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Author: troy@flamingoink.com

Applying for a Home Loan

Income Items

  • W2 forms for the last two years
  • Most recent pay stubs covering a 30 day period
  • Federal tax returns (1040’s) for the last two years, if:
    • you are self-employed
    • earn regular income from capital gains
    • earn sizable interest income, etc.
    • earn more than 25% of your income from commissions or bonuses
    • own rental property
    • are in a career where you are likely to take non-reimbursed business expenses.
    • Year-to-Date Profit and Loss Statement (for self employed)
  • Corporate or Partnership tax returns (if you own more than 25% of the business)
  • Pension Award letter (for retired individuals)
  • Social Security Award letters (for those on Social Security)

Asset Items

  • Bank statements for previous two months (sometimes three) on all accounts. All pages, even if you don’t think them important.
  • Statements for two months on all stocks, mutual funds, bonds, etcetera
  • Copy of latest 401K statement (or other retirement assets because they can count as reserves)
  • Explanations for any large deposits and source of those funds
  • Copy of HUD1 Settlement
  • Statement on recent sales of homes
  • Copy of Estimated HUD1
  • Settlement Statement if a previous home is for sale, but not yet closed
  • Gift letter (if some of the funds come as a gift from a family member – the lender will supply a blank form)
  • Gifts can also require:
  • Verification of donor’s ability to make the gift (bank statement)
  • Copy of the check used to make the gift
  • Copy of the deposit receipt showing the funds deposited into bank account or escrow
  • Note: many get their statements of various kinds over the internet and these are not always acceptable to lenders, especially when the printed version does not contain the borrower’s name, account number, and the name of the institution

Credit Items

  • Landlord’s name, address, and phone number (if you rent – for verification of rental)
  • Explanations for any of the following items which may appear on your credit report:
  • Late payments
  • Credit inquiries in the last 90 days
  • Charge-offs
  • Collections
  • Judgments
  • Liens
  • Copy of bankruptcy papers if you have filed bankruptcy within the last seven years

Other

  • Copy of purchase agreement (if you have already made an offer)
  • To document receipt of child support (if you desire to show it as income)
  • Copy of Divorce Settlement (to show the amount)
  • Copies of twelve months canceled checks to document actual receipt of funds

copyright 2000 by Terry Light and RealEstate ABC

How Much Home can you Afford

Debt-to-Income Ratios

To determine your maximum mortgage amount, lenders use guidelines called debt-to-income ratios. This is simply the percentage of your monthly gross income (before taxes) that is used to pay your monthly debts. Because there are two calculations, there is a “front” ratio and a “back” ratio and they are generally written in the following format: 33/38.

The front ratio is the percentage of your monthly gross income (before taxes) that is used to pay your housing costs, including principal, interest, taxes, insurance, mortgage insurance (when applicable) and homeowners association fees (when applicable). The back ratio is the same thing, only it also includes your monthly consumer debt. Consumer debt can be car payments, credit card debt, installment loans, and similar related expenses. Auto or life insurance is not considered a debt.

A common guideline for debt-to-income ratios is 33/38. A borrower’s housing costs consume thirty-three percent of their monthly income. Add their monthly consumer debt to the housing costs, and it should take no more than thirty-eight percent of their monthly income to meet those obligations.

The guidelines are just guidelines and they are flexible. If you make a small down payment, the guidelines are more rigid. If you have marginal credit, the guidelines are more rigid. If you make a larger down payment or have sterling credit, the guidelines are less rigid. The guidelines also vary according to loan program. FHA guidelines state that a 29/41 qualifying ratio is acceptable. VA guidelines do not have a front ratio at all, but the guideline for the back ratio is 41.

Example: If you make $5000 a month, with 33/38 qualifying ratio guidelines, your maximum monthly housing cost should be around $1650. Including your consumer debt, your monthly housing and credit expenditures should be around $1900 as a maximum.

