Tech Trends: Smart Buyer’s Reps Know about Smart Homes

smart_home_techSmart-home technology is shifting into high gear. By all accounts, 2016 will be the tipping point for consumer interest and adoption, nearly five years ahead of experts’ original projections.

For example, a recent Coldwell Banker Real Estate survey found almost half (45 percent) of all Americans either own smart-home technology or plan to invest in it this year. Additionally, 70 percent of current owners of at least one smart-home device plan to expand into additional technologies.

Why Now?
The concept of automating various aspects of home living has long appeared in science fiction, but now actual technology is catching up. The number of options has increased dramatically, while prices have come down. These developments are happening against a backdrop of strong consumer demand to own more resource-efficient homes.

Popular Options
Smart-home technology is being employed across a wide range of applications, including:

- Automated sprinklers
– Climate control
– Entertainment systems
– Entry door locks
– Kitchen/laundry appliances
– Lighting
– Security systems/cameras
– Window shades

Systems linked to a home’s Wi-Fi network are typically remote controllable via a smartphone app. You can play your favorite music, set a kitchen timer, or even order a pizza, all on your mobile device.

Time to Learn More
With the growing popularity of these devices, it’s essential for buyer’s representatives to pay closer attention to developments. Smart technology will undoubtedly be a growing topic of conversation during buyer consultation sessions and on home tours. It’s important for buyer’s representatives to provide clients with helpful information and insights.

Interest in smart devices also crosses generations and income levels. In fact, the Coldwell Banker survey found that older generations are adopting certain technologies faster than younger ones, and Americans with annual household incomes of $50k to $75k are adopting smart technology at virtually the same pace as households with incomes of $75k to $100k.

Getting Up to Speed
If members of your brokerage aren’t already savvy about smart-home technologies, there are many ways you can encourage them to learn, including:

New GREEN Designation coursesThe Green REsource Council offers the latest training in resource-efficient homes and working with buyers and sellers focused on high-performance properties and renovations.

NAR’s Center for REALTOR® Technology (CRT) – CRT’s new Smart Homes Initiative includes a special lab for testing devices and provides information sheets on the latest products and applications.

REBAC members should watch for the April issue of Today’s Buyer’s Rep, which includes many more tips on helping buyers evaluate smart-home devices and other aspects of renovating homes for greater resource-efficiency.

Marc Gould is vice president, Business Specialties, for NAR and executive director of REBAC.

For more information, visit www.REBAC.net.

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It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s a…Floating Home?

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Looking to get high in the Hollywood hills? This “Old Hollywood” home is a bit of an optical illusion. Nestled in the Los Feliz hills, the raised 1964 architectural gem seems to float. Designed by Norman H. Lancaster, the recently restored1,667 square foot home rocks stunning 180-degree views of the LA skyline from an epic wrap-around balcony.

Sitting just three doors down from Frank Loyd Wright’s renowned Ennis house, the 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom spot is decked out with a chef’s kitchen, a dining room with a windowed wall, and a private screening room—the true mark of any real Hollywood home.

Listed by Tylar Harman of Teles Properties for $1,525,000, this Hollywood home is a floating dream.

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This post was originally published on RISMedia’s blog, Housecall. Check the blog daily for top real estate info and trends.

 

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What Should You Do If Your ARM Is Almost Out Of Time?

If you bought a home with an adjustable rate mortgage (ARM) thinking you’d sell the home before the ARM adjusted, you’re not alone. Many people buy homes with ARMs because they plan to relocate or upgrade to a larger home in the near- to medium-term.

But when plans change and you decide to stay, you must know what will happen to your ARM — and what you can do about it. Let’s take a look.

ARM vs. fixed rates

ARMs help your budget because rates on ARMs are lower than they are for fixed loans. For example, today’s rates for a loan on a $300,000 home purchase with 20 percent down are 2.75 percent for a 5/1 ARM versus 3.5 percent for a 30-year fixed. In this scenario, the monthly 5/1 ARM payment ($980) is $98 cheaper than the 30-year fixed payment ($1,078).

This ARM vs. fixed savings is significant no matter what your home purchase price is, and if you are in fact only keeping the home (or the loan) short term, it can be worth it.

