Painting the Brick could give You the Edge You Need

When it comes to selling your home, competition can be fierce! Painting the brick could give you the edge you need.

painting the brick

Original version with red brick

Figuring out how to maximize your house’s sale price can be a daunting task. Just about EVERYONE has an opinion. Our goal is to help our clients make the absolute most of what they have! That requires seeing the impact of various ideas up front.

painting the brick

Version where the red brick was painted

The photos above show two similar homes that both started out with red brick. The brick on the house in the lower photo was actually even a deeper red than the one above. The problem? One recent trend in the Atlanta marketplace with new home construction has been the use of painted brick. The result? That creates a style gap between the new homes and older homes with more traditional styling.  It exposes their age and that affects their attractiveness to current buyers.

So, one way to make a home feel newer is to close that style gap by neutralizing the brick color. Hopefully the photos above show the impact of that.

Zestimate Goes Haywire!

What do you do if your Zestimate goes Haywire? Or drops by over $150k? You reach into the darkness for answers…

Zestimate

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 6.30.19 PM

Zestimates are an interesting curiosity for me. Not because this is emerging technology and I’m a stuffy, set-in-my-ways, old school real estate guy with 20+ years in the business. I would offer that my curiosity is precisely the opposite.  I graduated college with a degree in civil engineering, took 5 semesters of calculus and played with algorithms a LOT. I have written software packages that performed automated calculations. I embrace models that show trends. I LOVE statistics! My caution here is that even the best algorithm is still just that… a formula. A formula that needs data. A formula that produces results that need human interpretation and context.

Zestimate can’t pick up on renovations

We recently listed a great house in a desirable zip code in Sandy Springs, GA. The graph above captured with a screen shot on 2016-03-09 at 6.30.19 PM showed this home’s Zestimate running at about $620,000 when we put the home on the market.  The owners spent a year in 2007 totally renovating and expanding this home. They also put in a Pebbletec saltwater pool. If you look at the 2007-2008 part of the graph, it shows a steady decline in the Zestimate but generally correlates with overall market forces. It’s ok though, it’s not really reasonable to expect Zillow to pick up on the renovation. How could they have known, right? No harm – no foul.

Listed the Property and the Zestimate goes Haywire

When we listed the property, it founds its way onto Zillow through the local MLS syndication data feed. Just like all of our other listings. The online data was fairly correct – the only thing missing was the full bath added during the renovation. Everything seemed fine. And then, the algorithm went haywire. In days immediately following the listing being posted, the Zestimate mysteriously – AND RAPIDLY – plummeted over $150,000!

Zestimate Goes Haywire

Revisionist History

Now, compare the graph above with this one captured 3 days later. LOOK AT THE DARK BLUE LINE. What the heck? Same house, same algorithm, now has a different Zestimate history dating back to before 2007?!?!? If today was your first visit to this house on Zillow, you would never know the difference. To me, that is scary.

Zestimate

Screen Shot 2016-03-12 at 11.07.18 AM

If it is online, it must be true! Clearly – not

Our recent experience described above serves as a reminder to all of us as we gather information online. Be careful! Each source has an agenda. Zillow’s agenda is to capture leads so they can rent zip codes to real estate agents by making the agents pop up in a side banner as “Premier Agents”. My agenda is to sell houses.  And that only happens when both the buyer and the seller believe a fair deal has been reached. If a buyer is unknowingly using bad data, they could very well miss out on a great house by drawing incorrect conclusions. Buying a house is a BIG purchase! Get some savvy guidance from a human being with local real estate experience and expertise.

Have Questions?

Email me at michael@bunchrealestategroup.com

Favorite Restaurants in Atlanta

We asked “What are your Favorite Restaurants in Atlanta?” and people answered – passionately!

