Tips for Moving Into a Smaller Home as a Senior

By Michael Longsdon

For many seniors, there comes a time when the expense and upkeep of a big home no longer seem realistic. All of your kids have moved out, and suddenly, your multi-bedroom house feels excessively large and empty. Plus, it may be difficult to keep up with mortgage payments if you’re expecting a lower income during retirement. Whether downsizing is a financial necessity or an emotional decision, here’s how to tackle the process without getting overwhelmed.

Do Online Research

Before you start looking at houses in person, narrow down your options by doing some research online. Search the local housing market on sites such as Redfin to get a feel for house prices in your desired area. For example, homes in Seattle, Washington have sold for an average of $685,000 during the past month. Explore listings in your preferred size range and location so you can come up with a realistic budget for your new home.

Think far ahead as you look at homes, considering the possibility that the needs of you and your spouse may change over time. One-story homes can be much more accessible for you and your friends down the line. You should also take time to research the neighborhood and pay attention to the house’s proximity to grocery stores, leisure centers, and public transportation.

Plan for Your Storage Needs

If you’re moving to an apartment or condo, you may not have the attic, basement, or even the closet space that you’re used to. Look for a nearby for an affordable self-storage unit so you aren’t left crowding boxes and furniture into your new home. Some simple online research can help you find the best deals in your area. In the last 180 days, for instance, self-storage units in Seattle, Washington cost an average of $88.45 per month.

Go Through Your Possessions Methodically

One of the hardest parts about downsizing is getting rid of things you’ve had for decades. Apartment Guide recommends looking at pictures of clutter-free rooms in magazines for inspiration before starting your own purge. This will mentally prepare you for getting rid of all the stuff you don’t need cluttering up your new, smaller space.

As you declutter, go room by room and sort items into no more than five piles: keep, donate, sell, gift, and throw away. Don’t be afraid to let go of things that are useful but not particularly necessary in your own life. Likewise, don’t keep things out of obligation or feelings of guilt. While you’re cutting the clutter, keep a floor plan of your new home nearby so you can plan out your rooms and ensure your furniture will fit. If you’re worried about accurately measuring your space, you can hire a professional to help you out.

Pack Like a Pro

Protect your items during your move and make them easier to unpack later by trying out some expert packing tips. For example, socks make great padding for glasses and mugs, while oven mitts are perfect for transporting knives a little more safely. Secure entire desk drawers and kitchen storage trays with plastic wrap for much faster unpacking later. Also, keep your clothing on hangers and simply slip a garbage bag over them for protection. Remember to pack an essentials box of everything you need during your first day and night in your new house.

Follow a Moving Checklist

There is a lot to remember to do before moving day. For example, you need to update your mailing address with the post office, find a new doctor, and transfer your utilities. Follow a moving checklist (or hire a senior move manager for around $316 per day) to avoid forgetting important tasks. One of your moving tasks should involve researching moving companies at least two months before your move. This gives you plenty of time to find the help you need within your budget. Learn about how to spot rogue moving companies so you can avoid being scammed, especially if you’re moving long distance.

Moving is exhausting for anyone. But moving into a smaller home can be especially emotional as you say goodbye to personal objects that have surrounded you for much of your life. For this reason, it’s important to take things slow while you sort through your possessions and search for the perfect place to spend your golden years.

 

Mr. Longsdon provides advice to seniors on downsizing and aging in place and can discuss concerns like tackling home accessibility modifications, how to find a great contractor, the benefits of aging in place, and more.​

This post originally appeared on the Windermere.com blog.

Investing In a Green Home Will Pay Dividends In 2019

As we step forward into 2019, eco-friendly “green homes” are more popular than ever. Upgrading your home’s sustainability improves quality of life for those residing in it, but it is also a savvy long-term investment. As green homes become more popular, properties boasting sustainable features have become increasingly desirable targets for homebuyers. Whether designing a new home from scratch or preparing your current home for sale, accentuating a house with environmentally-friendly features can pay big dividends for everyone.