Step One – Calculating Your Monthly Income

When a loan officer prequalifies you, he works backwards to figure your maximum mortgage amount. You can do the same thing. The first step is to determine your monthly income. It isn’t quite as easy as it sounds. Lenders only count income they can document through paperwork.

If you are a salaried employee, and don’t earn bonuses, it’s easy. Get out your paycheck. If you get paid twice a month, multiply by two. If you are paid every two weeks, then you multiply by 26 (the number of pay periods in a year) and divide by twelve. Unless you’re a teacher. Teachers don’t always work year round and they have special rules.

If you are an hourly employee who works a straight forty hours a week and don’t earn overtime income, then it’s easy, too. Look at your paycheck, multiply your hourly rate by 40, multiply that total by 52, then divide by twelve.

If you earn overtime, bonuses, or commissions — it isn’t as easy. Lenders don’t give you credit for what you are currently earning. They average your income from those sources over the last two years, then add that to your regular salary or hourly monthly income. If you want a shortcut that is usually close, get out your W2 forms for the last two years. Add them together and divide by twenty-four. That is your monthly income.

If you are a teacher, a nurse, a seasonal employee, in construction, or earn only part-time income — you can use that shortcut, too. Add the figures from your last two years W2’s, then divide by 24. It generally gets you close.

If you are self-employed or receive 1099 income, then you need a two-year track record. Lenders go by what you declare to the IRS as income, since that is documentable. Since some self-employed people overstate their expenses, this may understate your income. Look at the Schedule C of your tax returns for the last two years and the number at the bottom that says “profit” is your annual income. You can add any depreciation to that figure. Add them together and divide by twenty-four.

There are variations and exceptions (like those who own their own corporations) but the above should cover most people.

Step Two – Working Backward

Once you have calculated your monthly income, multiply it by the back ratio for your particular loan. For generic purposes, it is fairly easy to work with thirty-eight. Take 38% of your monthly income or multiply it by .38. That tells you the maximum the lender wants you to spend on your housing costs and monthly consumer debt combined.

Now get out your bills and total them up to determine what you spend monthly on debt. Do not include your auto insurance or your utilities. Just creditors. For credit cards, use the minimum required monthly payment unless it is less than ten dollars. The rest should be fairly straightforward.

Deduct that amount from the total the lender wants you to spend on housing costs and consumer debt combined. Now you know the maximum the lender wants you to spend for housing costs, unless the figure is greater than 33% of your monthly income (there are exceptions, of course).

Step Three – a Little Guesswork

The next step requires a little guesswork. If you have a vague idea of what price you might qualify for, you can estimate what your annual property taxes and homeowners insurance might cost. From there, you can easily calculate the monthly equivalent. Subtract those figures from your maximum monthly housing costs total.

If you are buying a condominium (or an area with HOA fees), subtract out an approximate figure to cover homeowners association fees. What you are left with is your maximum principal and interest payment.

The Final Step – Almost

Now you have to go to a mortgage calculator (click here) and plug in some numbers. In the “payment” area, put the figure you just calculated. Plug in the current fixed interest rate. If you are putting less than twenty percent down, add a half percent to the rate to allow for charges you will pay for mortgage insurance.

Hit the calculate button and you should have your maximum mortgage amount. Add your down payment and you know your maximum purchase price.

Maybe. You may have to do some fine-tuning to zero in on the exact figure. Plus, lenders know how to “stretch” a client a bit higher if they need it.

Advice

If the figure is less than you expected (or need), lenders know programs that will help “boost” you higher in qualifying. Plus, they will do what you just did for free, they are much more experienced at the various nuances involved, and you will have no obligation to use them as your lender.

All you have to do is pick up the yellow pages and a phone.

copyright 2000 by Terry Light and RealEstate ABC

Buying a Home is a Good Idea

The Best Investment

As a fairly general rule, homes appreciate about four or five percent a year. Some years will be more, some less. The figure will vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, and region to region.

