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Serving South Florida

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For over 30 years

Real Estate Investment

Tips for Buying a Home in a Seller’s Market

Seller's market
Seller's market

Buying a home in a Seller’s market always has its challenges. But when you’re trying to do it in a seller’s market, the difficulty can reach a new level. When the market favors the seller, time is of the essence. Multiple offers happen with more regularity in a seller’s market than a buyer’s market, because a seller’s market is defined in part by low inventory and a surplus of home buyers. A beautiful home that is priced well can attract more than one offer.

In a seller’s market, you should always assume you’re competing against several other offers. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t buy a new home in a seller’s market, when there are more buyers than homes, and sellers can afford to hold out for higher offers. You just need to make sure you do it right and arm yourself with the right information:

Here are a few things to consider as you prepare your offer when buying in a seller’s market:

Choose an Experienced REALTOR: In sports and in business, it’s important to have the best players on your team when facing fierce competition. In a seller’s market, that means choosing a real estate agent who not only has proven expertise in the neighborhoods you’re interested in but is also highly responsive and efficient. Make sure to use an Exclusive Buyer’s Agent that owes you a fiduciary and works in your best interest.

Demonstrate Credit Worthiness: You should get Pre-Approved for a home mortgage with a local lender before touring homes if you need to get financing. By obtaining a pre-approval for a mortgage before you start home shopping, you’ll know how much buying power you have. Your offer may have far more credibility than competing ones where buyers didn’t take this step.

Lower Your Expectations: When the inventory of homes is limited, you probably can’t afford to wait for the perfect house to hit the market. Prepare yourself to adjust your expectations. It makes the most sense to make exceptions to your criteria for things that can be changed. For example, you can renovate or add a bathroom someday, but you can’t change the home’s location or lot size.

Make your Best Offer first, be Ready to Bid: Make your best offer but be prepared for it not to be your final offer. High home prices can lead to home appraisals that don’t climb as fast, leaving lenders to not fund the loan. Home buyers should have money set aside the pay the difference between a contracted purchase price and the appraisal.

By Prepared to Make Concessions: Your relative lack of power in a seller’s market doesn’t just affect the question of price. It carries over to every other aspect of the deal, too. Shorten the inspection period, be flexible on closing dates; you should be prepared to accommodate the seller’s needs even if it is an inconvenience to you.

Don’t be that buyer who wants to wait until the weekend to view a home in a seller’s market. By the weekend, that home could be sold. Try to be one of the first showings. Sellers usually don’t enjoy having buyers come through their homes at all hours of the day, so most would like to see their home sold quickly. If you write a good, fast, and clean offer, your chances of acceptance are far better than those of a buyer who is unprepared or is unrealistic on price.

Finally, don’t get carried away with the pressure to buy, even in a seller’s market. Remember that a home decision has a long-term impact on your financial future. It may be better to let a house go than make a poor decision that’s expensive to change.

Housing and Interior Design Trends for 2021

Accessory dwelling Unit

Accessory dwelling Unit

Design trends for 2021 include multi-zone kitchens, upgraded lighting, and oversized rectangle tiles according to home design website Houzz. The online resource recently released the following trends it expects to get hotter in 2021 as well as other home design sources.

Sconce lighting. Interest is growing in swing-arm and other sconce fixtures. Besides adding to decor, sconces have the benefit of adding task lighting around a sink or range

The multi-zone kitchen. Kitchens traditionally use a three-zone “work triangle” setup with a connection between the fridge, sink, and range, Houzz notes. More homeowners are adding touch points and creating additional work zones. Houzz refers to the trend as a “work trapezoid,” which might include dedicated areas for baking, prepping and chopping, or separate stations for snacks, drinks, and homework.

Rejuvenating bathroom design. Bathrooms are being designed to help reduce stress. Forty-one percent of homeowners who have undergone a bathroom renovation say they wanted their new space to evoke more of a relaxing vibe and adding steam showers, aromatherapy shower heads, and bathtub fillers that can hold a cup of tea or glass of wine.

Oversized rectangle tile. Large rectangular tiles can help visually expand a small space, and fewer grout lines means less cleaning. Houzz says the larger tiles are being used in several classic patterns, such as herringbone, stacked, and brick. Houzz designers recommend using a matte finish on bathroom floor tiles to reduce slipperiness.

Browns and beiges return. “Warm taupes, beiges, sands—basically any earth tone is surging in popularity,” Houzz notes. “Some designers say the trend is an evolution from popular whites and grays of recent years and that brown as an accent color works well to bring warmth to a palette heavy with those colors.”

Home offices and nooks. Homeowners are creating efficient spaces for offices, work nooks, and even backyard cottages as remote work grows and likely remains elevated in 2021.

Video conference-worthy backgrounds. Homeowners are feeling the need to have an aesthetically pleasing background for their video meetings and are even converting living rooms into video conferencing rooms with large screens and improved lighting and audio equipment.