Favorite Restaurants in Atlanta

Favorite restaurants in Atlanta run the gamut from cheap and cozy to ultra chic. We had so much fun looking through these restaurant recommendations to see what Atlanta has to offer for dining experiences.  So, without any further delay – Here is the list we compiled from our recent survey:

Multiple Recommendations:

(11) Hal’s (The Overwhelming Favorite)

(4) Bones – Steaks

(4) Chops – Steaks and Seafood

(3) Local Three Kitchen & Bar

(3) Two Urban Licks 

(2) 10 Degrees South

(2) Bacchanalia 

(2) Davio’s 

(2) Houston’s

(2) McKendrick’s 

(2) Moxie Burger 

(2) New York Prime 

(2) R. Thomas Deluxe Grill 

(2) Rumi’s Kitchen 

(2) Seed Kitchen & Bar 

(2) Six Feet Under 

(2) Sun in My Belly 

(2) Taqueria Del Sol

Just interested in Steak? Here are the Top 11 Best Steaks according to Thrillist

Other Favorites:

Agave Restaurant 

Aria 

Atlanta Fish Market

Bartaco 

Bishoku 

Blue Ridge Grill 

Brookwood Grill 

Buford Highway Hits

Buford Highway Hits 2

The Busy Bee Café 

Cakes and Ale 

Canoe 

Chicago’s 

Coast 

Colonnade 

Crazy Cuban 

Double Zero 

Ecco 

El Porton

Fat Matt’s Rib Shack 

Frankie’s 

Front Page News 

Gordon Biersch 

The Greater Good BBQ 

Gunshow 

Hankook Taqueria 

Horseradish Grill 

Hearth Pizza Tavern 

Heirloom Market BBQ

Hugo’s Oyster Bar 

The Iberian Pig

Jilly’s Cupcakery (Yes, seriously. I guess someone eats cupcakes for dinner)

Kyma 

Majestic Diner 

Marietta Fish Market 

Maggiano’s 

Mezcalito’s Cantina 

Mi Taco 

Muss and Turner’s 

The Oceanaire Seafood Room 

Ocean Prime 

One Midtown Kitchen 

Osteria Mattone 

Palookaville 

Pig ‘n’ Chik 

Portofino 

Rathbun’s 

Sage Woodfire Tavern 

Salt Factory Pub 

South City Kitchen 

Steam House Lounge 

Sublime Donuts 

The Varsity

Verde Taqueria 

Yeah! Burger 

Zest 

Top 10 Things Atlanta Luxury Home Sellers Should Consider!

Thinking about selling your luxury home in Atlanta? Here is our “Top 10 Things Atlanta Luxury Home Sellers Should Consider” checklist.  Check it out!

Top 10 Checklist for Atlanta Luxury Home Sellers

After nearly 20 years in Atlanta’s residential real estate trenches, we continue to see 80% of the homes struggle to sell in the Luxury niche.  Most people write that off to the uniquenesses of the homes in the most prestigious neighborhoods.  It is true.  When home automation systems and customized cabinets can each run $250,000, personal preferences can add up fast! Not to mention raw land value, stunning terrace levels and outdoor entertainment amenities.

So, we decided to use our insider perspective from previewing and selling these homes over the years to create a Top 10 Things Atlanta Luxury Home Sellers Should Consider checklist.  Our goal was to create a tool to use in interviewing various real estate professionals for the job of managing the sale if we were selling a luxury property in Atlanta today. Most real estate professionals can talk a good game and flatter your house.  They can also let you drive the process.  Why? Because getting their sign in your yard carries prestige and generates leads – whether your house sells or not.  That brings us to the difference between “Listing” your house and “Selling” it. We wanted to create a checklist that actually sells the house.

Here are our basic assumptions:

  1. The house is occupied and filled with personal furnishings.
  2. There is no financial pressure to sell fast – Selling is a lifestyle choice.
  3. In addition to this being our home, it is a large asset. We want an aggressive Realtor to manage the sale so that we know we got the highest price possible.

To get started, we used the basic categories for selling any home – Pricing, Condition, Marketing, Negotiations and Systems.

Pricing

1. Get a SOLID Pricing Plan based on objective market data.  Forget the slick real estate company marketing pieces and polished agent resume’s.  Everyone in real estate sales can cook their numbers to make themselves look good.  What really matters most is what someone is going to do for YOU.  Get a pricing strategy that looks like a well thought-out business plan – customized for your house.  The reality is that for the third quarter in 2014, 34% of luxury properties went thru multiple listing periods with 50% going through at least one price reduction.  So, your pricing plan also needs contingencies when life does not go exactly as planned. The odds for outright failure with homes listed above $1.5M stands at 57%!   Only 1 in 5 sellers get the strategy right from the start. You want to be one of those sellers. The key is market awareness and optimum price positioning.