Five percent may not seem like that much at first. Stocks (at times) appreciate much more, and you could easily earn over the same return with a very safe investment in treasury bills or bonds.

But take a second look…

Presumably, if you bought a $200,000 house, you did not pay cash for the home. You got a mortgage, too. Suppose you put as much as twenty percent down – that would be an investment of $40,000.

At an appreciation rate of 5% annually, a $200,000 home would increase in value $10,000 during the first year. That means you earned $10,000 with an investment of $40,000. Your annual “return on investment” would be a whopping twenty-five percent.

Of course, you are making mortgage payments and paying property taxes, along with a couple of other costs. However, since the interest on your mortgage and your property taxes are both tax deductible, the government is essentially subsidizing your home purchase.

Your rate of return when buying a home is higher than most any other investment you could make.

Income Tax Savings

Because of income tax deductions, the government is subsidizing your purchase of a home. All of the interest and property taxes you pay in a given year can be deducted from your gross income to reduce your taxable income.

For example, assume your initial loan balance is $150,000 with an interest rate of eight percent. During the first year you would pay $9969.27 in interest. If your first payment is January 1st, your taxable income would be almost $10,000 less – due to the IRS interest rate deduction.

Property taxes are deductible, too. Whatever property taxes you pay in a given year may also be deducted from your gross income, lowering your tax obligation.

Stable Monthly Housing Costs

When you rent a place to live, you can certainly expect your rent to increase each year – or even more often. If you get a fixed rate mortgage when you buy a home, you have the same monthly payment amount for thirty years. Even if you get an adjustable rate mortgage, your payment will stay within a certain range for the entire life of the mortgage – and interest rates aren’t as volatile now as they were in the late seventies and early eighties.

Imagine how much rent might be ten, fifteen, or even thirty years from now? Which makes more sense?

Forced Savings

Some people are just lousy at saving money, and a house is an automatic savings account. You accumulate savings in two ways. Every month, a portion of your payment goes toward the principal. Admittedly, in the early years of the mortgage, this is not much. Over time, however, it accelerates.
Second, your home appreciates. Average appreciation on a home is approximately five percent, though it will vary from year to year, and in some years may even depreciate.. Over time, history has shown that owning a home is one of the very best financial investments.

Copyright 2000 by Terry Light and RealEstate ABC

Writing an Offer

Once you find the home you want to buy, the next step is to write an offer – which is not as easy as it sounds. Your offer is the first step toward negotiating a sales contract with the seller. Since this is just the beginning of negotiations, you should put yourself in the seller’s shoes and imagine his or her reaction to everything you include. Your goal is to get what you want, and imagining the seller’s reactions will help you attain that goal.

The offer is much more complicated than simply coming up with a price and saying, “This is what I’ll pay.” Because of the huge dollar amounts involved, especially in today’s litigious society, both you and the seller want to build in protections and contingencies to protect your investment and limit your risk.

In an offer to purchase real estate, you include not only the price you are willing to pay, but other details of the purchase as well. This includes how you intend to finance the home, your down payment, who pays what closing costs, what inspections are performed, timetables, whether personal property is included in the purchase, terms of cancellation, any repairs you want performed, which professional services will be used, when you get physical possession of the property, and how to settle disputes should they occur.

It is certainly more involved than buying a car. And more important.

Buying a home is a major event for both the buyer and seller. It will affect your finances more than any other previous purchase or investment. The seller makes plans based on your offer that affect his finances, too. However, it is more important than just money. In the half-hour it takes to write an offer you are making decisions that affect how you live for the next several years, if not the rest of your life. The seller is going to review your offer carefully, because it also affects how he or she lives the rest of their life.

That sounds dramatic. It sounds like a cliché. Every real estate book or article you read says the same thing.

They all say it because it is true.

Contingencies in an Offer to Purchase Real Estate

In most purchase transactions there may be a slight challenge or two, but most things will go quite smoothly. However, you want to anticipate potential problems so that if something does go wrong, you can cancel the contract without penalty. These are called “contingencies” and you must be sure to include them when you offer to buy a home.