Open floor plan scrutiny. “Perhaps no other design element was put under the microscope this year more than the open plan,” Houzz reports. “Anyone who had multiple family members attempting concurring video meetings in an open layout quickly saw the disadvantages to a lack of walls.” While this trendy floor plan isn’t likely to go away, many homeowners are considering sliding doors or partitions that can close off rooms for privacy.

Pergolas. To extend usable living space, homeowners are turning their attention to the outdoors.  These structures can add shade for dining, lounging, and other outdoor activities.

Backyard cottages and ADUs. For more privacy, some homeowners are adding a dedicated area to their backyard that’s separate from their main home. Accessory Dwelling Units ( ADU) are standalone structures are used as home offices, gyms, meditation areas, or extended living spaces to house relatives or kids who had to stay home from college due to the pandemic. No need for an architect, there are numerous sources that offer pre-fabircated sheds for multiple purposes from gardening to “sanity sheds”.

New multifamily amenities. With gyms, pools, and communal kitchens in multifamily buildings now periodically closing to keep residents safe, new spaces—indoors and outdoors—are emerging that are designed for fewer occupants such as

  • Quarantine stations. These designed rooms permit people who test positive for COVID-19 (but don’t need a hospital) to recuperate and avoid infecting family or neighbors.
  • Recording studios. There’s rising demand for studios that supports residents’ musical pursuits, podcasts, and videoconferencing.
  • Bicyclists’ havens. Whether it’s bike lockers or a bike-share program, multifamily experts expect this trend to accelerate due to the pandemic and communities reducing on-site parking.

Resilient landscapes.  Due to greater weather volatility, landscaping needs to better handle heavy rains and flooding, snowstorms, and drought. Multifamily waterfront communities are being designed or retrofitted with strategic landscaping and elevated public use area to address shifting shorelines and storm surges.

Health-minded building certifications.  The latest generation of certifications, rating systems, and design standards is based on scientific and medical research that affects human and occupant health such as programs like the WELL Building Standard, from the International WELL Building Institute, and Fitwel, according to the BuildingGreen site. Both suggest ways to gain a variety of benefits, from extensive natural daylight to good indoor air quality, filtration, and low energy use. Unlike LEED, these programs consider emotional wellness, too, which translates into greenery, gardens, and other biophilic design elements.

There are plenty of reasons to look forward to 2021, especially when it comes to the home design. After a year that guided many of us to spend more time at home,  the new year is an opportunity to bring comfort and creativity to our living spaces.