Condition

2. Listen to the staging experts. We believe Sun Tzu made a great point when he a wrote “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.”  Preparation is a HUGE part of the success formula when selling homes for the highest price in a reasonable period of time without major league hassles.  If you really are planning to move, start now! No one lives in a model home environment because model homes are set up to show the house in the best light – even if it is not functional for real life.  Sort of like airbrushing a magazine model or digitally altering a photograph to make it more flattering. Captivating the buyers takes effort and skill. We even use a 2-Step Process for Staging our listings.

3. Form a team so you can make things happen in a timely manner.  Most people do not have a list of contractors at their fingertips.  There are various sources for vendor  recommendations but do you really want to conduct multiple interviews ro get your house ready to sell? You need a list (or a person with a list) of good contractors who are reasonable AND trustworthy. You need contractors that will do a good job and stand behind their work because they may be called on something comes up on your Buyer’s home inspection.  These days, contractors are busier than ever.  Getting contractors out for small jobs can be a challenge because anyone who does good work is booked.  Your best bet is to hire a real estate professional who has people they use all the time so you can knock the to-do’s out on your schedule.  DO NOT WAIT until the items show up on an inspection report when you are under contract with the clock running.

Marketing

4. Your marketing plan HAS to be geared towards lifestyle rather than facts and features. Most full-time real estate professionals will have broad-spectrum internet syndication channels for marketing your home.  There is no need in getting too worked up about any particular website.  Try it out for yourself.  Where would you look for houses in a particular area? Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com, Redfin?? National real estate websites like Zillow have spoiled us all with the ease of access to listed properties.  They have revolutionized the initial phase of the house shopping process.  The result? Digging through printed magazines, newspapers and smaller niche websites feels like a real pain in comparison. So, people don’t do that much anymore.  Don’t worry, your house will get found.  What you should worry about is your story and your photos! MAKE SURE YOUR AGENT TELLS A STORY about your house THAT CAPTIVATES THE AUDIENCE.  In our view Staging is a given.  Professional photography is also a given. Storytelling, though, is an art. In the luxury realm, you do not need a book of features for a Buyer to labor through.  You need a story that they can’t stop reading.

5. Make SURE you get high quality photos. Today’s buyers are flooded with images from websites like Houzz and Pinterest.  Most of those images are painstakingly crafted to produce energy and emotion thus sparking some sort of dream.  An an example, some of our projects can be viewed on our YouTube Channel.  When it comes time to sell a house, home seller’s can easily underestimate the playing field because they are emotionally involved.  The tables get turned as sellers go from “being” the consumer to “having to appeal to” the consumer.  After reviewing countless photos, we have found that not all professional photographers have the same eye when it comes to capturing the strengths of a home.  Some photographers have a consistent hue on the coloring.  Some photographers do better with features and lighting.  Some make you just shake your head… The key again is to look at previous projects – that is how we found the photographer we use and we could not be happier!

6. Use special events, deadlines and timing to your advantage.  There is a reason companies like Sotheby’s use auctions to sell luxury items like art.  Buying luxury art involves discretionary spending.  Beauty and value are in the eye of the beholder.  In an Auction Environment, the pending sale deadline and competition drive the prices higher than they would get if simply advertised for sale with no specific sense of urgency.  The typical concern with real estate auctions is that they can come off sometimes looking like a bit of a cheap circus.   However with a known luxury auction service like our partner, Supreme Auctions, the luxury real estate auction experience has been redefined – not unlike how Cirque du Soleil approached the circus 🙂  Crisp, professional, exciting and well worth the price of admission.  Make sure your marketing plan includes some innovative steps to create auction environments.  You will net more money!