How to choose

The best way to determine whether you go with an ARM or a fixed loan is to peg your loan term as closely as you can to your expected time horizon in the home or the loan. Here are a few options to consider:

  • If you’re buying a home with plans to relocate and sell the home within five years, a 5/1 ARM would be a good option. If you’re planning to move within 10 years, a 10/1 ARM would be a good option. You can also get 3/1 and 7/1 ARMs.
  • If you plan to pay the loan off within five years and keep the home, a 5/1 ARM would also be a good option.
  • If you’re going to relocate but want to keep the home, a fixed loan would be a good option.

How your ARM will adjust

If you get an ARM and plans change so that you need to keep the home (or the loan) longer than you intended, your payment will adjust at the end of the ARM’s fixed period.

An ARM is a 30-year loan with a rate that’s fixed for the initial period of the ARM. For example, the quoted rate on a 5/1 ARM will be fixed for that initial five-year period. For the remaining 25 years, it will adjust to a base rate (called a margin) plus the current level of a certain index the loan is tied to.

A common margin for a 5/1 ARM on a conforming loan up to $417,000 is 2.25 percent, and a common index for these loans is the one-year LIBOR which is 1.25 percent as of this week.

If your 5/1 ARM adjusted today, it would adjust to a rate of 3.5 percent, which is the 2.25-percent margin plus the 1.25-percent LIBOR index level as of now, and it will adjust once per year every year after the initial five-year fixed period. The margin will always be 2.25 percent, but the LIBOR index changes in real time, and will be higher if economic conditions improve, or lower if economic conditions worsen in the future.

And finally, it’s not just the rate that adjusts, it’s also your payment. In the initial five-year period, the payment is calculated using the initial rate and a 30-year amortization. After the initial period, the payment is calculated using the margin plus index rate and a 25-year amortization.

Using our scenario above, this means your payment would adjust from $980 to $1,063.

What to do if your ARM is almost out of time

You could argue that a payment adjustment like this would be tolerable if you were keeping the home (or the loan), but this example is only the first adjustment, and it will adjust every year after the initial adjustment, so it’s a lot of risk to take on.

The alternative is to refinance into a new loan, and the same rule would apply for deciding what loan to refinance into: do your best to peg the new loan term to your expected time horizon in the home (or loan) from this point forward.

Rates have been steadily low for the past five years as the economy has been slowly recovering from the economic crisis. If this recovery and economic growth continues, rates have more risk of rising.

As such, if you chose a new 5/1 ARM today, it would be safest to assume that your rate and payment would adjust up in another five years. If this is too much risk for you, the best choice is to take a slightly higher rate and payment now on a 30-year fixed, which gives you the security of knowing your rate and payment cannot change.

Other important facts about ARMs

Keep in mind that the payments above don’t include homeowners insurance and property taxes, which would be the same whether you chose an ARM or a fixed loan. You can run your own fixed vs. ARM scenarios, and the results will show you homeowners insurance and property taxes.

Another point to remember is that ARMs shouldn’t be used to qualify for more home than you can afford. This was a common scenario prior to the economic crisis, when lenders were allowed to qualify borrowers using the lower ARM payment. Now lenders must use the highest-case payment that could occur after the adjustment.

As a final note, if your loan amount is up to $417,000, a 5/1 ARM will get you the best savings relative to a 30-year fixed. If you have a jumbo loan above $417,000, you can also get strong savings using a 7/1 ARM relative to a 30-year fixed, so ask your lender to provide both options.

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House of the Week: Hollywood Glamour Shapes Contemporary Beverly Hills Mansion

With a royal Hollywood history, this Beverly Hills mansion is set on the grounds of the famed former Mon Reve Estate owned by Barbra Streisand — and listed for a lofty $150 million.

The sweeping modern masterpiece offers a contemporary take on glamour and a fresh interpretation of what it means to be a modern castle with simple lines, elegant skylights and a play on the bright lights of Hollywood throughout.

A fanciful dining room equipped with mirrors on all sides, multicolored ceiling lights and a crystal chandelier provides a nod to a different time, while ensuring that dinner guests feel like they are canoodling with the stars.