What We Need From A Home During COVID-19 Pandemic

Home Buying and COVID-19
Home Buying and COVID-19
It is safe to assume that COVID-19 or other lethal viruses are going to be a part of our lives for years to come. Homes, businesses, schools, travel entertainment and more will all have to adapt for keep people safe and productive. The one area that we all can control is where we live. Our homes are increasingly becoming our refuge, work place, school, and sources of entertainment. Our needs have changed as well as the stresses in our lives and our homes should be an area that provides us with restorative releases from the stresses that living with a pandemic produces.
Our needs are tied to our emotions, which are themselves influenced by our surroundings. The pandemic we’re living through has intensified certain emotions and shaken up our priorities. Emotional needs are translating into new demands on our interiors and how good design can help address the new challenges.
Multipurpose Rooms:
Home isn’t just home anymore. With the pandemic and lock down, it has become an office, a school, a gym, a play area, a restaurant, a dormitory and a place to retreat and relax. Hybrid designs, detachable units and convertible pieces are the keys to creating a home suited to the “new normal.”
Rooms that can be closed off for offices, playrooms, and individual spaces are helping homeowners better manage playtime for the kids, conference calls for work, and peaceful alone time
Sanitation and Disinfection:
Before COVID-19 there was already a growing awareness of the importance of healthy air, but today it has really become a priority as we spend more and more time at home. Homeowners are looking for all possible means to improve indoor air quality: furniture that doesn’t emit VOCs or other pollutants, sensors that monitor air quality and air-purifying treatments.
 In order to keep homes safe and clean, entryways will become clearly defined transitional spaces where one can remove their shoes, hang their jackets and sanitize their hands before entering.
There is a new emphasis on contact-less ways of stopping germs from multiplying on certain surfaces or limiting their proliferation in the home. This includes solutions for disinfecting clothing, such as with disinfecting wardrobes; antimicrobial products and fabrics for children and bedding; soaps that change color when you’ve washed your hands long enough; and self-disinfecting features such as door handles.
There are few materials that we can use that are more sterile than others, and will be used even more in the future of design.
  • Metals such as copper, brasses, and bronzes are natural antimicrobial materials that have intrinsic properties to destroy a wide range of microorganisms. Not only are these metals hygienic, but they are great accents to warm up your home.
  • Quartz is one of the hardest non-precious stones on earth, therefore countertops made from quartz are hard, stain and scratch-resistant, and the most sanitary. Quartz is already popular, and that will only increase post COVID-19.
  • Woods like bamboo, oak and cork stop bacteria and microorganisms from growing. We love the look of warm lighter oak woods for flooring, and think this will continue to be a big trend in home design.
Restful Environments and Wellness:
Our homes have also become our refuges, a place to rest and recharge our batteries.Responding to this need are products that ensure high-quality sleep, helping us process our daily emotions and protecting our immune systems, such as sleep and breathing monitors and sound insulation. It also means keeping bedrooms areas for rest and finding other areas in the home for work and school.
Going to gyms and fitness class outside the home are no longer safe options. This search for well-being also includes physical activity at home, with a focus on equipment and furniture resilient enough to withstand daily use, including stain-resistant, waterproof, warming and anti-odor products that can be used for exercise.
Closed off Spaces:
Now that people are having to live, work and play all in the same confined space the need for sound proofing and privacy has grown. There are a large percentage of people who may never return to a full time office environment and home offices are a mandate now instead of an afterthought. There will be a rising need for functional private offices to be an integral part of the home.
the benefits of making your office space aesthetically appealing —something that often comes second to function. “Whatever your home office space is, make it beautiful. Face something beautiful,” she said. “I like to face into the room, or you could look out of a window. Have a comfortable desk chair — spend money on that; it’s where you sit every day.”
Outdoor Space:
Since the onset of the pandemic, our appreciation of the outdoors and nature seems to have greatly increased. The act of simply going for a walk or sitting in a park has been a monumental source of reprieve. However, in the midst of a lock-down scenario, these activities don’t guarantee safety and aren’t universally accessible.
As a result, the demand for home designers to provide private outdoor spaces for every type of home looks set to increase. It will be up to architects to work out how to integrate the outdoors into even the most compact of homes, experimenting with roof gardens, micro backyards, porches and balconies. People may also seek a closer connection between their living spaces and the natural world, with folding glass doors merging these two zones together.
Tech Infrastructure:
Designers anticipate not only an increased need for smart home technology, but also a need for that technology to be touch-less, in order to reduce the spread of microbes.
“Automation will no longer be an indulgence but will help keep people safe,” MacEwen says. “As the memory of the pandemic fades, I do think the ‘best practice’ for hygiene will remain and change the way we interact in the world and what we expect from our home.”
In the end, whatever becomes of the changes to home design as a result of COVID remains to be seen. The question for housing is how might we create spaces that adapt flexibly for how people want to live, and where they can see and touch hygiene in new ways and feel safe as a result.

Ways Smart Home Technology Can Save You Money!

Smart Home Technology
With most of us spending more time in our homes today, you have undoubtedly seen increases in your utility bills, food costs, and more. We are paying more to be entertained at home as well. Smart home technology is now a highly desirable feature to be added to homes and will not only save you money, but will increase your home’s value when you go to sell. Green homes are becoming more and more in demand, especially by Millennials and younger home buyers.
Save on Water & Electricity:
You can save money on your home’s utility bills all year round while also adding comfort, convenience and control.
LED Lighting: 
Replacing your incandescent or florescent bulbs with LEDs can greatly reduce the amount of power your home consumes. “Smart” LED lights cost more but can join your Wi-Fi network for automation and app or voice control.
Wi-Fi Thermostats: 
Smart thermostats let you easily adjust heating and cooling settings from your smartphone, smartwatch or tablet, and many can automatically optimize settings based on when you’re home and when you’re not.
By learning your schedule and detecting the weather, products like Google Nest ($249) or the Ecobee family of smart thermostats (from $169) can save you more than 20 percent on your annual heating and cooling bills.
Smart Switches, Power Strips:
Special switches and power strips also can cut off electricity on demand or via a timer. Belkin has a line of Conserve-branded switches, starting at $10, that shut off power to what’s plugged into it either with the flip of a switch or after a predetermined amount of time.
Conserve brand power strips ($39) can cut off any residual power to a device after a specific time or with a wireless remote switch. Supporting up to eight devices, these power strips include outlets you want on all the time while shutting off other plugs.
Smart Shower Heads: 
Smart shower heads eliminate costly heat-up time and also adjust water flow based on where you are in the shower. Evadrop, for example, says it cuts water use in half .
Smart Sprinkler Systems:
Smart sprinklers are designed to optimize your watering schedule based on local weather conditions. They also detect leaks and monitor water flow to reduce overall costs. Most come with a mobile app that allows you to control your watering efforts on the go.
Energy Monitoring
By installing an energy monitoring system such as Sense, homeowners can identify appliances that are quietly adding to the monthly utility bills. The Sense monitor is installed in electrical panel, connected to Wi-Fi, and viewable in real time via a smartphone app. The device automatically detects items in the home in order to identify vampire loads and see how much they’re costing.
Advanced smart home technology users can take advantage of integrations with Alexa, Google, IFTTT, TP-Link, and Phillips Hue to setup additional energy-saving automation. Sense will help homeowners form better habits, identify problem appliances, and reduce always-on device consumption that may account for up to 20% of energy use.