7. Video can only take you so far.  We have seen some really impressive video productions for houses that did not ever sell.  With most of these videos, the objective is image branding for the real estate agent rather than a high percentage shot for selling the house.  Why? Because time after time houses stand on their own.  Location, pricing and condition prevail.  The luxury buyer is well-educated in the market.  Some times even more so than most agents because the buyers are hyper focused on a market niche where they want to live.  Luxury buyers who are seriously in the market to buy spend their leisure time browsing and comparing properties on their tablet, phone or laptop.  They generally know when a house is out-of-bounds on pricing.  They may watch the slick video (if it is under 3 minutes), but they are not going to overpay for a house because of it.  If the photography is really good, the video is just a curiosity that may take too long to download on a mobile device.

Negotiations

8. Rehearse the contract negotiations in advance.  Make sure you hire a real estate professional who ACTIVELY previews properties in your price range and in your area.  There is no substitute for first hand knowledge when it comes to contract negotiations. Your Realtor also needs to have professional negotiation training and the poise to hold firm when necessary. If you are interviewing agents, go through some scenarios and role play to see how they would respond under pressure.  If you are not interviewing agents and already have one in mind to use,go through some scenarios and role play to see how they would respond under pressure 🙂  How would they defend your house? You may end up interviewing other agents after all… Tens of thousands of dollars are at stake here and you need someone who can manage the negotiations with confidence and skill.

Systems

9. Make sure you have an established routine for gathering information and follow-up.  Speaking of checklists… Make sure you have checklists throughout the process for monitoring your competition, following up on showings, sustaining the marketing campaign and promoting your property.  Top agents will have documented systems that they use routinely because predictable results come from systematic behaviors.   This is where the details matter.  Yes, your house could “fly off the shelf” with multiple offers and in that case, all the preparation and strategy worked to perfection.  That is just not very common in the luxury realm.  So, it is better to plan thoroughly so you can win the sale under average market conditions with other luxury sellers who have prepared well and have solid marketing strategies.  Real estate agents are usually very personable.  For the most part though, they are not naturally gifted with details.  Ask to see the checklists and systems! You do not want someone managing your sale who just wings it.

Google

10.  Google can reveal A LOT.  One thing people may not think of when interviewing real estate agents is to Google the agent’s name to see what comes up.  You might be surprised. Results vary from nothing, to mug shots, to social media posts to professional websites and blogs.  If nothing comes up, the agent is not very active online so they may have limited influence with organic marketing efforts.  If mug shots come up – well, you know what to do with that.  Usually, some sampling of the agent’s professional endeavors comes up and you can get a feel for who the agent is, how they approach their own marketing and whether or not you are impressed with that.  Can you lick up on the agent’s personality? Does it  feel generic (like some service is producing the content)? Chances are they will market your house with the same level of professionalism that they market themselves. Don’t expect them to change their approach just for you – while your sale hangs in the balance.

Bonus

11. Proactive Prospecting Increases Your Chances of Selling.  If you are looking for the X-Factor when is comes to selling houses it is probably prospecting.  If you are selling your house on your own, you will be faced with doing this and if you are not in the habit of prospecting it probably will not get done.  Hiring a real estate agent who has a daily routine for calling people they know to proactively prospects for buyers will give you an advantage over marketing plans that do not include prospecting.  THIS can be an interesting question to pose to a real estate agent in an interview – especially if they got into real estate for unlimited income and a flexible schedule.  Those notions fight against daily prospecting habits and systematized selling procedures.  We have found the most successful real estate agents manage their schedules well and thus can in turn manage your sale well too.

On second thought… this applies to just about any property!

Selling a Luxury Home in Atlanta

Selling a Luxury Home in Atlanta? Here is a guide to the territory and we are finding that “business as usual” is typically not enough to succeed.  The chart below shows a comparison in available homes for sale inventory between December 2012 and December 2011.  The good news is that sellers of luxury homes are facing less competition.

Atlanta Home Inventory Chart by price point

 

The sobering news is that the failure rate for luxury listings in Atlanta is still running about 50%.  The chart below shows that in December 2012, the percentage of homes between $1M and $1.5M actually increased slightly.

