smartloan, an end-to-end digital mortgage, offers qualified borrowers a home loan in as few as eight days.”

Buyers can help the loan process go faster by gathering materials together before they approach a lender. Typically, lenders want to see: W-2 forms, bank statements and pay stubs. Buyers should look up their FICO® credit scores for Experian, TransUnion and Equifax so they know ahead of time what kind of rate they’ll be eligible for.

3. Cold Weather Preview

Shannon tells her Midwestern buyers, “The winter months are a great time of year to see how a home is faring in colder, harsher weather conditions.” Buyers can see how well the home is insulated, a chilly surprise that buyers of older homes often discover during their first winter. They can also note how well the heating system is performing and if windows are drafty and need to be replaced.

These insights not only give home buyers the full picture but may help with negotiations. For example, if the home heating system will need to be replaced that cost can be factored into the final offer.

Don’t wait to start house hunting in the spring when the competition is higher, and houses are going off the market faster. Take advantage of the off-season’s benefits and see what’s out there now.

You’re Already Paying for America’s Aging Infrastructure

Anyone that’s lived in an older home understands that there is rarely such a thing as an easy home upgrade. Knock out a wall and you may be confronted with a tangled electrical system made out of cloth wires sitting on top of horsehair insulation. You can plaster the wall back up, but you’ll always know what’s lurking underneath will require attention at some point. America’s infrastructure has become like an old home in need of a deeper renovation. Its roads may be freshly paved, but underneath the new asphalt are 100-year-old water mains that could fail at any time.

Our aging infrastructure is in dire need of an overhaul and requires an immense amount of federal funding to do so. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) publishes an Infrastructure Report Card every four years – and we’ve received a D+ grade in the last two reports. ASCE’s infrastructure report believes that the US requires $4.5 trillion in order to repair the condition of our roads, bridges, dams, airports, schools, and more. That’s not small change.

President Donald Trump did announce a $200 billion-dollar infrastructure plan this past February. However, during a November rally in Ohio, he stated that the plan would “probably have to wait until after the election” before it was revisited. In the meantime, lawmakers continue to push through infrastructure related legislation like the Water Resources Development Act of 2018 (WRDA), a water resource bill that funds the upkeep of dams, reservoirs and waterways, but a more comprehensive plan is sorely needed.

Homeowner advocates like The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) recognize the impact that a failing infrastructure will have on our quality of life and property values – and have made supporting infrastructure reform a priority in 2019. They are asking current and future homeowners to lend their voice by reaching out to Congress on the issue.

Below are a few ways you may already be feeling the consequences of our aging infrastructure during your daily commute.

You’re paying more for car repairs and gas

If you drive to work, you may have noticed that your car’s suspension system has been taking a beating. Business Insider reports that “Roads in the US are in bad shape. About 32% of urban roads and 14% of rural roads are in poor condition.” Drivers are also spending more money filling up their gas tanks. That’s because driving over bumpy, crumbling roads translates to about $160 billion in wasted fuel.

The bridges you may drive over during your morning commute need attention too. ASCE’s infrastructure report states that of the 614,387 bridges that are in the US, 200,000 are greater than 50 years old. There’s presently a $836 billion backlog of funding needed to fix the highways and bridges in the US, according to a report by the US Department of Transportation.

Your commute to work has become harder

Does it feel like it’s taking longer to get to work because of bus or train breakdowns and derailments? The ASCE reports that our public transportation is so underfunded that it would cost $90 billion just to fix the backlog of repairs. That number will climb to $122 million by 2032, if we plan to make the necessary upgrades and expansions.

Wage earning riders who have to wait long periods between transit connections can experience a loss of income because their availability is limited by the extended commute. In areas that don’t have access to public transportation – home values are lower, job opportunities decrease and residents pay more out of pocket for their commute. NAR reports, “Residents of transit-oriented neighborhoods have greater access to jobs via transit; own fewer cars; and live in dense, walkable areas, resulting in lower transportation costs.”

Roadways, bridges and public transportation are just a few pieces of a larger infrastructure crisis. These may be the areas where we first feel the need for greater funding, but there is more at stake. The aging wastewater treatment plants we depend on for clean water and the schools our children attend are also in need of significant overhauls.