Keeping Home Buyers Safe During COVID-19 Pandemic

Home Buying and COVID-19
Home Buying and COVID-19

 

How I Keep Buyers Safe During The COVID-19 Pandemic:

 

Buying a home is never a simple undertaking. Even at the best of times, house hunting comes with lots of built-in stressors, from mortgage approvals to bidding wars and beyond. But house-hunting during the corona-virus pandemic? That changes the game entirely.

Although it’s a scary time to be out and about checking out real estate, it is still possible to do so and stay relatively safe. The industry has rapidly adapted, introducing approaches that minimize exposure to the virus.

A trusted Exclusive Buyers Agent is always a key ingredient in a successful home-buying experience. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this asset is absolutely non-negotiable.

Virtual Showings:
Many agents are now working remotely and conducting most of their business virtually. Instead of Open Houses, just ask me to provide you with a Virtual Tour of the property using Facebook, Skype or WeChat. Also remember that listing pictures may not tell the whole story. Special camera lenses and creative angles often make rooms appear larger than they actually are. Look out for potentially distorted pictures (which often have angles that curve somewhat) and learn to take such shots with a grain of salt. Listing agents only take photos of the positive aspects of the home. I will review the entire home with you and provide you with a constructive and truthful assessment of the condition , location and if it meets your needs.

Home Tours:
If you want to tour a property, I can provide you with masks, hand sanitizers and shoe covers. During the tour, it’s also now customary me to open all doors, so that home buyers can explore closets and other enclosed spaces without touching anything as they look.

If you do make an offer that’s accepted and you head to the closing table, real estate agents and attorneys are also adapting to remote closings.

Remote Mortgage Approval
One smart way to stay safe right now is to work with a loan officer who is set up to work remotely. Most lenders have already made the entire mortgage process digital. There is no need for you to meet a lender or show up at a closing table any longer.

Remote Home Inspections
I am offering clients the option of doing a remote inspection, where I am with the inspector in the property alone and review the findings with Buyers virtually. The Inspector and I walk you through the home’s deficiencies and operations in advance of sending you a formal report.

Virtual Home Appraisals
Home appraisals required by a lender generally include a site visit, which is not possible in some parts of the country where this is not considered an essential service. Luckily, appraisals pertain only to those getting loans, so cash buyers can skip this process entirely. But if you are getting a mortgage, fear not, virtual appraisals are generally accepted by most lenders today.

Remote Home Closings
In-person home closings—where all parties come together to sign contracts, swap keys, and shake hands—are, for the most part, not happening right now. Mobile closers are going to the Buyers for the final execution of documents. They are practicing safe social distance practices and there is no “closing table” any longer. Keys will be brought to you personally or couriered.

There is no limit the the services and adaptability that Optima Properties offers its clients…..we are currently assisting in the lot selection, model selection, and construction of a home virtutally for several clients who will not see their new home until the day they move in.

 

Life After COVID-19? How Interior Design will Change

Covid Interior Design Trends for Homes
Covid Interior Design Trends for Homes
Spending months in quarantine has already dramatically impacted design, with new trends that will undoubtedly continue to resonate well into 2021 and beyond. The future of interior design will reflect the reality of a world that has been forever changed by incorporating cleanliness and materials to help to mitigate the spread of disease, floor plans that provide separate spaces for home-bound activities, and a focus on personal well-being.
Nature-starved homeowners have been craving what they’ve been denied of late, so expect to see an increased number of plants and lush indoor gardens, earth-toned color schemes, outdoor-style interior flooring, and even the occasional attached greenhouse.
Residences will no longer have a home office, but an office at home. Significant reconsideration of how we can create a beautiful, functional office at home will be designed and set up to accommodate full time satellite workplaces.
If you’re doing your part and social distancing from inside your home, you may start to notice small details of your house or apartment you hadn’t thought about before – like how to help keep your home as clean as possible during the corona virus outbreak. There are few materials that we can use that are more sterile than others and will be used even more in the future of design.
        • Metals such as copper, brasses, and bronzes are natural antimicrobial materials that have intrinsic properties to destroy a wide range of microorganisms. Not only are these metals hygienic, but they are great accents to warm up your home.
        • A separate “casita” or guest house suite can be useful for isolating someone that may be ill, or to provide more distance and privacy for guests.
        •  Office spaces and study areas are more necessary than ever. As more of us work (and learn) from home, a dedicated office and space for studying is essential. Many of us quickly had to convert areas and rooms to our own home offices – showing us the importance of a separate space. Homes with multiple areas for getting work done – offices, libraries, and study areas – will be even more popular in design.
        • Multiple areas for activities and entertainment, such as home gyms, media rooms, and game rooms will be necessary to keep everyone entertained. During this pandemic, we have found ourselves with a lot of time on our hands, so whether it’s a family game night or a workout, the need for a space for everyone at home has only increased.
        • There’s no doubt that the future of kitchen design will look different in a post COVID 19 world. First, we have been forced to alter the way we shop, store, and prepare food. Second, we have more time at home to get organized, tackle lingering projects, and sanitize our homes. Finally, we have had to change the way we interact and socialize with family, friends, and colleagues. More long term storage and larger freezer capacity are in demand. New kitchens will be designed with cleanability in mind. Low maintenance cabinet finishes, faucets, tile, and fixtures will be a top priority. Quartz is one of the hardest non-precious stones on earth, therefore countertops made from quartz are hard, stain and scratch-resistant, and the most sanitary.

