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Filed under: Lifestyle, Renting
Shutterstock / Cheryl CaseyThe gorgeous pictures of a property online might not be exactly what it looks like, or might not be the same place at all.
By Vera Gibbons
While short-term home rental sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway have made finding and listing vacation properties and alternative lodging fast, easy and convenient both for hosts and guests, there are risks involved for both parties.
Here are a few ways to mitigate those risks, whether you're renting a vacation villa or making some extra cash by welcoming paying guests into your home.
DO: Use reputable sites.
Reputable sites not only supply the largest number of rental offerings, but will additionally provide you with some peace of mind because they offer basic security features. Beyond conducting background and address checks, these sites also certify hosts with a proven track record, host community discussions, post uncensored reviews and ban questionable parties.
As a guest, all you have to go on are photos (which may not be verified) and reviews. If a place does not have more than three positive reviews, think twice about staying there.
DO: Have a conversation.
In most cases, conversations between hosts and guests happen through the vacation rental website's messaging system, but if having a phone conversation is an option, go for it. It's a great way to size each other up, and is extremely important if you're doing a home swap, as these exchanges require an enormous amount of trust from both parties.
During the call, note whether the host sounds legitimate and the house they describe matches what's online. If you're talking to a potential guest, consider whether they ask questions a visitor would typically have.
Also pay attention to the types of answers you're getting. For example, if you're a guest and you want to know whether the host has the legal right to rent the apartment to you, listen carefully to their answer. If they seem to be hedging at all, or even seem to be offended by the line of questioning, consider looking elsewhere.
If everything feels "right," however, go ahead with the transaction, keeping in mind that while it's still possible to be scammed over the phone, it's usually easier to fool someone when the communication takes place online.
DON'T: Pay with cash or money order.
Out of all the payment options, credit cards offer the most protection against fraud or wrongful charges. Online money transfer services such as PayPal may also be an option, and can be a good way to go. A personal check may also be fine.
But never pay with cash or money order, since those are the easiest means for the unscrupulous to disappear with your money. Is the host insisting on this type of payment? Rushing you to make a wire transfer? Don't go there.
If cash is required for a cleaning fee or damage deposit, guests should play it safe by postponing this last round of payments until they reach their destination. And get a receipt for the sum rendered.
DO: Prepare for disputes.
Many problems can and do arise. Guests may not show up. Properties may be misrepresented, unsanitary, already occupied, or full of safety hazards like exposed wiring or loose stairs.
Protection policies may not exist, and if they don't, or if they're minimal, you might very well be on your own if something doesn't work out. There is no government or trade agency regulating the advertising of rentals, so proceed with caution.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow or AOL Real Estate.
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Filed under: Buying, Financing
By Erika Napoletano
You've found it: the house of your dreams. In fact, you went home last night and played a little game of Where Does the Sofa Go? But before you can say "home sweet home," there's an offer to be made -- and it has to be accepted before you can move that sofa into the living room.
While these three tips don't guarantee your offer will be chosen, they will help you be competitive so you're one step closer to landing your dream home.
1. Carefully consider your approach.
If you think your dream home's listing price is just a place to begin negotiations, think again. First, have a conversation with your real estate agent. Look for similar homes and recent sales in the area.
You can do a little sleuthing on your own by searching Trulia for sold homes -- just be sure to choose a time frame in the past three months for the most accurate results. Comparables will give you a better idea of the seller's asking price in relation to similar properties and help you shape your offer based on property-specific amenities and location.
Next, you should decide how you'll pay for your purchase: cash or financing. Cash offers can sometimes command a lower selling price since there aren't mortgage details to sort through and the closing should go faster. If you're using financing but can offer a quick close (less than 30 days), take that into consideration in your offer price -- your real estate agent may be able to leverage a quick close to sweeten the deal.
If you're thinking of submitting a lowball offer, have a candid conversation with your real estate agent. Agents know the market well and might even know a thing or two about the listing agent through previous sales. There are certain times when a lowball offer might start a favorable negotiation process, but there are many others when it can derail the reality of landing your dream home. If you decide to submit an offer substantially below the listing price, be prepared for a negotiation process -- or a flat-out "no."
When you're ready to make your offer, back it up with everything the seller needs to know. You want them to believe that your offer is the one offer they should look at twice. Be sure to include completed offer paperwork, signatures where they belong, and make sure you're asking for seller concessions that make sense for the market.
2. Weigh the pros and cons of your requests for repairs.
Maybe you're looking to have some of your closing costs covered. Perhaps you just want the old, worn-out carpeting replaced. Asking for seller concessions is a normal part of the offer process, but you need to know what you can reasonably expect.
If you're in a competitive bidding situation, odds are that the seller is going to choose the offer requiring the least amount of work on their part. Work with your real estate professional to make a list of "musts" and "would like" items for the sellers to tackle. You can put these concessions side by side with your offer price and see what makes for the most compelling deal.
Bottom line? If you're entering into a negotiation and something's got to give, your requested concessions are probably the first place to consider revising to stay competitive.
3. Don't be swayed by emotions
One step it's important not to forget in the offer process is setting a maximum price. If you're financing, you will have a purchase ceiling from your mortgage lender, but when the perfect home comes along, it's easy for heartstrings to overrule good financial sense.