For example, some “move-up” buyers often agree to purchase a home before selling their previous home. Even if the home is already sold, it is probably a “pending sale” and has not closed. Therefore, you should make closing your own sale a condition of your offer. If you do not include this as a contingency, you may find yourself making two mortgage payments instead of one.

There are other common contingencies you should include in your offer. Since you probably need a mortgage to buy the home, a condition of your offer should be that you successfully obtain suitable financing. Another condition should be that the property appraises for at least what you agreed to pay for it. During the escrow period you are likely to require certain inspections, and another contingency should be that it pass those inspections.

Basically, contingencies protect you in case you cannot perform or choose not to perform on a promise to buy a home. If you cancel a contract without having built-in conditions and contingencies, you could find yourself forfeiting your earnest money deposit.

Or worse.

Earnest Money Deposit in an Offer to Purchase Real Estate

After you have come up with an offer price, the next step is to determine how large a deposit you want to make with your offer. You want the “earnest money deposit” to be large enough to show the seller you are serious, but not so large you are placing significant funds at risk.
One recommendation is to make sure your deposit is less than two percent of your offered price. The reason for this is that if your deposit is larger than that, the lender will pay particular attention to how you came up with the funds. You might have to provide a copy of a canceled check along with a bank statement showing you had the money to begin with. Normally, this is not a problem, but if you have a short escrow period or are barely coming up with your down payment, it could pose an inconvenience.

Another reason to limit your deposit is “just in case.” Although significant problems are the exception and not the rule, they do occur. “Just in case” there is a nasty or prolonged dispute between you and the seller, the less money you have tied up in a deposit, the fewer funds you have placed at risk.

As with practically everything in real estate, there are exceptions to this rule, too. During a hot market there may be multiple offers on the property that interests you. A large deposit may impress a seller enough so they will accept your offer instead of someone else’s, even when your unknown competitor is offering the same price or slightly higher.

Since large deposits do impress sellers, you may also find that by making a large deposit you can convince the seller to accept a lower offer. More money up front may save you money later.

Copyright 2000 by Terry Light and RealEstate ABC

Buying A Home with Resale Value

There are many things that should be considered when buying a home. Since most homebuyers expect to buy a bigger and better home someday in the future, resale value is an important factor in decision-making. You use the proceeds from selling one home to buy the next one.

While no one can guarantee that your home will grow in value, there are steps you can take that maximize your potential gain.

“Location, Location, Location”

“Location, location, location,” is a common and almost hackneyed phrase in real estate literature. Your agent may even throw it at you when you ask for advice about buying a home. However, what does “location, location, location,” actually mean? Why repeat it three times?

Mostly, “location” is repeated to emphasize that it is extremely important to the resale value of your home. The idea is to buy a house that will appeal to the largest number of potential future homebuyers. A careful choice of location can minimize potential negative influences on future resale value, and maximize positive influences.

Focusing on resale value requires you to make several different “location” choices. The first choice you have to make is “which community?” At the very least, you should narrow your choice down to just a few local communities.

Copyright 2000 by Terry Light and RealEstate ABC

Marketing Your Home

The “For Sale” Sign

It seems fairly obvious that when you put your house up for sale that your agent will put a “for sale” sign in the front yard. The sign will identify the agent’s company, the agent, and have a phone number so prospective buyers can call and get information.

Signs are great at generating phone calls, even if very few actually purchase the home they call about. However, you might be one of the lucky ones. For that reason, you should determine what happens when someone calls the number on the sign. Does a live person answer the phone or does the call go to a voicemail or recorder?

You want someone to answer the phone while the caller is “hot.” When buyers call the number on the sign, the call should go to a live person who can answer questions immediately. A potential buyer may be on the street outside your home, placing the call using a cell phone.

Also, take a look at the sign and see if it seems more interested in generating calls from buyers, or if it seems more oriented toward advertising your agent’s listing services to your neighbors.