Complete with private hiking paths studded with tree lights, as well as multiple guest accommodations, this 10 bedroom, 20 bathroom contemporary estate offers every luxury. The home serves as its own vacation destination, equipped with a lounge, wine room and a theater complex. A separate spa level includes an indoor lap pool, salon, steam and massage rooms.

The master suite is an expansive 5,300 square feet, boasting a covered and heated patio from which to admire the sprawling estate surrounded by trees and glowing with blue light. The listing agent is Ginger Glass of Coldwell Banker.

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9 Tips for Preparing a Fabulous Flower Bed

Have you ever ended up with a bed of dead flowers, mountains of mulch and a whopping garden center receipt? Let’s do something about that, shall we?

Get your gardening groove back with these nine tips.

1. Start with a clean slate

There are two kinds of flowerbeds: Those that have been well-prepared, and those that are covered in weeds.

Give your unplanted bed the once-over. Does it receive enough sunlight? Does water tend to collect there? Have you removed all weeds, roots, and rocks so that your plants will thrive? It’s a lot easier to fix these problems now than it is once you’ve planted the flowers and laid the mulch.shutterstock_395535262

2. Start seeds

Start a flowerbed from seed to save money, raise unusual varieties and enjoy the satisfaction of having grown a whole garden from a handful of tiny seeds.

Since some seeds transplant poorly, check the packet and make sure you don’t have to sow directly in the ground. Start seeds in trays, pots or in coir pots, using a seedling mixture, place them in a sunny spot, and transplant as soon as they have developed sturdy stems.

3. Prepare nursery plants

Nursery-grown bedding plants give you instant gratification, but the short time between purchase and planting is crucial to their survival.

Pack them closely in your car to avoid damage, and take them home immediately so that they don’t fry in your car during other errands.

Water nursery plants as soon as you get home, as often as necessary after that, and a few hours before planting to help their fragile roots survive the trauma of transplanting.

4. Get the winning edge

Even the most carefully planned border can look sloppy without a clearly defined edge. Avoid those inexpensive and quickly deteriorating edges made of plastic, and choose a more natural and long-lasting alternative.

The cheapest solution is to make a shallow trench around the bed with your spade and maintain it throughout the season. For something more refined and permanent, set an edge of brick, concrete or stone in leveling sand. The initial cost may be higher, but they will save you a lot of work and make mowing easier.

5. Plan for the seasons

Choose annuals if you plan on replacing them in a season or two, and plant perennials if you’d like them to last longer. Plant evergreen shrubs or ornamental grasses to provide structure and year-round interest.

Also consider the plant’s eventual height: Plant low-growing flowers (usually annuals) at the front of the bed where they can be easily viewed and then replaced at the end of their season.

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6. Give them space

Follow the guidelines on the seed packet or plant tag as closely as possible. One that is often overlooked is the amount of space to leave around each plant so they have room to grow. To cover a lot of ground quickly, choose spreading varieties like ‘Superbells’ and climbing nasturtiums.

7. Dig the perfect hole

Dig each plant’s hole to be twice as wide as the original pot, so the roots will have plenty of room to grow. To give them an even better head-start, make a little trench around the inside of the hole so the roots will spread down and out.

This step isn’t necessary for annuals, since they won’t be around long enough to enjoy their strong root systems, but it is helpful if you have clay soil.

8. Plant it right

When planting transplants and nursery plants, always place them so that their crowns (where the plant meets the soil) are level with the soil in the bed. If the crown is above the soil level, the plant may dry out when soil washes away from the roots. If planted too low, soil will settle around the crown and rot the plant.

Push the soil around the transplant and firmly tamp it in place with a trowel so no gaps are left between the roots.

9. Mulch better

Mulch is essential for conserving moisture and preventing weeds, but one inch is all you need. Established garden beds don’t even need mulch because the plants themselves are then capable of protecting the soil.

Avoid landscaping fabric, since it actually keeps moisture from percolating into the soil. Instead, lay down sheets of newspaper before mulching.

Mulches vary by region, but whichever kind you use, follow this one rule: Don’t ever pile it up against the plants. They’ll rot in no time, and you’ll soon have nothing more than an ugly bed of mulch in their place.

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