Atlanta Luxury Home Listing Failure Rate

 

What we find most interesting in the numbers is that the fundamentals required to sell homes in lower price ranges also work for homes priced in the luxury realm.  And yet, luxury sellers and agents seem to value “connections” more than work ethic and savvy market placement… Not surprising but perplexing nonetheless!  If all it took was the right connections to get your luxury property sold, more of them would be selling because everyone has connections.  Often when interviewing with potential sellers we will hear phrases like “I see their signs everywhere”.  Our response is “you see them everywhere because those signs do not come down very fast”.

Luxury Homes need the broadest exposure to reach the limited pool of truly qualified buyers.  That is what we offer through LuxuryRealEstate.com

LuxuryRealEstate.com

LuxuryRealEstate chart

As a luxury seller, we believe you need a very responsive agent, high impact marketing and a solid, defendable strategy for selling your home.  Here is the energy we bring to selling homes in the luxury market:

Atlanta Luxury SignDon’t take our word for it though.  Here is what success feels like for one of our recent sellers.

Want to preview our approach to selling your home?

Keller Williams Realty has emerged as a major player in Atlanta’s luxury home market by quietly bringing most of the buyers to the closing table.

We are ready to help you succeed too!

Selling Your House with a Flat Fee or Discount Broker

When it comes to selling your house, there are several choices ranging from doing everything yourself – to hiring a team of professionals to manage the entire process for you.  Somewhere in the middle you will find Flat Fee and Discount Brokers.  In this post we will cover the hybrid approach where you hire a real estate broker, select from a menu of a la carte support services and drive most of the process yourself.

Discount Brokers with A la Carte Service Options

Menu of Discount Broker ServicesMost of these brokers will tout that you will save thousands of dollars by using them.  Who doesn’t want to save money?  I will even concede that sometimes discount brokers beat out full fee agents because real estate may be the only business arena where idiots and experts get paid the same amount… Please do us all a favor and investigate your choices thoroughly – you never get a second chance to make that first impression on the market.

The challenge is to make sure you actually end up saving the money you are hoping to save if you go this route.  Read the wording carefully in the descriptions of what a broker is offering to do for you.  Take a highlighter out and mark phrases like “upon request”, “help you”, “support”, “assist”, “optional”, “small fee” and “other services” – these are the a la carte items that can add up.  Less is not more – less is less.

Another challenge is that houses are all unique – especially in the Atlanta marketplace where square footage is unreliable and houses vary greatly even within the same neighborhood.  Amazon can’t comparison shop a model number for you online and let you pick the best balance of low price and highest merchant review rating.  Selling a house is more akin to auctioning off a vintage car that has been restored.  The whole goal should be to create a sense of urgency with the buyer pool so you get the most money and the most favorable contract terms. The actual sale price for a particular house is determined organically through a bidding process with interested buyers.  It’s a process driven by strategy, condition and marketing.  Differing strategies will result in differing levels of buyer enthusiasm and thus differing sale prices.  The difference may not be huge.  It doesn’t have to be – it will only take one misstep to melt away your savings of a couple of percentage points.

Now, you may be saying “This guy is biased”.  No doubt, I am.   I am pro-business and I believe I am pro-seller.  The flat fee or discount broker business model is definitely a win for the broker.  The broker gets paid up front regardless of whether your house sells or not.  The broker can also leverage your sign calls into buyer leads where there is a higher profit margin.  The question is how much service is someone going to get for $500 – especially when that $500 is paid up front?  If the broker makes more money off of converting buyer leads than selling your house, the lure of those leads would be very strong – perhaps compromising the primary objective.  That may not be a big issue for you as long as you know this going in.  You use the broker; the broker uses your house.  You both could win.  The broker will for sure.

Another concern has to do with liability since most legal action arises from the buyer side of the equation.  Proof of this shows up in contract form revisions as they address new litigation outcomes (something that is happening at least once a year now).  Any business model that promises to coach you on how to shrewdly fill out disclosure forms OR how to talk prospective buyers out of getting their own representation so you can save thousands of dollars should give you cause for pause.  Hell hath no fury like a Buyer scorned… On average people move every 8-10 years. Will it really be worth it if you end up in a lawsuit?