Our living spaces greatly influence our physical health – as well as our emotional state of mind (especially during his time). So it will continue to be important to create environments that stimulate our senses in a good way, improve relaxation, and have health and wellness benefits to the people using them. Here are a few ways of living that will be popular.

  • Bringing in nature will be emphasized in many different ways. From larger windows with views outside and using colors that reflect the natural world. Having lots of greenery in a home is also an obvious and easy stimulant to our overall wellbeing (along with lots of health benefits).
  • An increase in organization. Being quarantined at home makes us realize what is really necessary. Clutter can cause anxiety and discomfort – feelings that are more unwanted than ever. Organization will be emphasized, through de-cluttering, smart storage, and built-in shelving and spaces for keeping items organized in smaller spaces.
  • A sense of security and calm will definitely be present in interiors. When the world is full of uncertainty, having a space that feels like an escape from the outside world, with soft and cozy materials, light colors and relaxing vibes, will be a prerequisite of design.

When it comes to colors this year, we’re seeing the return of earth tones in a wide spectrum, from cream to terra cotta.  Expect to see decor that conveys softness, with plenty of light colors, especially pinks, beiges and other neutral tones, for a Zen look promoting rest, tranquility and well-being.

Nature continues its influential role in the world of decor. Vegetal hues have been in the spotlight for several seasons now, and this year we saw a lot of them, ranging from tender green to intense mint to peacock blue. Sky blue has brightened up the pastel palette.

Earth tones aren’t the only trend with staying power of late. While black is becoming less popular, blue has been replacing it. It’s a more versatile and emotionally indulgent hue well suited to sheltering at home.

Should You Refinance During The COVID-19 Situation?

Covid-19 and Refi

Covid-19 and Refi

Rates are lower than ever; when a refinancing is done right, it can save you thousands of dollars. But not every potential refi makes the cut. Sometimes the expenses just don’t justify the potential savings.

It is time to refinance your home mortgage if the terms lower your mortgage interest rate, pay off their mortgage years earlier, or saves thousands in interest over the life of the loan. You can save serious money by refinancing your mortgage. But due to refinancing fees and expenses, not every refi makes financial sense.

COVID-19 is creating changes with lenders and how they are doing business. This is resulting in refinancing taking longer and getting stricter than it has been in the past. Although the mortgage process is considered essential as a financial transaction, depending on where you live, there may be changes related to COVID-19  involving your appraisal, rate lock and closing process.

Rates are quite low and because your home is your biggest financial investment, the equity can be very useful as a resource in times of trouble. But if you’re thinking of financing your home loan there are several steps you should take to make sure that it’s the right move for you.

How Long Do You Plan On Being In Your Home?

Being able to answer this question will help you figure out the term length you want on any refinanced mortgage; but there’s another reason asking this question …

If you plan on moving within the next 5 – 10 years, it could be worth your while to look at an adjustable rate mortgage ( ARM).  You get a lower rate initially with an ARM because the rate can adjust after the teaser period. But if you move before the end of the fixed-rate time frame, you don’t have to worry about whether the rate is going up and down in the end. Additionally, your payment will tend to be lower because most adjustable rate mortgages are based on 30-year terms.

Age Of Current Loan

The age of your current loan sometimes plays a role in whether you can refinance. Even if you can refinance, it does not always make sense.  When you refinance you have to pay closing costs.  If you are not planning on staying in the house past the breakeven point when the savings and the additional expenses paid starts to net to overall reduced costs for home ownership, the it is not the time to refinance.  You may want to accelerate buying a new home to realize the saving from lower interest rates.