Flyers and a Brochure Box

Your agent should prepare a flyer that displays a photo and provides details about your house. There should also be a phone number so buyers can contact your agent to get additional information. The flyers should be displayed in a prominent location in your home and also in a brochure box attached to the “for sale” sign.

The brochure box is convenient for those buyers who drive by and just happen to see the “for sale” sign in front of your house. It provides enough information so they can determine if they want to follow up with a phone call or inform their own agent they are interested in your house.

The Multiple Listing Service

Even before the sign is up and the brochures are ready, your agent should list your property with the local MLS (Multiple Listing Service). The MLS is a database of all the homes listed by local real estate agents who are members of the service, which is practically all of the local agents.

Important information about your property is listed here, from general data such as square footage and number of rooms, to such details as whether you have central air conditioning or hard wood flooring. There should also be a photo, and a short verbal description of what makes your house “special.”

Agents search the database for homes that fit the price range and needs of their clients. They pay special attention to homes that have been recently placed on the market, which is one reason you get a lot of attention when your house is first listed. Many agents will want to preview the home before they show it to their clients.

The main point about having your house listed in the MLS is that you expand your sales force by the number of local MLS members. Instead of having just one agent working for you, now you may have hundreds or more, depending on the size of your community.

The listing agent’s main job to make sure that the other MLS members know about your house. This is accomplished through listing your house in the Multiple Listing Service, broker previews and advertising targeted toward other agents, not homebuyers.

Advertising in General

Every home seller likes to be assured that their listing agent or the real estate company will run ads featuring their home. Newspaper ads could be large display ads with lots of listings or small classified ads featuring just your property. Ads may also appear in local real estate magazines and your listing will also show up on the Internet.

Of course the agents and companies will run ads featuring your house, but not for the reasons you expect.

The main job of advertising is not to sell your house directly. Advertising creates phone calls and some of those callers become clients of the agents answering the calls. This builds up a pool of homebuyers looking for property in general, all represented by selling agents (buyer’s agents). Multiply this by all the agents and companies who also advertise homes, and there is a large pool of homebuyers in the market at any given time – all of whom are represented by selling agents.

The agents representing those homebuyers know about your home because it is listed in the Multiple Listing Service, has been on office and broker preview, and because your agent may have also sent flyers to all the local real estate offices.

The agents match up their clients with available homes, one of which may be yours. Then they show the homes to their clients, who eventually make an offer on one. That is how your house gets sold.

Ads create a pool of clients, one of which buys your home. Ads do not usually sell your house directly.

Neighborhood Announcements

When you first list your home many agents send “announcements” to all of the other houses in your neighborhood. This can be done in the form of postcards, a letter, or flyers left hanging on the front door. These are important because your neighbors might have friends who are looking to buy a house.

The announcements create “word of mouth” advertising, which is the best kind.
Copyright 2000 by Terry Light and RealEstate ABC

Be Aware of High Selling Price

So you’ve decided to sell your home and have a fairly good idea of what you think it is worth. Being a sensible home seller, you schedule appointments with three local listing agents who’ve been hanging stuff on your front doorknob for years. Each Realtor comes prepared with a “Competitive Market Analysis” on fancy paper and they each recommend a specific sales price.

Amazingly, a couple of the Realtors have come up with prices that are lower than you expected. Although they back up their recommendations with recent sales data of similar homes, you remain convinced your house is worth more.

When you interview the third agent’s figures, they are much more in line with your own anticipated value, or maybe even higher. Suddenly, you are a happy and excited home seller, already counting the money.

A Sales Practice Called “Buying a Listing”

If you’re like many people, you pick Realtor number three. This is an agent who seems willing to listen to your input and work with you. This is an agent that cares about putting the most money in your pocket. This is an agent that is willing to start out at your price and if you need to drop the price later, you can do that easily, right?

After all, everyone else does it!