Learn more about infrastructure by reading the article, “What Exactly Is Infrastructure and Why Is It Important to Homeowners?

Connecticut’s Foundation Crisis Continues On

Some homeowners in northeastern Connecticut have been experiencing their own personal earthquakes as faulty home foundations fail underfoot. The New York Times article, “With Connecticut Foundations Crumbling, ‘Your Home Is Now Worthless’” shared one resident’s harrowing experience.

“Sandra Miller was at work in January when her daughter called from their home here on Oakridge Drive with alarming news. The house was making loud noises as if someone had jumped off the counter and landed with a bang. For a few seconds afterward, the house shook. A while later, it happened again, and again. Over the next several hours, terrifying bangs rattled the house.” The next day a structural engineer determined that the house was literally collapsing underfoot.

“The cracking (of the foundation) starts small and may take more than 10 years to over 30 years to appear.”

While not every homeowner’s discovery was as frightening as the Millers – hundreds, likely thousands of home foundations in the area are falling apart. In search of an explanation, the state reached out to The University of Connecticut, asking them to conduct a study to find out why.

The university found that one common factor in all the foundations was the presence of pyrrhotite, a mineral that is known to swell when exposed to oxygen and water causing cracking of concrete. Concrete is composed of cement, sand and aggregate and typically mixed at the building site. The pyrrhotite that was compromising the integrity of the concrete, and causing foundations to deteriorate, was traced back to one particular quarry and the aggregate that they provided for the  mix.

The compromised aggregate was used to mix concrete for thousands of Connecticut homes from 1983 until 2016 when the company went into a voluntary agreement to no longer use that aggregate for residential construction. The current number of homes who are experiencing foundation issues is expected to continue to increase.  Connecticut State Department of Housing explains that this is because “The cracking (of the foundation) starts small and may take more than 10 years to over 30 years to appear.”

Homeowners who experienced foundation failure and turned to their insurance providers for assistance and found their claims denied. The state stepped in, advising insurers that while they may be within their rights to deny claims they should not consider canceling policies over foundation claims.

A bill was also passed in 2016 that allowed homes experiencing foundation failure to undergo property value reassessments. While short term solutions did save property owners money come tax time – it had a negative impact in communities where multiple homes within the same township were given lower property value assessments.

The Middletown Press reported that “A handful of medium-to-small towns now have seen up to $8 million in losses on their taxable property lists, and the subsequent dip in tax collections is beginning to show up in their budgets.” The towns the article refers to are South Windsor, Vernon and Tolland. Other towns have lost anywhere from $1 to $6 million according to data provided by the Capital Region Council of Governments (CRCOG).

“We’re looking at a natural disaster here. A catastrophe. This is an insidious problem. It’s gradual.”

In addition to warning insurers not to drop homeowners from their policies, Connecticut has provided financial assistance in several different ways.

The Connecticut Foundation Solutions Indemnity Company (CFSIC) was established to provide grants of up to $175,000 to eligible homeowners. However, since the work is extensive, even $175,000 doesn’t cover the full amount to bring the home back to the original condition.

This is where the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) comes in. The CHFA works with four banks to provide guaranteed, gap loans for homeowners. What the CHFA lends, helps homeowners to pay for the costs that go above and beyond the funding provided by the indemnity company.

Because the number of affected homes continues to rise, the grant money provided by the CFSIC is running out. When the CFSIC was created they were to receive $125 million, to be dispersed to eligible homeowners up until 2022. As of 2019, their funding is almost exhausted by the 121 million applications that have been submitted. This has forced the CSFIC to temporarily suspend taking applications until new sources of funding are found.

Dan Keune is the President of the Connecticut Association of REALTORS®, and he also serves on the CFSIC’s Board of Directors. From his vantage point, “The number of applications the CFSIC has received says a great deal about the success of the program. When we first began accepting applications in February there were individuals who didn’t believe that the problem was as large as it appeared. Yet, here we are about to run short of funding three years ahead of schedule because of the rising need for assistance.”

Michael Maglaras, the CFSICs Superintendent, is very concerned about the future. “We’re looking at a natural disaster here. A catastrophe. This is an insidious problem. It’s gradual. It creeps up through the system and it destroys homes and it destroys lives.” Maglaras is urging state and federal lawmakers to put forward another $100 million, funding that he believes will put an end to the first wave of the problem.