Plans For Monthly Savings

If you determine that you’re going to save money by refinancing based on the rate and term you can get, make sure that you have a plan for what you’re going to do with the monthly savings in order to put yourself in a better financial position. No one knows exactly when COVID-19 is going to end and how long it will take for the economy to recover. If you can save money now, you can work on establishing the savings need should the vaccine be delayed or we continue with a longer recession

You could use your savings to build up an emergency fund. Maybe you choose to allow yourself to save money in the future by paying off high-interest debt now. You can also use this to catch up on saving for retirement if you stopped contributing temporarily while dealing with the situation caused by the virus.

It’s a very volatile market right now, so we advise all of our clients to rely on the advice of their Home Loan Expert and Financial Advisors at all times.

The Mortgage Refi Process

Approving a mortgage is a complicated process, one that requires a lender to validate a borrower’s income, check the value of the home being used as collateral and scrutinize the title history of the property.

Just as refinancing applications picked up, the coronavirus pandemic dramatically changed the way everyone in the mortgage industry works. Loan officers no longer go to the office. Appraisers stopped walking through houses. And no one gathers around the title company’s closing table. The process is a little slower because everybody’s working from home right now. Things that would take an hour to do are taking a day sometimes.

It is more difficult to verify a borrower’s employment. A task once dispatched with a quick call to the borrower’s human resources department now means leaving a voicemail and waiting a day or two for a response.

Meanwhile, homeowners looking to refinance may have to get in line behind buyers who need a mortgage so they can close on a house which are a priority with lenders.

The mortgage industry already had been digitizing, and lenders quickly adapted to many changes. One stumbling block, though, is that most lenders still require some documents to be signed in the presence of a legal witness and notarized.  Florida allows for mobile notaries and they are busier than ever.

Sometimes, documents are being signed remotely and online and mobile notaries are not allowed yet.  You need to allow time for in person notarization and overnight mailing of documents.  Digital closings may be the way of the future, but we are not there yet.

What You Can Do to Secure a Smooth Refinance

Here are a few ways you can make the refi process as smooth as possible:

— Get your paperwork in order. Don’t let something simple like a missing document delay your refinance. Collect PDFs of financial documents, including pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns and retirement accounts.

— Make sure the lender will honor your rate lock. In normal times, lenders extend rate locks for 30 to 60 days, meaning you won’t have to pay more if rates go up before your loan closes. These aren’t normal times, though, and many refinances aren’t closing within 30 to 60 days, so make sure your lender is willing to extend your rate lock if your deal is delayed.

— Keep your credit score tight. Now isn’t the time to miss a payment, take on new debt or otherwise do anything to lower your credit score. Lenders are being especially strict about borrowers’ credit histories.

 

COVID-19 Real Estate Home Buying Process

Real Estate Process
Real Estate Process

COVID-19 Real Estate Home Buying Process

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has labeled residential and commercial real estate as an essential business. Yet, COVID-19 has changed how real estate is conducted not only with how Realtors are showing properties but also how real estate transactions are closed.
One thing is certainly sure: being an “essential” business does not necessarily mean business as usual.
Pre-Closing
The New National Association of Realtors (NAR) guidelines follow and strictly adhere to all CDC safety guidelines. NAR supports and encourages that all brokerage firms order their agents to shelter in place and avoid all social interaction.
Such stay at home mandates and social distancing regulations have pushed real estate agents to become creative. Instead of having open houses, real estate agents are using virtual property showings, and Facebook live open houses. There are programs for customers to even design their home using digital tools, watching videos of the construction as their property is being built. Realtors are doing initial showings over video chat services like Face Time, Skype or Zoom.
Contract
Perhaps the real challenge COVID-19 poses to home buying is not necessarily shopping for the home—rather, it is closing on one.
Issues with contracts focusing on force majeure clauses, or clauses that provide for a delay or opportunity to get out of underlying obligations in the event of unforeseen or uncontrollable events have been an emerging issue during this pandemic.
The development of the COVID-19 Extension Addendum to Contract allows for time periods and dates to be extended as a result of the Corona-virus pandemic.
Closing
Once contract issues are overcome, the closing itself has evolved due to this crisis.
Make sure that you or the Seller only use an escrow and Title company that is capable of handling the closing. Specifically ask whether they use online or mobile notaries. Also determine if the local recorder’s office uses electronic recording and whether the title company is equipped to record the deed electronically.
Many documents in the closing process require a notary, and notarization is normally required to be done-in person. The Florida legislature and Governor signed into law effective January 1, 2020, a new law that allows for what is called remote online notarization (RON). This is a huge game-changer in the State of Florida, particularly in the area of real estate closings. No longer do parties all have to get together at a certain set time around the conference room and execute documents. Now, from the comfort of your own home, provided that you have your own laptop or smart phone, you can execute documents online and remotely and have those documents notarized. While the technology is new, it is not that new. It is the same technology that is used to validate your passport or driver’s license when you go through security at an airport. This validation technology is now being used for remote online notarization (RON).
If, for example, you are in another state and are closing on real estate located in Florida, or, perhaps, you are in a profession (such as being a doctor and on call) that makes it difficult to attend a closing, you can now remotely video into the closing and notarize your documents from the comfort wherever you might be. Documents are produced online for your review, and at the point that you are prepared to execute those documents, you can do so remotely. A notary is present at the time online, not physically with you, and that notary is then able to confirm and validate that you executed the documents without any duress or coercion.
There is a caveat, however, and that is that while remote online notarization, in theory, should work all over the world, it really is more of a domestic service for people within the United States. It is difficult for the technology, at this stage, to validate foreign credentials.
Appraisals and home inspections are other aspects of residential real estate closings are evolving during this pandemic. The Federal Housing Finance Agency is allowing alternative appraisal methods such as “drive by” appraisals where appraisers drive through the neighborhood and walk around a property without going into it. They are also doing “desktop” appraisals using public data to generate property values.
The loan process will likely take longer than in the past and I am encouraging my buyers to agree to no less than a 60 days closing if a loan is needed. You need to take this into consideration with your home buying timeline if you need to close on a property by a certain date.
Moving during a Pandemic
 I recently published an entire BLOG article on this subject which you can read here along with other articles that you may find informative.

