Your Austin real estate blog
Thank you for visiting Homeowner Herald, the official blog of AustinHomeSearch.com, providing valuable information for both home buyers and sellers. Follow us on Twitter or check in each week for new posts on topics ranging from holiday decorating to the economy to moving into your new home. This blog is maintained by the Austin Board of REALTORS®. If you’d like to suggest a blog topic, contact the ABoR Marketing Department.
|REALTORS® who go the extra mile
WEDNESDAY, JULY 27, 2011
When searching for a REALTOR®, you may notice that some REALTORS® have acronyms next to their names, such as GRI, ABR or CRS. These are known as professional designations. But what do these designations mean? Read on as we explain.
What exactly are designations?
Becoming a REALTOR® requires education and a commitment to ethics beyond that necessary for earning one's real estate license. Additionally, some REALTORS® choose to further their education in specific areas of the real estate industry by earning designations. Some, for example, may specialize in property management while others may educate themselves on green real estate.
REALTORS® have many options for enhancing their expertise through designations, whether it be completing designation requirements online or visiting a state REALTOR® association to take the necessary classes. Upon successful completion of the program of his or her choice, the REALTOR® earns the respective designation. Based on statistics provided by the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), approximately 33 percent of REALTORS® in the U.S. and 40 percent of REALTORS® in Texas have designations.
According to NAR, the most popular REALTOR® designation in the U.S. is the GRI, or Graduate REALTOR® Institute, accounting for 19 percent of REALTORS®. GRI training covers a broad range of real estate topics, such as technology, legal issues and professional standards. In order to earn this designation, REALTORS® must attend an intensive series of courses that total 90 hours of classroom instruction.
Another popular designation is the ABR, or Accredited Buyer's Representative. REALTORS® with this designation have specialized in working with buyers. The requirements for this designation include completing two exams related to the ABR and completing five real estate transactions while solely representing a buyer. NAR states that 13 percent of REALTORS® have the ABR designation.
The CRS, or Certified Residential Specialist, is another designation for REALTORS®. Like the GRI, this designation indicates special training in a variety of topics, such as closing transactions and business planning. REALTORS® looking to get this designation must be members of the Council of Residential Specialists and meet specific CRS education, elective and production requirements.
Designations such as these help REALTORS® better serve their clients through advanced education and training. Keep in mind that a designation doesn't necessarily mean that one REALTOR® is better than another. Rather, it indicates that a REALTOR® has taken additional steps to further his or her knowledge of a specific aspect of real estate. To learn more about REALTOR® designations, visit the Understanding REALTOR® Designations page here at AustinHomeSearch.com.
|Natural Disaster Preparation
THURSDAY, JULY 21, 2011
Austin is occasionally hit with severe thunderstorms that can create ideal conditions for tornadoes and flooding. While you can't stop Mother Nature, it's important to develop a plan to keep you and your family safe in the event that a natural disaster hits your neighborhood.
Regardless of the disaster you're preparing for, you'll want to make sure your Austin home is equipped with emergency supplies in the event that the power goes out or you're forced to remain inside. Safety experts suggest that your emergency supplies include the following:
- First aid kit (with cleaning agents, sterile bandages, etc.)
- A week's supply of water (about 5 gallons per person)
- Non-perishable food items
- Hand-powered can opener
- Two flashlights
- Batteries (AA, AAA, C, D)
- Blankets and pillows
- Battery-powered radio or television
If the National Weather Service indicates that an emergency is possible (e.g. a tornado watch or flood watch is issued), double-check your emergency supplies and make sure everything is working properly. Outfit your flashlights with fresh batteries, check expiration dates for food and turn on your radio or television for updates on the situation.
Thankfully, tornadoes in Austin are a rare occurrence; however, the Capital of Texas falls within the Tornado Alley region of the United States, so knowing how to survive one is nevertheless important.
If a tornado warning has been declared in your area, the safest place to go is your home's basement. Basements provide ideal shelter during tornadoes, as they're usually below ground and devoid of windows. If your home doesn't have a basement, take shelter in a room or hallway near the center of your home. This space should have no windows and should be on the ground floor of your home. Use a blanket or mattress to cover yourself in case of falling debris.
Once the tornado has passed, ensure your family hasn't been injured and inspect your home for any damage. If your home's been severely damaged, turn off your electricity and natural gas, as your home could be at risk of an electrical fire or an explosion.
As Austin is currently experiencing drought conditions, flooding may be the last thing on your mind. However, Central Texas is prone to flooding, and it's important to be prepared for dealing with such an event.
If the National Weather Service issues a flood watch, make sure your car is filled with gas and your emergency supplies are freshly stocked. You may also need to gather important documents you're storing in your home, such as insurance documentation and social security cards. Most importantly, turn on your radio or television for updates on the situation. Floods can produce dangerous road conditions, so be sure to check local news reports before driving your car.
Floods can become so severe that authorities will issue an evacuation order. If an evacuation is ordered in your area, gather your essential belongings and turn off your gas and electricity. If you cannot turn off your utilities, disconnect as many electrical appliances as you can. Once you've left your home, be sure to exercise caution as you follow the designated evacuation routes provided by local police.
Thunderstorms can be hazardous, but with the right amount of preparation, you can help keep your family safe in case things take a turn for the worse. For more weather safety tips, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website for natural disaster preparation.
|Should I sell my home? Questions to ask yourself
WEDNESDAY, JULY 13, 2011
When considering selling your home, knowing the right time to put it on the market can be tricky. Local market conditions and a variety of outside factors will affect the outcome in the event that you sell your home. However, before putting a "For Sale" sign in your yard, consider the following questions.