One of the requirements of the CFSIC that began this past February was that homeowners were had to have an inspection conducted by an engineer if they needed to qualify for CFSIC funding in the future. Because the foundation issues could arise at any time, new home buyers needed to complete this inspection as soon as possible. However, the time it took to find a qualified engineer was causing a significant delay in home sales.

The Connecticut Association of REALTORS® created a solution by funding a course, that the CFSIC led, giving traditional home inspectors the knowledge they need to perform the required foundation inspections. This greatly reduced the time it took to buy and sell a home as well as ensuring that homeowners had a reliable inspection.

Keune says that the Connecticut Association of REALTORS® will continue to support its members, clients and communities the best we can with this difficult situation.

What Exactly Is Infrastructure And Why Is It Important To Homeowners?

If you’ve ever read a local political mailer, odds are you’ve seen the term infrastructure. Candidates often talk about “making sure there is enough money for local infrastructure” or “ensuring that our community’s infrastructure is up-to-date.” But what does that really mean to you as a homeowner?

The word infrastructure is defined as, “the fundamental facilities and systems serving a country, city, or area, as transportation and communication systems, power plants, and schools.”  From a local property owner’s perspective this includes things like; roadways, wastewater transport (sewers), water mains, electrical supply, telecommunications (high-speed cable) healthcare and emergency response services.

Even though most of us may not use the word “infrastructure” in everyday conversation, as homeowners we actually talk about it a lot. Last week, I asked our neighbors if their basement flooded after a recent thunderstorm. We were basically talking about the local infrastructure, we just didn’t realize it at the time.

Take the time to learn about infrastructure because it affects property values

Your community’s ability to provide a good quality-of-life to you and your neighbors is directly tied to the health of its infrastructure. A home based in a community that does a solid job of providing basic needs like electricity, clean water and the ability to commute to work is going to have a higher value than one whose systems are outdated or in disrepair.

It’s not realistic to expect your community to keep its infrastructure in perfect working order at all times – especially in older communities. But it is realistic to expect regular, ongoing maintenance, repairs and overhauls to be a part of your area’s infrastructure planning. This attention ensures that home values remain steady.

If your current or prospective community has new infrastructure projects in the works, it may mean that your home’s value is about to rise. For example, Southern Indianapolis homeowners were excited when the city began construction on the Red Line, a new 13 mile bus rapid transit system (BRT) that would run through “Broad Ripple down to the University of Indianapolis, passing by plenty of single-family housing along the way”. They knew that the accessibility of the new Red Line would make housing prices take a big jump.

Ask your REALTOR® about infrastructure when you’re viewing new properties

Prospective homeowners should look beyond the property line to assess the health of the area’s infrastructure before making a decision to buy. A beautiful home doesn’t have much resale value if the community’s sewers fail whenever there is a rainstorm.

Some things will be self-evident, like the condition of the roads. However, asking your REALTOR® a few infrastructure focused questions is always a good idea. Here’s a few examples;

  • When the electricity goes out, how long does it usually take to restore power?
  • Is their high-speed cable internet available, or if not are there plans to install it soon?
  • Do you know what the average response time is for emergency services in the area?
  • When was the last time the city water mains were updated, removing older lead pipes?
  • What is the garbage pickup schedule and is there a recycling program in place?
  • Have there been issues with sewer discharge in the past 5 to 10 years?
Get involved with infrastructure on a local and national level

I wanted to better understand how homeowners can protect their property values and support local infrastructure initiatives so I reached out to Tim Wiberg, the Village Manager our community of Brookfield, IL, to ask a few questions.

Question: “Tim, can you explain the difference between federal, state and local infrastructure?”

“The easiest way to look at is that the federal government sets aside a certain amount of money to give to each state for infrastructure work. The state uses most of that money to fund initiatives like the repair of major roadways and highways. Or on a larger scale, the money goes towards water treatment facilities, new schools and airports.”

Question: “So how do communities like ours receive funding for local infrastructure work?”

Answer: “Unfortunately, in general we don’t. We are eligible for limited funding but not nearly as much as we need. Most local government will seek out grants from the state as a first step. The money for those grants comes out of the funding given to the state by the federal government and because there aren’t many, competition amongst municipalities is steep.