How much can you comfortably carry as a mortgage payment each month? (Use a mortgage calculator to get a rough idea.) How much is that home really worth? How long do you plan on staying in the home, and does that justify a higher-than-asking price?
And remember, the tips we're including here are for traditional sales, not short sales or purchases of bank-owned properties. Those types of transactions have nuances all their own.
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Filed under: Celebrity Homes, Selling
ZillowA private elevator leads to the five-bedroom, 7.5-bath apartment on the 24th floor of the Trump Park Avenue building.
By Melissa Allison
When he's not stumping for the Republican presidential nomination or making decrees on "The Celebrity Apprentice," Donald Trump still works in real estate -- and he just made a killing on a Manhattan apartment.
Trump sold the nearly 6,200-square-foot dwelling on the 24th floor of his 32-story Trump Park Avenue tower for $21 million, the Wall Street Journal reports. He listed it in 2013 for $35 million and cut the price twice, settling on $24.995 million earlier this month. (However, Trump purchased the entire building in 2001 for $115 million, the Journal reported, and since has converted it into 120 luxury condo units.)
Trump never lived in the just-sold apartment, listing agent Michelle Griffith of Trump International Realty told the Journal. She also said Trump rejected an offer to rent the place for $80,000 a month.
A private elevator leads to the five-bedroom, 7.5-bath space, which boasts high ceilings and lots of windows. Luxurious details include Italian brass doorknobs, custom moldings and a kitchen with marble floors and counter tops.
The master suite features two bathrooms, two walk-in closets and a study.
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Filed under: Buying, Financing, Refinancing
ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.
By Lauren Braun
Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans fell this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.83 percent, down 8 basis points from the same time last week.
The 30-year fixed mortgage rate moved lower throughout the week before settling at that rate Tuesday.
"Mortgage rates fell last week to their lowest level since early June," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "There is potential for increased rate volatility this week as markets look to Wednesday's Federal Open Market Committee statement and Thursday's GDP report. Rates could move back up if the data are stronger than expected."
Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.97 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.84 percent.
Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.
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Filed under: Buying, Lifestyle, Selling
By Susan Johnston
It's a common bit of retirement advice: Downsize your housing after the kids leave the nest to cut costs. Interestingly, though, many baby boomers have no intentions of downsizing. Nearly two-thirds of boomers surveyed in 2013 by The Demand Institute -- a nonprofit owned by Nielsen -- plan to "age in place" rather than move. Of those who do plan to move, nearly half said they plan to increase the size of their home or pay more for a comparably sized home.
Many people assume that downsizing housing saves money. But does it really?
It can, especially if you're able to cash in on the equity you've built up. But there are a lot of factors that can actually result in higher housing costs once you downsize.
"What we always recommend is to consult with a financial planner to see what your monthly expenses are now and what the expenses may be where you're thinking of moving," says Jeff Stone, a seniors real estate specialist in a Port Washington, New York.
Stone points out that the term downsizing can be, well, a bit of downer.
"Rightsizing, to me, is a better word," he says.
Here's a look at several areas to consider before moving later in life.
When you move for a job, you might get a relocation package from your employer or load the moving truck with help from a couple of able-bodied friends. But when you move during retirement, you bear those costs, which can be considerable if you're moving a long distance and need to hire professional movers.
"Sometimes with the cost of moving furniture, especially if you're going a longer distance, it can be more feasible to buy new furniture," says Mario Minotti, a partner at Minotti Group Wealth Advisors in Chicago. (Minotti's clients are mainly retirees and pre-retirees, so he has talked through the pros and cons of downsizing with several of them.)
Beyond the cost of physically transporting your belongings, you'll also pay transaction costs on selling an existing home and buying a new one.
"If [a home is] listed with a broker, you pay their commission and will also be paying your attorney fees, closing costs and so forth," Stone says. Many boomers also choose to rent, which comes with a different set of costs.
Many boomers have amassed -- and grown attached to -- large collections of antiques and other mementos over the course of their lives.
"There's china sets, a lot of antiques and family things that they want to preserve," Minotti says. "A lot of male clients have accumulated a couple of cars, and they're excited that they're going to be able to enjoy them [in retirement], but parking spots can be expensive."
Or, in some cases, "their kids had a bunch of their childhood stuff that they want to preserve for their grandkids," he adds.
One option, if you don't have space for these items, is renting a storage unit. But it doesn't come cheap, especially if you want secure, climate-controlled storage for antiques. The average asking rent for a 10-by-10-foot, climate-controlled storage unit in the U.S. was $151 per month during the fourth quarter last year, according to the Self Storage Association.
Another option is to sell, donate or give to relatives. Unless you have items that are in demand, don't count on making big bucks or getting younger relatives excited about decades-old furniture (a notable exception being college-bound or recently graduated grandchildren furnishing a place on a budget).
An item may provide "a memory but doesn't provide value to someone else," says Chris Abts, president and founder of Cornerstone Retirement Group in Reno, Nevada. "We find many times those just don't have much in the way of value."
Many boomers also lack the energy or discipline for a serious declutter, which has spawned an entire of industry of senior move managers and organizers for hire. "The key would be to downsize the things you've accumulated while you have energy, while you're healthy," Abts says.
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