The truth is that you may have just met an agent engaging in a questionable sales practice called “buying a listing.” He “bought” the listing by suggesting you might be able to get a higher sales price than the other agents recommended. Most likely, he is quite doubtful that your home will actually sell at that price. The intention from the beginning is to eventually talk you into lowering the price.

Why do some agents “buy” listings this way?

There are basically two reasons. A well-meaning and hard working agent can feel pressure from a homeowner who has an inflated perception of his home’s value. On the other hand, there are some agents who engage in this sales practice routinely.

What Happens Behind the Scenes

If you start out with too high a price on your home, you may have just added to your stress level — and selling a home is stressful enough. There will be a lot of “behind the scenes” action taking place that you don’t know about.

Contrary to popular opinion, the listing agent does not usually attempt to sell your home directly to a homebuyer. That would be inefficient.

Listing agents market and promote your home to the hordes of other local agents who do work with homebuyers, dramatically increasing your personal sales force. During the first couple of weeks your home should be a flurry of activity with buyer’s agents coming to preview your home so they can sell it to their clients.

If the price is right.

If you and your agent have overpriced, fewer agents will preview your home. After all, they are Realtors, and it is their job to know local market conditions and home values. If your house is dramatically above market, why waste time? Their time is better spent previewing homes that are priced realistically.

Dropping Your Price…Too Late

If you start out with a high sales price, then drop it later — your house is “old news.” You will never be able to recapture that flurry of initial activity you would have had with a realistic price. Your house could take longer to sell.

Even if you do successfully sell at an above market price to an uninformed buyer, your buyer will need a mortgage. The mortgage lender requires an appraisal. If comparable sales for the last six months and current market conditions do not support your sales price, the house won’t appraise. Your deal falls apart. Of course, you can always attempt to renegotiate the price, but only if the buyer is willing to listen.

Your house could go “back on the market.”

Once your home has fallen out of escrow or sits on the market awhile, it is harder to get a good offer. Potential buyers will think you might be getting desperate, so they will make lower offers. By overpricing your home in the beginning, you could actually end up settling for a lower price than you would have normally received.

Copyright 2000 by Terry Light and RealEstate ABC

Showing Your House

Your house should always be available for show, even though it may occasionally be inconvenient for you. Let your listing agent put a lock box in a convenient place to make it easy for other agents to show your home to homebuyers. Otherwise, agents will have to schedule appointments, which is an inconvenience. Most will just skip your home to show the house of someone else who is more cooperative.


Most agents will call and give you at least a couple of hours notice before showing your property. If you refuse to let them show it at that time, they will just skip your house. Even if they come back another time, it will probably be with different buyers and you may have just lost a chance to sell your home.

Try Not to be Home

Homebuyers will feel like intruders if you are home when they visit, and they might not be as receptive toward viewing your home. Visit the local coffee house, yogurt shop, or take the kids to the local park. If you absolutely cannot leave, try to remain in an out of they way area of the house and do not move from room to room. Do not volunteer any information, but answer any questions the agent may ask.

Lighting

When you know someone is coming by to tour your home, turn on all the indoor and outdoor lights – even during the day. At night, a lit house gives a “homey” impression when viewed from the street. During the daytime, turning on the lights prevents harsh shadows from sunlight and it brightens up any dim areas. Your house looks more homey and cheerful with the lights on.

Fragrances

Do not use scented sprays to prepare for visitors. It is too obvious and many people find the smells of those sprays offensive, not to mention that some may be allergic. If you want to have a pleasant aroma in your house, have a potpourri pot or something natural. Or turn on a stove burner (or the oven) for a moment and put a drop of vanilla extract on it. It will smell like you have been cooking.

Pet Control

If you have pets, make sure your listing agent puts a notice with your listing in the multiple listing service. The last thing you want is to have your pet running out the front door and getting lost. If you know someone is coming, it would be best to try to take the pets with your while the homebuyers tour your home. If you cannot do that, It is best to keep dogs in a penned area in the back yard. Try to keep indoor cats in a specific room when you expect visitors, and put a sign on the door. Most of the time, an indoor cat will hide when buyers come to view your property, but they may panic and try to escape.