“A lot of people think that their local infrastructure is funded almost entirely by their property taxes, but that isn’t the case. Typically, most towns will have the community vote on a referendum to allow a city to borrow additional money during a local election. Property taxes alone aren’t enough to get the job done.

“For example, Brookfield passed a $22 million dollar referendum to fix our local roads. That sounds like a lot of money, but when you realize it takes that amount to simply resurface the roadway, it does not pay for replacing the water and sewer mains that run underneath the road.  For many older communities like Brookfield, which has many water and sewer mains that are over 100 years old, that is not enough money.”

Wiberg’s insights show us that it’s not enough to look to our local government when it comes to infrastructure, we need to be aware on a larger scale if we want to protect property values. It’s one of the reasons that the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has made it a priority in 2019 to “be at the forefront of discussions as Congress and the White House seek agreement on a comprehensive national infrastructure package next year.”

As homeowners, we can make a difference by signing NAR’s petition, “Tell Congress to Invest In Infrastructure” on this site.

Is Your Smart Fridge Talking to Your Home Insurance Provider?

There was a time when a “smart” refrigerator was one that automatically made ice cubes. Today, smart fridges can let you know when you’re out of milk and place an order for you. Thermostats like Nest learn what temperature you like the house to be when you wake up in the morning and automatically deliver it. While smart light bulbs like Sengled connect directly to your Wi-Fi network so you can turn off the lights at home while sitting at your desk at work.

Smart home devices are allowing homeowners to enjoy a level of convenience unlike any generation before us. Statistica reports that in 2018, 24 million smart home devices were purchased in the United States – and predicts that number will easily surpass 29 million by the end of 2019. Being able to yell, “Alexa, can I substitute butter for oil in my brownie recipe” when your hands are full is something our grandparents only read about in sci-fi novels, but it’s commonplace today.

“It’s important for homeowners to understand that their smart devices are communicating via the ‘Internet of Things’ because they aren’t just using it to order milk.”

Most smart devices are connected via something called The Internet of Things or IoT. The IoT is essentially a network used by physical devices, like your smart appliances, that have the capacity to communicate because of embedded technology. Think of the IoT as an exclusive internet channel that your smart devices use to share information. You or I can’t hop on the IoT to send an email, but it’s what your refrigerator uses when they’re ordering the milk for you.

It’s important for homeowners to understand that their smart devices are communicating via the IoT because they aren’t just using it to order milk. For example, the IoT also sends data back to device manufacturers. This lets them know which features are most used and troubleshoot common mechanical failures.

Home insurance companies are also interested in utilizing the data that’s acquired from your smart home devices. At first read, this statement can sound unsettling and indeed there are always risks when you have interconnectivity – but it’s a risk that manufacturers are taking very seriously. It’s the reason IoT World reports that, “IoT security spending is currently estimated at $703 million for 2017 and the fast growing market is forecast to become almost a $4.4 billion (dollar) opportunity by 2022.”

Right now, the home insurance industry is experiencing what many refer to as a disruption because of the data smart devices can provide them. Disruption is just another way to say “big changes” and these changes have the potential to work for homeowners’ benefit. So how do we know that home insurers will use the data they acquire to help, rather than take advantage of homeowners?

The Forbes article, “Here’s How IOT Will Impact The Insurance Claims Process” gives us one reason that insurers are motivated to use the IoT to improve service. “The traditional insurance claims process has stayed the same for decades, and it doesn’t sit well with customers.” Insurance companies have been losing customers due to their frustration over the claims process – and every time a customer switches their insurer, it hurts brand reputation and bottom line. This means home insurance providers are taking a good look at how they can use the information IoT linked smart devices are providing to improve claims and regain customer loyalty.

“Home insurance companies are also interested in utilizing the data that’s acquired from your smart home devices.”

Here’s a good example. The Insurance Information Institute’s (III) blog post, “Water Damage is Costing Homeowners Billions. Could IoT Help?” reports that water damage claims are the most common. “Maybe that’s not surprising – it rains a lot in many places. But what may surprise you is that things like pipe bursts and broken appliances are increasingly the main causes of water damage in homes.”