While the added value depends on the location of the home, its age, and whether it’s certified or not, three separate studies all found that newly constructed, Energy Star, or LEED-certified homes typically sell for about nine percent more than comparable, non-certified new homes. Plus, one of those studies discovered that existing homes retrofitted with green technologies, and certified as such, can command a whopping 30-percent sales-price boost.

There are dozens of eco-friendly features that can provide extra value for you as a seller. To name a few:

Cool roof

Cool roofs keep the houses they’re covering as much as 50 to 60 degrees cooler by reflecting the heat of the sun away from the interior, allowing the occupants to stay cooler and save on air-conditioning costs. The most common form is metal roofing. Other options include roof membranes and reflective asphalt shingles.

Fuel cells

Fuel cells may soon offer an all-new source of electricity that would allow you to completely disconnect your home from all other sources of electricity. About the size of a dishwasher, a fuel cell connects to your home’s natural gas line and electrochemically converts methane to electricity. One unit would pack more than enough energy to power your whole home.

For many years, fuel cells have been far too expensive or unreliable. But as technology has improved, so too has reliability. Companies like Home Power Solutions and Redbox Power Systems have increased the reliability of these fuel sources while reducing their size. Much like we’ve seen computers and cell phones shrink in size while improving reliability and power, fuel cells continue to be refined.

Wind turbine

A wind turbine (essentially a propeller spinning atop an 80- to 100-foot pole) collects kinetic energy from the wind and converts it to electricity for your home. And according to the Department of Energy, a small version can slash your electrical bill by 50 to 90 percent.

But before you get too excited, you need to know that the zoning laws in most urban areas don’t allow wind turbines. They’re too tall. The best prospects for this technology are homes located on at least an acre of land, well outside the city limits.

Green roof

Another way to keep the interior of your house cooler—and save on air-conditioning costs—is to replace your traditional roof with a layer of vegetation (typically hardy groundcovers). This is more expensive than a cool roof and requires regular maintenance, but young, environmentally conscious homeowners are very attracted to the concept.

Hybrid heating

Combining a heat pump with a standard furnace to create what’s known as a “hybrid heating system” can save you somewhere between 15 and 35 percent on your heating and cooling bills.

Unlike a gas or oil furnace, a heat pump doesn’t use any fuel. Instead, the coils inside the unit absorb whatever heat exists naturally in the outside air, and distributes it via the same ductwork used by your furnace. When the outside air temperature gets too cold for the heat pump to work, the system switches over to your traditional furnace.

Geothermal heating

Geothermal heating units are like heat pumps, except instead of absorbing heat from the outside air, they absorb the heat in the soil next to your house via coils buried in the ground. The coils can be buried horizontally or, if you don’t have a wide enough yard, they can be buried vertically. While the installation price of a geothermal system can be several times that of a hybrid, air-sourced system, the cost savings on your energy bills can cover the installation costs in five to 10 years.

Solar power

Solar panels capture light energy from the sun and convert it directly into electricity. Similarly to wind turbines, your geographical location may determine the feasibility of these installments. Even on cloudy days, however, solar panels typically produce 10-25% of their maximum energy output. For decades, you may have seen these panels sitting on sunny rooftops all across America. But it’s only recently that this energy-saving option has become truly affordable.

In 2010, installing a solar system on a typical mid-sized house would have set the homeowner back $30,000. But as of December 2018, the average cost after tax credits for solar panel installation was just $13,188! Plus, some companies are now offering to rent solar panels to homeowners (the company retains ownership of the panels and sells the homeowner access to the power at roughly 10 to 15 percent less than they would pay their local utility).

Solar water heaters

Rooftop solar panels can also be used to heat your home’s water. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the average homeowner who makes this switch should see their water bills shrink by 50 to 80 percent.