The Kitchen Trash

Especially if your kitchen trash can does not have a lid, make sure you empty it every time someone comes to look at your home – even if your trash can is kept under the kitchen sink. Remember that you want to send a positive image about every aspect of your home. Kitchen trash does not send a positive message. You may go through more plastic bags than usual, but it will be worth it.
Keep the House Tidy
Not everyone makes his or her bed every day, but when selling a home it is recommended that you develop the habit. Pick up papers, do not leave empty glasses in the family room, keep everything freshly dusted and vacuumed. Try your best to have it look like a model home – a home with furniture but nobody really lives there.

Getting Your House Ready to Sell

Disconnect Your Emotions

When conversing with real estate agents, you will often find that when they talk to you about buying real estate, they will refer to your purchase as a “home.” Yet if you are selling property, they will often refer to it as a “house.” There is a reason for this. Buying real estate is often an emotional decision, but when selling real estate you need to remove emotion from the equation.

You need to think of your house as a marketable commodity. Property. Real estate. Your goal is to get others to see it as their potential home, not yours. If you do not consciously make this decision, you can inadvertently create a situation where it takes longer to sell your property.

Make Your Home “Anonymous”

The first step in getting your home ready to sell is to “de-personalize” it. If there is a new home sales tract near your home, go visit. It doesn’t matter what size the homes are. What you will find are some wonderfully (but sparsely) furnished homes that anyone could live in — with the emphasis on “anyone.” They are anonymous. There may be a baseball glove in the boy’s room, but no family photos on the walls.

The reason you want to make your home “anonymous” is because you want buyers to view it as their potential home. When a potential homebuyer sees your family photos hanging on the wall, it puts your own brand on the home and momentarily shatters their illusions about living in the house themselves.

Put family photos, sports trophies, collectible items, knick-knacks, and souvenir in a box. Rent a storage area for a few months and put the box in the storage unit. Do not just put the box in the attic, basement, garage or a closet. Part of preparing a house for sale is to remove “clutter,” and that is the next step in preparing your house for sale.

Uncluttering the House

This is the hardest thing for most people to do because they are emotionally attached to everything in the house. After years of living in the same home, clutter collects in such a way that may not be evident to the homeowner. However, it does affect the way buyers see the home, even if you do not realize it.

Clutter collects on shelves, counter tops, drawers, closets, garages, attics, and basements. You want as much open clear space as possible, so every extra little thing needs to be cleared away.

Take a step back and pretend you are a buyer. Let a friend help point out areas of clutter, as long as you can accept their views without getting defensive. Let your agent help you, too.

Kitchen Clutter

The kitchen is a good place to start removing clutter, because it is an easy place to start.

First, get everything off the counters. Everything. Even the toaster. Put the toaster in a cabinet and take it out when you use it. Find a place where you can store everything in cabinets and drawers. Of course, you may notice that you do not have cabinet space to put everything. Clean them out. The dishes, pots and pans that rarely get used? Put them in a box and put that box in storage.

Homebuyers will open all your cabinets and drawers, especially in the kitchen. They want to be sure there is enough room for their “stuff.” If your kitchen cabinets, pantries, and drawers look jammed full, it sends a negative message to the buyer and does not promote an image of plentiful storage space. The best way to do that is to have as much “empty space” as possible.

For that reason, if you have a “junk drawer,” get rid of the junk. If you have a rarely used crock pot, put it in storage. Do this with every cabinet and drawer. Create open space.

If you have a large amount of foodstuffs crammed into the shelves or pantry, begin using them – especially canned goods. Canned goods are heavy and you don’t want to be lugging them to a new house, anyway – or paying a mover to do so. Let what you have on the shelves determine your menus and use up as much as you can.