Water damage due to things like sump pump failures have doubled over the past three years and are costing insurance companies billions of dollars in losses. Because big claims usually mean bigger insurance premiums, homeowners are also taking a hit. Smart devices like Phyn Plus, a device that alerts you to leaks and shuts off your main water supply in the event of an emergency, dramatically reduce the potential for water damage.

Reducing the number one source of home damage claims saves insurers money, and fewer claims mean lower premiums for homeowners. Smart devices also allow insurers to offer better customer experience incentives, such as reduced policy costs to homeowners who own devices like Phyn. The claims process just got easier too, because smart devices like Phyn can provide data on the leak to your insurer – potentially eliminating the need for lengthy and frustrating claim investigations.

Homeowners can take a look at this list to see which insurance providers are currently offering incentives for smart appliances. If you don’t see your provider, proactively ask them which benefits they are currently offering and expect to see more as the popularity of IoT linked smart devices grows.

Veterans Are Finding a Second Career in House Flipping

Veterans are discovering that real estate investing, or “house flipping” is a career path that is well matched with the skill sets they learned in the military. The article, 5 Reasons Veterans Make Great House Flippers, explains “Flipping a house can be a very stressful experience for the average person, but for our men and women in uniform, it’s a perfect fit of skill and temperament.”

Andy and Ashley Williams are veterans, home flippers and hosts of the show Flip or Flop Fort Worth on HGTV. After being discharged, both struggled to find a career that felt like a good fit. In the article, How Flipping Houses Helps Veterans Transition to Civilian Life Ashley recalls, “I got a new job and immediately my job said, ‘You’re great, you do your job awesome, but you’re too intense,’ She said I didn’t fit the culture because I was too direct.”

But the directness Ashley learned in the military was a trait that served her well when she and her husband began flipping houses. “Being direct has been a very effective tool because everyone knows exactly what is expected of one another,” Ashley says. “Since construction work has many areas of expertise, it is important to be able to describe exactly what you’re looking for to not confuse the contractor while and clearly defining your vision.”

For veterans interested in pursuing a career in house flipping, the following three tips can help you get started.

1. Find A Mentor

Andy of Flip or Flop Fort Worth shares that he often works with fellow vets who reach out for advice. “Oftentimes a veteran would call me, and I would mentor [them] then invite them to see what I do and how,” Andy says. “Other times I would go to an organization and select a veteran that I would see needing a mission, then empower them. The intent is that if I were to teach one, they would teach one to teach one.”

While Andy might be hard to reach, his philosophy of veterans helping veterans is not unique. The website is a good place to find local meetings where you can share ideas with like-minded military investors. The Meetup category VA Loan Groups lists gatherings across the United States, like The Military Real Estate Investing Network in OH and NYC/NJ Veterans in Real Estate Investing.

2. Learn About VA Financing

Investing in real estate using VA loans can be complicated, but it’s worth learning what you can and can’t do. The benefits VA loans offer, like no down payments and low interest rates, can translate into big earnings for veteran house flippers.

VA loans do come with requirements that make the real estate investment process quite different from civilian investing. To give you an idea, here are a couple of their requirements, as well as ways veteran house flippers can work within them.

Requirement: VA loans must be used to acquire your primary residence.

As a veteran you can use a VA loan to acquire a property that you intend to flip – if you use it as your primary residence during the renovations. That property can then be either flipped for profit or kept as a rental property.

There is currently no limit to how many times you can use the entitlement provided by your VA loan to purchase properties. VA loans can also be used to purchase multi-family units that you can rent for profit – provided you will be living in one of the units.

Requirement: VA loans are only given for property in good repair.

As an investor shopping with a VA loan, you won’t be able to buy a dilapidated property to overhaul. But you can buy properties whose value can be significantly improved with renovations that update the appearance of the home. Things like a new kitchen and new siding can go a long way in providing a return on your investment.

There is also something called an FHA 203K Rehab Loan that VA Home Loan Centers can help you acquire. Their website explains that an FHA 203K loan is government insured and allows deep renovations. It can be used to renovate foreclosures, unfinished construction, condemned buildings, abandoned properties and property flips.

The requirements for VA loans are frequently changing, so it’s important to be aware of the latest developments if you plan to use them for house flipping. Which brings us to our third and final tip.