Tax credits/rebates

Many of the innovative solutions summarized above come with big price tags attached. However, federal, state and local rebates/tax credits can often slash those expenses by as much as 50 percent. So before ruling any of these ideas out, take some time to see which incentives you may qualify for at dsireusa.org and the “tax incentives” pages at Energy.Gov.

Regardless of which option you choose, these technologies will help to conserve valuable resources and reduce your monthly utility expenses. Just as importantly, they will also add resale value that you can leverage whenever you decide it’s time to sell and move on to a new home.

This post originally appeared on the Windermere.com blog.

Stay Safe While Selling Your Home With Our Seller’s Checklist

Staying organized while uprooting your life and moving from one home to another can feel impossible. Not only are you trying to get the best financial return on your investment, but you might also be working on a tight deadline. There’s also the pressure to keep your home clean and organized at all times for prospective buyers.  One thing you can be sure of when selling your home is that there will be strangers entering your space, so it’s important for you and your agent to take certain safety precautions. Like so many things in life, they can feel more manageable once written down, so we made this handy checklist.

 

  • Go through your medicine cabinets and remove all prescription medications.
  • Remove or lock up precious belongings and personal information. You will want to store your jewelry, family heirlooms, and personal/financial information in a secure location to keep them from getting misplaced or stolen.
  • Remove family photos. We recommend removing your family photos during the staging process so potential buyers can see themselves living in the home. It’s also a good way to protect your privacy.
  • Check your windows and doors for secure closings before and after showings. If someone is looking to get back into your home following a showing or an open house, they will look for weak locks or they might unlock a window or door.
  • Consider extra security measures such as an alarm system or other monitoring tools like cameras.
  • Don’t show your own home! If someone you don’t know walks up to your home asking for a showing, don’t let them in. You want to have an agent present to show your home at all times. Agents should have screening precautions to keep you and them safe from potential danger.

Talk to your agent about the following safety precautions: 

  • Do a walk-through with your agent to make sure you have identified everything that needs to be removed or secured, such as medications, belongings, and photos.
  • Go over your agent’s screening process:
    • Phone screening prior to showing the home
    • Process for identifying and qualifying buyers for showings
    • Their personal safety during showings and open houses
  • Lock boxes to secure your keys for showings should be up to date. Electronic lockboxes actually track who has had access to your home.
  • Work with your agent on an open house checklist:
    • Do they collect contact information of everyone entering the home?
    • Do they work with a partner to ensure their personal safety?
  • Go through your home’s entrances and exits and share important household information so your agent can advise how to secure your property while it’s on the market.

This post originally appeared on the Windermere Blog.

5 Dangers of Overpricing a Home

It is still a great time to be a seller, but the local real estate market has begun to soften. With significant increases in inventory, buyers now have more choices and less sense of urgency. If you are thinking about selling your home, pricing it correctly the first time is critical. Here’s why:

  1. If you overprice your home, it won’t show up in some search results.

    Buyers search for homes using the parameters they desire. Price range is one of the most critical. If you set an unrealistic price of $850,000 for your home, all the buyers searching for homes up to $825,000 will fail to see your property in their search results.

  2. An overpriced home attracts the wrong buyer.

    An overpriced home will not compare favorably with the realistically-valued homes in a buyer’s price bracket. If your home is missing the amenities, square footage or other features of homes within the price range you’ve placed it in it won’t sell.

  3. Overpriced homes linger on the market and risk becoming “stale”.

    The interest in a home is always highest when the listing first hits the market. When an overpriced home goes unsold for a long period of time buyers often wonder what is wrong with the property. When a buyer moves on from a listing they rarely come back, even if you drop the price.

  4. You run the risk of getting less for your home than if you priced it correctly the first time.

    A Zillow study showed that homes that linger on the market tend to sell for significantly less than their listing price. When a home sits on the market for an extended period of time, buyers feel they have lots of room to negotiate.

  5. The longer your home remains on the market, the more expenses you incur.

    Every month your home goes unsold you put out money for mortgage payments, utilities and other home expenses that you will never recover.