Here are some other key aspects of the process to consider:

  1. Multiple Listing Service (MLS) – One of the first objectives in selling a house is getting it listed on the MLS.  It is common to see fees ranging $400-$500 for this.  In the Atlanta marketplace, we happen to have two overlapping MLS’s.  Check to make sure your property gets into both of them.
  2. Property Disclosures – These should be filed out as forthrightly and honestly. Some brokers offer to guide you on how to fill out these forms to save money. Be careful.
  3. Lockbox – the Supra infrared lockbox that most agents use usually costs extra.
  4. Professional photos – Usually costs extra.
  5. Professional onsite staging services – Usually costs extra.
  6. Contract Forms – Although the Georgia Association of Realtors (GAR) contract forms are copyrighted, most brokers will provide you with GAR disclosure forms to complete. Ask about personal access to someone experienced to go over your offers when you get them.  And, how they plan to handle multiple offers if you get them.
  7. Listing Syndication on the Internet – most internet syndication is automatic these days.  This makes the professional photography and staging crucial.  Bad photos upload just as fast as great ones.  It is also important  to go back later and enhance your pages once the automated processes are finished.  You will probably have to do this yourself.
  8. Pricing and Selling Strategy – this is usually up to you.  I don’t know how anyone outside of real estate does it.  We preview competing properties, crunch numbers, interview buyer agents on recent sales and build a case for our pricing that will ultimately be presented to the appraiser.  This process takes time, experience and fresh market knowledge.  It is probably one of the most crucial aspects to selling your house!
  9. Business Hours – Since no one agent can genuinely be available  24/7/365, get a commitment for who will be accessible to you and when.  Real estate matters are time sensitive and deadlines matter.  Make sure your agent texts, monitors email and has the ability to gather signatures electronically so you are not chasing down a printer or a fax machine.
  10. Flyers – Typically you get a template so you can make and print your own.  Don’t skimp here – it will cheapen you and your house.
  11. Showing Feedback – Many brokers have automated systems for this.  If the broker you are considering does, make sure your home’s template questions are ones that will actually result in meaningful feedback.  Most buyer agents we know despise these systems because the questions are so generic and uninspiring.  After a day of showing 10-15 houses, the houses all run together.  I know when we get a couple of personal emails and 12 automated generic emails, we respond to the personal ones first because they seem to actually care about what we thought.

Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, we will cover Full Fee / Full Service Brokers.

Curious about Part 1? Here it is: Avoiding For-Sale-by-Owner Pitfalls

Avoid Common For Sale by Owner Pitfalls

Ever wonder what the most successful agents do to sell more homes?  Here’s the list to help you avoid common for sale by owner pitfalls. When it comes to selling your house, there are several choices.  The choices range from doing it yourself with no help – all the way to hiring a team of professionals to manage the entire process for you.  The choice could be as simple as black and white.  Or if you have the resources, it may just come down to how you view life and the experience you want to have.

Choices

This is Part 1 of a 3 part series where we will tackle three of the most common paths to selling your house. 

For Sale by Owner

Some people relish the thought of selling their own house.  Sometimes it stems from a previous negative experience with a Realtor.  Sometimes home owners are hoping to save part of the real estate commission.  If you are considering this option, it probably sounds like fun to you.  As you prepare, here are ways to avoid some common pitfalls:

  1. Make sure your marketing materials are professional in appearance so your showing experience is not cheapened from the start.
  2. Take COMPELLING photos of the house and property that evoke emotion or tell a “lifestyle” story.
  3. Consider using a professional Stager to transform the house from “it’s mine” to “it can be yours”.
  4. Familiarize yourself with Georgia specific court-tested real estate contract forms.
  5. Set aside time to prospect for buyers every day.
  6. Objectively compare the buyer’s other choices and market to expose their weaknesses.
  7. Preview all the competition.  Buyer prospects know the inventory extremely well – They stay up late doing research because buying a home is a big decision. They cruise the streets and go to open houses relentlessly.
  8. Create a unique “wow” impression so you don’t get beat out by sellers with competing houses who were willing to work harder to wow the same buyer prospects.
  9. Do not miss the mark on pricing.  Statistics show that playing catch-up expends both money and time attracting buyers who may have moved on.
  10. Focus your time and resources on the marketing venues that statistics show really reach the most buyers.
  11. Prepare for and properly manage the home inspection process.  You could end up giving away the money you were hoping to save just to hold the deal together.
  12. Do not talk too much when showing the house – it will seem desperate and turn off the buyers (overselling).  Buyers will wonder why the house’s value cannot stand on its own and has to be “justified”.
  13. Be careful not to force showings into your schedule when you could accommodate the buyer’s and build good will.  On the other hand, don’t be so accommodating that you seem pressured to sell.  It is a delicate balance.
  14. Go to the effort of verifying the buyer’s financial capability and follow up all the way up to closing.  If a lender is involved, you need to check that lender’s track record for being able to actually close the sale on time.
  15. Be ready for the conversations you will have. Understand that people have various levels of language or negotiating experience.  Words matter. Body language matters.  There are reasons why some people are more effective at negotiating and selling than others.  Someone is always selling someone.
  16. Be careful not to lose sight of your overall reason for moving because emotions almost always flare up at some point.
  17. Be clear and forthright on property condition disclosures. Buyers are inherently suspicious.  If they find something during the inspection that should have been disclosed up front, your buyer want to hear you “forgot” it – they will assume you hid it.  Many times the contract ends up falling apart after an issue like this due to categorical mistrust.  “If they did not disclose _____, what else did they not disclose?!?!
  18. Lastly, be prepared to field the steady stream of emails going back and forth between the parties leading up to the closing.  Ironing out all of the details before the actual closing documents are signed can be overwhelming to many in today’s market.

In part 2 of this series, we will cover a hybrid scenario with real estate brokers who offer a menu of a la carte services.  Stay tuned!

Filing for Homestead Exemption in Metro Atlanta

Every spring, home buyers are filing for Homestead Exemption in Metro Atlanta.

Homestead ExemptionDon’t leave money on the table! For this post, we asked Pam Robinson with closing attorneys Neel, Robinson and Stafford, LLC to simplify the Homestead Exemption process for us.  So, Pam, thanks so much for your help on this!

What is a Homestead Exemption

It is a Tax Savings. When it comes to Property Taxes, a homeowner is entitled to a “homestead exemption” on their personal home and land underneath provided the home was owned by the homeowner and was their legal residence as of January 1 of the taxable year. (O.C.G.A. § 48-5-40)  Buyers only have to file for this once following their purchase. After that initial filing, it stays in place in subsequent years. Typically, when someone buys a home (other than an investment property) there is Homestead Exemption in place through the current owner. When that property is sold, the Homestead Exemption will drop off. The new buyer must then apply for the Homestead Exemption so it can be reinstated under their name. If a new Buyer does not file for their Homestead Exemption by the county imposed deadline, the taxes will be higher than the previous year because the Homestead Exemption was not in place. Unfortunately, there are no exceptions of the deadline is missed. The only action to take is to file for the Homestead Exemption as soon as possible so that the exemption will be in place for the next year.

What and/or Who Qualifies?

You only get one homestead exemption at a time and it is on your primary residence. To be granted a homestead exemption, a person must actually live in the home and the home is considered their legal primary residence for all purposes.  Persons that are away from their home because of health reasons will not be denied homestead exemption. If this is the case, a family member or friend can notify the tax receiver or tax commissioner and the homestead exemption will be granted. (O.C.G.A. § 48-5-40)

How Do You Apply?

Homestead Exemptions applications must be filed by April 1. Applications filed after this date will not be granted until the next calendar year. (O.C.G.A. § 48-5-45)

Failure to apply by the deadline will result in loss of the exemption for that year.  (O.C.G.A. § 48-5-45)

Applications for homestead exemption must be filed with the tax commissioner’s office, or in some counties the tax assessor’s office who has been delegated to receive applications for homestead exemption. Filing for Home Exemptions is a one time event.

A homeowner can file an application for homestead exemption for their home and land any time during the calendar year. We suggest you apply at least 30 days in advance of the filing deadline to allow plenty of time for the tax office to review your application.  To receive the homestead exemption for the current tax year, the homeowner must have owned the property on January 1 and filed the homestead application by the same date property tax returns are due in the county. 