Tips for Buying a Fixer-Upper

Fixer-uppers have long had their fans. Some investors love the idea of making major repairs that increase a home’s value and then reselling the property for profit. Others want a low-priced starter home and don’t mind making gradual improvements over time.
Buyers must do their due diligence so that they understand their total investment in the property and the cash requirements; since most repairs cannot be financed. An Exclusive Buyer Agent’s goal is to help buyers avoid making expensive mistakes.
While repair issues, un-permitted work, or liens might not derail a sale on its own, they warrant a call to an expert who can assess the problem, offer solutions or give repair estimates.
Warning Signs Before Purchasing a Fixer-Upper:
  1. Consider the amount of time and the amount of cash you have to address obvious deficiencies with the property.
  2. Does the property smell damp? From mold to warping, moisture can cause considerable damage to homes, even making them uninhabitable. The first clue is that moisture smells. Besides damage to the house, moisture can adversely affect a homeowner or tenant’s health.
  3. Stuck windows and doors. These can also be a sign of moisture or that a house is settling due to age or structural shifting. Both are problematic.
  4. Sloping or sagging floors. Both indicate structural problems beyond just aging. Buyers should find out if framing, joists or sub-flooring need replacement.
  5. Foundation problems. One small crack can be just the beginning of many cracks and can signal that a house could eventually crumble.
  6. Inward grading, poor drainage and short downspouts. Improperly installed or clogged gutters and downspouts all may cause water to enter a house.
  7. Bad roof. An old roof may leak but it’s not always the shingles or tiles that are the culprit. Sometimes, it’s what’s underneath – sheathing, trusses, beams and rafters. The sellers should disclose when the roof was installed.
  8. Outdated wiring and fuses. Because homeowners rely on so much technology today, outdated wiring may, in worst cases, start a fire. Often, dated electric boxes make the home un-insurable.
  9. Outdated plumbing. Toilets that don’t flush properly, sinks and showers that lack adequate pressure or have leaks, and water heaters that don’t provide enough hot water signal a need for attention. Not to mention the condition of the pipes from the home to the street.
  10. Termite damage and wood rot. Buyers may spot blisters in wood flooring, hollow sections of wood, and even the bugs themselves. An exterminator can determine the extent of the damage and estimate repair costs.
  11. High energy bills. This should alert buyers to the cost of cooling the home. Due diligence can tell them whether their Ac handlers, insulation, or doors and windows are inefficient and need to be sealed, repaired or replaced.
  12. Historic home designation and zoning rules. Municipal guidelines may restrict buyers from making certain improvements to their home and property.