3. Work with a REALTOR® that holds an MRP certification.

An MRP, or Military Relocation Professional certification, is given to real estate professionals that have completed training on how to work with veterans. This training includes a thorough understanding of the VA loan process, and all its current regulations.

REALTORS® with an MRP designation are going to be able to steer you towards investment homes that fulfill VA requirements. They’re also trained on how to negotiate with sellers who might be reluctant to work with a buyer using a VA loan.

House flipping is just one of many careers that discharged veterans are suited for. But the flexibility and the opportunity to build an independent business it provides, make it an especially good match for many.

The 3 Questions Veterans and Active Service Persons Should Be Asking Their REALTOR®

Working with a REALTOR® that’s a good match for you as a veteran or an active service member is key. Buying a home is no small feat, and it’s important that there is an advocate on your side who understands the unique needs of military home buyers and the ins-and-outs of the VA funding and appraisal process.

So how do you find out if your REALTOR® is armed with the knowledge you want behind you during the homebuying process? Below, are three questions you can ask during your search to help you find out.

Are You Certified to Work with Veterans and/or Active Service Members?

If you are only going to ask your REALTOR® one question, it should be “Are you certified to work with me?” A REALTOR® that can answer yes to that question is one that has spent time learning how to best serve you and your family.

There are a number of certification programs created to educate REALTORS® on how to work effectively with military home buyers, but the Military Relocation Professional certification (MRP) that’s taught by The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is one of the most well-known.

If your REALTOR® has completed MRP training they’ll be coming to you with a thorough understanding of the VA loan process. The Military Times article, Do your homework on military-friendly real estate agents, explains that in the MRP certification course “Attendees are walked through the with an eye toward helping their customers, but also toward educating fellow agents who may steer clients away from VA-related deals based on outdated information or speculation.”

MRP certified REALTORS® have been shown how to deftly handle the needs of active duty service members, like last-minute home relocations. Additionally, they are well prepared to provide resources and find homes for veterans that might need accommodations due to physical injuries or PTSD.

Before NAR grants an MRP designation to a REALTOR®, they must demonstrate that they are proficient and fully prepared to help you by scoring 80% or higher on the final exam. To make it easier for military home buyers NAR provides a searchable directory of REALTORS® that have completed their MRP certification.

Do You Know the Latest VA Home Loan and Appraisal Requirements?

Asking the first question about certification ensures that your REALTOR® has received solid, initial instruction around VA home loans. However, because there are always ongoing changes being made to the VA home loan and appraisal process – you’ll want to work with a REALTOR® that is making it their priority to stay current.

For example, the website explains that a new law called the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 is expanding VA disability benefits for veterans who were exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange. However, because of the way the law is structured it will actually benefit all future VA loan applicants.

At the time this article was written, there is a VA loan limit of $484,350 when no down payment is being made. (This figure is set by the FHA and varies yearly and may be higher in Alaska and Hawaii.) But once the Blue Water Law is put into place that limit will be lifted entirely.

“Starting Jan.1, 2020, when the new law takes effect, the VA will not cap the size of a loan a veteran can get with no money down, paving the way for veterans to buy higher-value homes.” A REALTOR® who is aware of changes like this one will be able to present you with a bigger range of homes.

Areas with low housing inventories can pose a big challenge for veterans and service families trying to purchase homes with VA loans. Kelly Hendrickson, a real estate broker and President of the Veterans Association of Real Estate Professionals (VAREP), gives an example, “Because the Seattle-Tacoma area is a sellers’ market, many home listings have requirements like ‘conventional loans and cash offers only’, making finding a home feel like an impossible task for military families and veterans working with a VA loan.”

Kelly explains that “One of the reasons sellers prefer cash offers and conventional loans over VA loans is because of how long it has been taking VA approved appraisers to come out.” To combat this, the Seattle-Tacoma VAREP office has been conducting Lunch and Learn sessions that bring real estate professionals up-to-date on the latest VA loan updates.

“One of the exciting changes we are able to convey is that VA appraisers were given a pay increase that puts them on par with what conventional appraisers make. A more desirable income has increased the number of available VA appraisers and incentivized the existing ones, speeding up the appraisal process.” REALTORS® armed with this knowledge are now better equipped to fight objections to VA loans.

Are You A Good Communicator?