Exemptions Offered by the State and Counties

The State of Georgia offers homestead exemptions to all qualifying homeowners.  In some counties they have increased the amounts of their homestead exemptions by local legislation above the amounts offered by the State.  As a general rule the exemptions offered by the county are more beneficial to the homeowner.

What is needed to Apply?

Homestead ExemptionYes, this is a bit of a pain.  Here is a quick checklist to help you achieve success in just one trip:

  • Driver’s License – that matches the property address
  • Social Security Number
  • Motor Vehicle Registration(s) – that matches the property address
  • Warranty Deed – book and page numbers (recorded copy received from closing attorney 3-4 months after closing)
  • Mortgage Statement – proof of residence
  • HUD-1 Closing Statement (received at closing)

Below are links to the various Metro Atlanta Counties:

Cherokee County – deadline is April 1            678-493-6120

Clayton County – deadline is April 1               770-477-3311

Cobb County – deadline is April 1                  770-528-8600

DeKalb County – deadline is April 1               404-298-4000

Douglas County – deadline is April 1              770-920-7272

Fayette County – deadline is April 1               770-461-3652

Forsyth County – deadline is April 1               770-781-2106

Fulton County – deadline is April 1                 404-612-6440

Gwinnett County – deadline is April 1           770-822-8800

Henry County – deadline is April 1                 770-288-8180           

Paulding County – deadline is April 1            770-443-7606

Fine Print

This is our best effort to provide a quick convenient resource to get started.  It is not the be all/end all.  The links could stop working.  The municipal websites could change. Life is not perfect! Hopefully, though, this will still save you some time.

Homes in a Flood Zone

Most residents of Atlanta had probably never considered flooding to be a serious concern until September of 2009. That was when the threat became very real. Unfortunately, Atlanta residents got to experience what happens when a 500 year flood event comes to town. 

So, you may be wondering… “Is my house in a Flood Zone?

When it comes to a major flood event and houses that fall within the 100 year flood zone, the ones that do not get destroyed have a couple of options. Restoration may be an option if the damage is not widespread. However, local governments have FEMA guidelines when it comes to how much money they will allow a homeowner to put back into a home that could flood again.  If the projected restoration costs exceed these guidelines, the house will have to be raised up and reconstructed  so that the lowest finished level is at least 3 ft above the 100 year flood elevation for that area.  

DSCN5318

Yes, the whole house!

House Lifting 2

Once the structure has been lifted up, the homes are set back down on new foundations with louvered vents to allow for any future flooding. This “tidewater” style of construction is found all the time at the beach. People in Atlanta just had to figure out how to make it blend in here. Below are some great examples of how tasteful architecture can pull it all together:

Raised in a Flood Zone

Raised in a Flood Zone

Raised in a Flood Zone

Raised in a Flood Zone

Raised in a Flood Zone

Raised in a Flood Zone

Is the House in a Flood Zone?

One question that should be on your mind when Buying a home is “Is the house in a flood zone?”  My guess is that if you own a house that is in (or even very close to) a flood zone, your insurance company and/or mortgage company will have broached this subject with you already.  

Flood plain manhole

If you are currently looking at houses, you need to be aware of the clues that can signal you are near a flood plain.  One has to do with sewer manholes.  Regulations say that the top of the metal lid of a sewer manhole has to be at or above the 100 year flood elevation.  So if you see something like the photo on the right, you should take note.  Other clues are bamboo, bridges, flat grassy meadows, streams and creeks and horse farms (great uses for flood plain).

Here is THE search tool to search by address to see if you are in one of those FEMA shaded areas called the 100 year flood zone.Flood Zone

If you find that the house is in a flood zone, it is not the end of the world but there are issues to be considered. Trusted real estate advice and coaching definitely come into play if you still want to proceed.  As a former registered Professional Civil Engineer, I have more experience that most real estate agents when it comes to flood zone issues and how they affect the use of real estate.  Please let us know if you ever have any questions.

Curious about what houses look like that have been reconstructed after a flood?  Check out some photos at our blog post Floods and Homes in a Flood Zone.