Beneath the sink is very critical, too. Make sure the area beneath the sink is as empty as possible, removing all extra cleaning supplies. You should scrub the area down as well, and determine if there are any tell-tale signs of water leaks that may cause a homebuyer to hesitate in buying your home.

Closet Clutter

Closets are great for accumulating clutter, though you may not think of it as clutter. We are talking about extra clothes and shoes – things you rarely wear but cannot bear to be without. Do without these items for a couple of months by putting them in a box, because these items can make your closets look “crammed full.” Sometimes there are shoeboxes full of “stuff” or other accumulated personal items, too.

Furniture Clutter

Many people have too much furniture in certain rooms – not too much for your own personal living needs – but too much to give the illusion of space that a homebuyer would like to see. You may want to tour some builders’ models to see how they place furniture in the model homes. Observe how they place furniture in the models so you get some ideas on what to remove and what to leave in your house.

Storage Area Clutter

Basements, garages, attics, and sheds accumulate not only clutter, but junk. These areas should be as empty as possible so that buyers can imagine what they would do with the space. Remove anything that is not essential and take it to the storage area.

Or have a garage sale.

Costs of Repairs

Do not do anything expensive, such as remodeling. If possible, use savings to pay for any repairs and improvements – do not go charging up credit cards or obtaining new loans. Remember that part of selling a house is also preparing to buy your next home. You do not want to do anything that will affect your credit scores or hurt your ability to qualify for your next mortgage.

Plumbing and Fixtures

When looking at a house, prospective home buyers often do not really know what to do. So they play with things. They flick light switches. They open everything with a handle. They turn on all the faucets and flush all the toilets. Having nice shiny fixtures makes an impression.

All your sink fixtures should look shiny and new. If this cannot be accomplished by cleaning, buy new ones. If you don’t buy something fancy, this can be accomplished inexpensively. Make sure all the hot and cold water knobs are easy to turn and that the faucets do not leak. If they do, replace the washers.

It sounds like hard work, but it’s pretty easy — even for the inexperienced.

Ceilings, Walls and Painting

Painting can be your best investment when selling your home. It is not a very expensive operation and often you can do it yourself. Do not choose colors based on your own preferences, but based on what would appeal to the widest possible number of buyers. You should almost always choose an off-white color because white helps your rooms appear bright and spacious.

Carpet and Flooring

Unless your carpet appears old and worn, or it is definitely an outdated style or color, you probably should do nothing more than hire a good carpet cleaner. If you do choose to replace it, do so with something inexpensive in a fairly neutral color.

Repair or replace broken floor tiles, but do not spend a lot of money on anything. Remember, you are not fixing up the place for yourself. You want to move. Your goal is simply to have few negative impressions upon those who may want to purchase your property.

The Exterior of the House

A homebuyer’s first impression is based on his or her view of the house from the real estate agent’s car. They call that first impression “curb appeal.”

So take a walk across the street and take a good look at your house. Look at nearby houses, too, and see how yours compares. Then it may be time to go to work.

The big decision is whether to paint or not to paint. When you look at your house from across the street, does it look tired and faded? If so, a paint job may be in order. It is often a very good investment and really spruces up the appearance of a house, adding dollars to offers from potential homebuyers.

When choosing a color, it should be a color that fits well in your neighborhood. Of course, the color also depends on the style of your house, too. For some reason, different shades of yellow seem to illicit the best response in homebuyers, whether it is in the trim or the basic color of the house.

As for the roof, if you know your roof leaks, repair it. If you do not repair a leaky roof, you are going to have to disclose it and the buyer will want an entire new roof.

Landscaping

Is your landscaping at least average for the neighborhood? If it is not, buy a few bushes and plant them. Do not put in trees. Mature trees are expensive, and you will not get back your investment, and immature trees do not really add much to the appearance value of the home.

If you have an area for flowers, buy mature colorful flowers and plant them. They add a splash of vibrancy and color, creating a favorable first impression.

Your lawn should be evenly cut, freshly edged, well watered, and free of brown spots. Always rake up loose leaves and grass cuttings.