 

Setting a realistic price for your home from the start is critical. If you’re thinking of selling, our highly trained experts at Windermere Real Estate can provide you with a comprehensive pricing analysis based on current market conditions.

What You Need to Know About the US Luxury Housing Market

Posted in Luxury by Matthew Gardner, Chief Economist, Windermere Real Estate 

Photo courtesy of West Bellevue Partners | MLS # 1324889

Luxury homes sales across the U.S. continue to perform strongly, but I’m noticing some headwinds starting to appear that are worthy of a closer look.

It’s often thought that luxury real estate runs totally independent of the overall market, and while this is true in some respects, there are definitely correlations between high-end housing and the rest of the market.

The first similarity is that the luxury market has suffered from some the same inventory constraints that are almost endemic across all price points in the U.S. But, similar to the overall market, we are starting to see a rise in inventory, which should be good news for real estate agents and luxury home buyers alike.

Impact of rising inventory 

This increase in the number of luxury homes for sale has started to have a tapering effect on price growth, which again, is similar to what we’re seeing in the rest of the market. But as real estate professionals, we know full well that all housing is local and some markets are performing far better than others.

For example, luxury markets in Maui, Northern California, Colorado, and Sarasota, Florida, are all experiencing substantial price growth, while there are noticeable slowdowns in many parts of New York and New Jersey. Even Queens and Jersey City, which have continued to benefit from high demand, have seen price growth stall recently, indicating that those markets could be losing some steam.

Why the slowdown? 

The slowing of luxury sales in certain areas around the country piqued my interest, so I decided to explore why this is happening. The first thing I noticed is that cities with high property taxes are fairly prevalent on the list of slowing markets; this includes cities like Boston, Austin, New York City, and Chicago. It is likely that the federal tax changes limiting the deductibility of property taxes are the culprit for such slowdowns in these areas.

Something else that has undoubtedly impacted luxury home sales in markets, such as New York City and Seattle, is the significant decline in foreign buyers from countries like China and Canada. According to the National Association of Realtors, the number of purchases by international buyers fell by 21 percent between 2017 and 2018, amounting to a drop of $32 billion – the largest decline on record.  Foreign buyers spent $121 billion on 266,754 properties, making up 8 percent of the buyers of existing (previously lived in) homes.

My research tells me that foreign home buyers are pulling back amid political uncertainty in the U.S. Ongoing concerns about a potential trade war, combined with rhetoric against foreigners, have done their part to dampen some of the enthusiasm to invest in U.S. housing. Also playing a role in this slowdown is the Chinese Central Government which has started placing tighter controls on the ability to spend money outside of mainland China. And finally, rising home prices and a strong U.S. dollar are likely two other key factors behind the tumbling interest in luxury real estate from overseas buyers.

So how do I see the luxury market performing in 2019?

Luxury real estate sales in markets like Boston, Clearwater, Austin, and Alexandria, Virginia will continue to slow down for the reasons stated earlier, but in other parts of the country, home buyers will provide the demand needed to keep the market plugging along at a healthy pace.

The changes affecting mortgage interest deductions and property taxes will also continue to impact the luxury market in certain areas, but this will, to a degree, be offset by other tax changes that favor high-income households and increase their disposable income. Something else that will help keep the luxury real estate market afloat in the coming year is jumbo mortgage interest rates which remain remarkably competitive compared to historic standards.

On a whole, high-end real estate sales have been strong over the past few years. While I am predicting somewhat of a slowdown next year given the headwinds discussed earlier, 2019 will be remembered as a year where balance started to return to the luxury housing market.

Mr. Gardner is the Chief Economist for Windermere Real Estate, specializing in residential market analysis, commercial/industrial market analysis, financial analysis, and land use and regional economics. He is the former Principal of Gardner Economics, and has more than 30 years of professional experience both in the U.S. and U.K. 

This post originally appeared on the Windermere Blog.