There are several reasons that you should consider putting this question forward. The most obvious is that you want to work with someone that understands the importance of being available to you.

Veterans that have been displaced or disabled may need their REALTOR® to be available to multiple support sources. For newly discharged veterans, there may be potential career opportunities they want to discuss with their REALTOR®. Quite a few recently discharged veterans are finding that house flipping is a career path that aligns with the skill sets they learned in the military.

The article, 5 Reasons Veterans Make Great House Flippers, states “Flipping a house can be a very stressful experience for the average person, but for our men and women in uniform, it’s a perfect fit of skill and temperament.” Veterans choosing this path need a REALTOR® who will be responsive about quickly sharing new property listings.

Active service persons value communication because of the uncertainty of their timelines. The article, 9 Things a Military Family Wants Their Realtor to Know, sums up the situation well, “We have no control over anything with a military PCS. No control over dates, or the timeline, or how long we’re going to be there. None whatsoever.” Military families need to be able to get in touch with their REALTOR® and launch the home buying or selling process at a moment’s notice.

Military home buyers also shared that they value honest, straightforward communication because they may need to buy a home without ever having set foot in it. “We need the truth, up front, all of it.”

New Legislation Means Lower Insurance Premiums For Florida Homeowners

Homeowners in Florida have been paying higher home insurance premiums than anyone else in the United States. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners reports that an average, annual home insurance premium for a Florida resident is $1,918. And that rate has been increasing rapidly, having climbed 25% or $384 since 2007.

The obvious culprit behind the increases are national disasters like Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Michael. However, the unscrupulous actions of a group of contractors doing the repair work have played a large part in the rising costs.

Homeowners trying to recover from natural disasters or weather damage are usually asked by their contractors to sign something called an Assignment of Benefits or AOB. Contractors have explained to homeowners that by signing an AOB they would be able to complete repairs faster – because it gave them permission to work directly with the homeowner’s insurance company.

“Homeowners may finally be seeing premiums start to drop since an AOB reform bill was passed in July of 2019.”

Ideally, an AOB would benefit homeowners who are already overwhelmed by the to-do list they’re managing as a result of home damage. However, there were quite a few contractors in Florida who took advantage of AOBs to inflate repair costs and overbill insurance companies — oftentimes, bringing insurers who refuted questionable charges to court. All of which, ultimately left homeowners with much higher insurance premiums.

Insurance Business Magazine spoke with James Lynch, Chief Actuary and Vice President of Research and Education at The Insurance Information Institute (III), about the issue. “Most typical homeowners’ insurance companies will cover water damage claims. If the piping in your home suddenly springs a leak, you, as an insured, have an obligation to get that leak fixed as quickly as possible. You call up a contractor who asks you to sign an AOB. Some contractors might then be abusing that AOB by doing a poor job or an overly expensive job and then billing the insurance company an excessive amount.”

Homeowners may finally be seeing those premiums start to drop since an AOB reform bill was passed in July of 2019. The bill was backed by many concerned parties, including Florida REALTORS®, who wanted to give relief to homeowners who were becoming overwhelmed by the constant premium increases.

The passing of this bill was necessary, as the abuse of AOB’s reached critical levels in Florida. The Insurance Information Institute shared that AOB misconduct in Florida has risen 70% in the past 15 years. The number of lawsuits involving AOBs went from 1,300 in 2000 to 79,000 in 2018. The cost of these lawsuits ultimately being passed on to homeowners in the form of inflated insurance premiums.

Tom Butler, Public Policy Communications Director for the state’s REALTORS® shared why Florida REALTORS® backed the bill in a Florida Record interview. “AOBs are an important policyholder resource that allows them to streamline the claims process and make needed repairs to their homes quickly,” he said. “Unfortunately, in the past 15 years or so, some contractors and attorneys have found a way to abuse the AOB process by overcharging for repairs and suing when insurance carriers refuse to pay. With the rise in AOB abuse comes higher premiums, as insurers seek to recoup their losses.”

The new reform bill gives homeowners greater flexibility when purchasing home insurance. They now have the option of selecting a less expensive policy that doesn’t allow AOBs. The bill also lessens the severity of the cost insurance companies take on when contractors sue them over disputed charges. All of which, will ultimately translate to lower premiums for overburdened Florida homeowners.