Why do I want to sell my home?
The decision to sell your home is a big one-one that shouldn't be taken lightly. Make sure you examine all of your reasons for selling your home. Do you want to sell because you're struggling with mortgage payments? Are you relocating to ease your commute to a new job? Has your family outgrown your home? Write down your reasons and determine whether they are "needs" or "wants."
Is selling my home my only option?
Once you pinpoint why you're thinking of selling your home, consider whether selling your home is the best or only way to achieve that goal. For example, if you're looking for lower monthly payments, you might look into refinancing. Or, if you love your home but have simply outgrown it, you might consider whether remodeling will do the trick. Additionally, some homeowners who buy another house opt to turn their first home into a rental property instead of selling it (just remember: while this can be a profitable experience, owning a rental property can be a time-consuming endeavor that comes with its own expenses). Weigh the pros, cons and potential risks of each option.
Will I profit off of selling my home?
Some experts suggest that those who have lived in their home for five years or more will likely make back the approximate cost of what they paid for it. Here in Austin, the average home purchased five years ago has increased in value by 12 percent. That said, the amount you'll get back largely depends on the price that similar homes are selling for in your neighborhood.
Working with a REALTOR® is the best way to learn about market conditions in your particular area, as well as increase your chances for selling your home for the best price. A 2010 survey by the National Association of REALTORS® showed that the median home price for sellers who used an agent was approximately 40 percent higher than that paid for a home sold directly by an owner.
When considering how much you may stand to gain from selling your home, keep in mind that you may not be able to pocket all the money a buyer will pay. In addition to paying off what you might still owe for your mortgage loan, you'll likely be faced with additional costs such as closing fees, commission paid to REALTORS®, transfer charges and more.
What happens if my home doesn't sell right away?
It's important to remember that a buyer might not pop up the moment your home goes on the market. In fact, in 2010, Austin homes spent an average of 77 days on the market before selling. Consider your personal timeline and level of urgency to sell and think through how you'll handle the buying/selling transition, whether it takes place a few days or a few months down the line. Talking to your REALTOR® will help you get a feel for home-selling trends in your neighborhood.
Selling your home can be an exciting and rewarding experience, especially when you sell for the right reasons at the right time. Get in touch with your REALTOR® or find a REALTOR® to discuss whether selling your home is the best option for you.
|Water conservation: Your summer savings plan
WEDNESDAY, JULY 6, 2011
Americans consume more water during the summer than any other season, particularly in Central Texas where temperatures can climb to the triple digits. However, it's important to conserve water whenever and wherever possible. Doing so can help you save money, as well as help the environment. Below, we have listed eight of our favorite water-saving tips provided by the City of Austin.
1. Reuse water whenever possible
You can save a tremendous amount of water by using the same water to perform multiple tasks around your Austin home. For example: instead of rinsing fruits and vegetables in the sink, put water in a dish and rinse them there. When you're done, use the leftover water for your houseplants or lawn.
2. Use a pitcher for drinking water
Instead of filling a glass of water in the sink, invest in a water pitcher to store in your fridge. This ensures that water is not wasted down the drain by running the tap. Some pitchers are outfitted with water filters, which can help purify the water and improve its taste.
3. Turn off the water when brushing teeth or shaving
Next time you brush your teeth, wet the tooth brush and then turn the faucet off while you brush. Doing so can save as much as four gallons per minute. When shaving, try filling up your sink with a few inches of water for rinsing your razor.
4. Avoid rinsing dirty dishes with running water
When hand-washing your dishes, fill one side of your sink with soapy water and the other side with clean water. This method saves much more water than rinsing your dishes with a running faucet. If you prefer to use a dishwasher, scrape the leftover food off your plates instead of rinsing them. Newer dishwashers and detergents are powerful enough to thoroughly clean your dishes without rinsing beforehand.
5. Use a water-efficient showerhead
Try this experiment at home: take a one-gallon bucket and fill it up with the water from your showerhead. If the bucket fills up in less than 20 seconds, your showerhead expels too much water. Consider installing a showerhead that uses 2.5 gallons per minute or less to conserve water.
6. Find and fix leaky faucets
Check your kitchen and bathroom sinks to see if they're dripping. A leaky faucet can waste as much as 20 gallons of water a day. Thankfully, fixing a leaky faucet is much easier than you may think and usually requires little more than a wrench to repair. DoItYourself.com has a handy guide to fixing a variety of different faucets typically found in homes.
7. Only water plants when necessary
Did you know that more plants die from over-watering than under-watering? Prevent this by only watering your plants when they need it most. Try to water your plants early in the morning, when cooler temperatures reduce evaporation. To make it simpler, invest in a self-watering system with a timer so your plants get the water they need at the right time. Make sure you adhere to the City of Austin's water use schedule.
8. Reduce unnecessary flushing
You might be tempted to dispose of dead bugs, cigarette butts or used facial tissues in the toilet. However, these unwanted items should be thrown in the trash instead. A typical toilet can use as much as seven gallons of water per flush. Better yet, consider replacing your toilet with a high-efficiency model. The City of Austin is currently running a free toilet program where qualified participants can receive up to three high-efficiency toilets for their home. Be sure to submit your application on or before August 31, 2011.
Determine how much water you currently use in your Austin home by using this water calculator. Then, see how much you save by following these water-saving tips. Both Austin's water supply and your pocket book will thank you.