Tips for Condo Buyers

South Florida Condominium
Buying a condo, short for condominium, can be a great way to dive into home ownership without worrying about much of the upkeep that comes with single-family homes and townhouses. Condo dwellers can also typically take advantage of shared amenities, plus having professional management to take care of building maintenance.
However, condos aren’t for everyone so it’s best to figure out what your lifestyle and budget needs are first.
Whether you are purchasing a vacation condo or making South Florida your permanent home, there are a few tips and tricks you should use to help make the condo buying decision easy and stress-free.
Here are just a few South Florida condo-buying tips to help you find your dream condo.
A condo is typically a shared piece of property with individual owners of each “unit” or condo. In most cases, condominiums offer services such as, but not limited to, fitness centers, tennis courts, and pools. Many people purchase condos due to less hands on maintenance and they enjoy lifestyle of living in a condominium community.
When buying a condominium, it is important you know that every condominium community is different. It’s crucial to know each community will have their own community rules, association fees, management company, and amenities.
Financial Strength
Take a close look at the health of the association just as closely as you do the unit itself. Associations should have reserve funds to maintain the parking lots, roofs, painting , pool and other maintenance items. If there are not enough funds to pay for the repairs, it would require a loan to the association which would be paid in monthly installments or a special assessment where all owners would have to pay their portion of the repair upfront. You should take this monthly condo association fee into consideration when planning to budget for your new home. If the association is not financially healthy, you will need to prepare to pay for unexpected expenses out of your own budget.
Building Style
The style of the building in which your condo is located in can impact your financial costs over time. Garden-style buildings have lower maintenance costs than towers. Multi-story buildings and towers have elevated costs associated with maintaining the elevator systems. The number of units and the size of the units within the association will also affect your maintenance dues. A larger number units divide the fees up between more people, lowering the cost than if you had a smaller amount of units .
Insurance
Depending on the exact location in South Florida, the cost of insurance varies. Research insurance costs and availability before signing the contract for your new condo. Beaches that are located on barrier islands offer additional challenges to obtain traditional all-perils insurance policies for both the association and the condo owner.
Beach Access/Condition
If you want to purchase a condo on the beach, you’ll need to consider the quality of the sand, the condition of the natural elements such as the dunes, and the width of the beach. Beach erosion is a common problem in Florida, especially after hurricanes and tropical storms hit. Take a deep dive into the history of the beach erosion and maintenance in the area you are looking to purchase your condo in. You certainly don’t want to purchase a condo on a beach that is eroding or isn’t properly maintained.
Mortgages and Financing
Financing a condo is not the same as financing a single-family residence. While it’s critical to get approved for a loan whether buying a condo or a house, obtaining financing can be trickier for a condo purchase, because many lenders don’t allow purchases of condos. Many condos are purchased with cash because of the regulations lenders and programs place. If you are looking to get an FHA loan, you’ll need to first make sure the condo community is on FHA’s approved list of communities. FHA typically requires that 80% of the units in the building are owner-occupied, so before you have your heart set on a property, double-check that it is on the approved list.
You can also obtain a private mortgage to purchase the condo, but this comes at a much higher price tag since many private lenders require a minimum of 20% down payment.Mortgages for condos may involve some additional steps. For condos, the condo association/complex must also be approved for a full loan approval to be issued, This may require additional paperwork, approval from the condo association, and even some additional costs paid before closing. You may need to make a bigger down payment or have extra cash in the bank since Lenders sometimes have extra requirements for condo buyers.
Association Fees
One of the largest expenses, in addition to your mortgage, will be your condo association dues. “Condo fees generally cover the maintenance of the common areas, utilities such as sewer and trash, security, building insurance, reserves and external building maintenance, In addition, whether the fees are paid monthly, quarterly, or annually, you will still be required to pay property taxes and need to carry homeowner’s insurance to cover your contents and your internal structure. Prospective condo purchasers should find out how much you will pay in monthly condo dues and what the fees cover within the community. Do these fees seem reasonable in return for the maintenance and amenities that are offered?
Rules and Regulations
Condo ownership comes with rules. It’s important that you understand what your unique responsibilities are to the overall community and what rules the condo association has in place. When you are buying a condo in Florida, you are required by law to receive a copy of the Declaration of the Condominium or condo docs as they are more commonly known – this is mandatory regardless of whether you are buying a resale condo, key-ready condo, or a per-construction condo. These condo docs are registered with the State and can be over 500 pages in length.
The condo docs will contain lots of specific information, including details about the developer, the formation of the Home Owners Association (HOA) and related fees, plans of the buildings, floor plans for each unit and the all important Rules and Regulations of the condominium.
Some Important information that you look for in the docs or ask for from the Condo Association:
  • What exactly are your ownership and voting rights within the association?
  • What percentage of the common expenses are you be liable for – many units offer different floor plans of various sizes, with each one making up a percentage
  • What restrictions are in place regarding the common elements and your unit?
  • Is there planning in place for further units to be constructed? Â If so, how many and when?
  • Does the developer have any options NOT to complete any of the facilities or amenities?
  • Is there a history of resident complaints at the condominium?
  • Is the Condominium Association currently involved in any form of litigation?
  • Does the Condominium Association have reserved funds set aside for maintenance projects and future capital expenditures?
  • What about pets – are there ANY restrictions?
  • Can you rent or sell your condo without restrictions?
  • Are there any restrictions regarding family and friends using, staying with, or occupying the unit?
Know About Special Assessments
A special assessment is a large fee that is charged to help pay for a significant project within the condo community, such as a structural repair. These special assessments can raise your association fees for a certain period of time or require a one time payment to the Association.
Whatever your preferences, carefully consider your current and future lifestyle needs, plus your financial situation. Consult with a real estate professional who specializes in selling condos to show you the ins and outs of condo living throughout your home search and protects your interests during the buying process.