Selling your Home

How to Sell your Home for Top Dollar

With spring in full bloom, the real estate market is about to start heating up again. This is the time of year when a lot of moving activity takes place. If you are looking to sell your home this year, the market is still pretty strong for sellers. Interest rates have creeped up a little from last year, and it may not be as much of a seller’s market as it has been in past years. For this reason, you may need a little more creativity to help ensure that you are able to sell your home for top dollar.

There are several steps you should take to help position yourself for a successful home sale even in a more competitive market:

Be Strategic about Making Repairs and Improvements

It would be great if we had an unlimited budget to repair every single defect and make every improvement possible to enhance the value of our home. But most of us are not in this position, and we need to spend carefully within the limited budget we have to get the house ready for sale. Of course, we should try to fix anything we can before putting the house on the market, but there may be some defects that are not cost-effective to repair. In such cases, you just need to be open and transparent with your buyers about any issues the home might have.

As far as improvements go, it is generally best to focus on smaller, less expensive upgrades, such as painting the interior with a more appealing color. Major remodeling projects are time consuming, and they rarely produce a positive return on investment. Be very cautious about undertaking large projects before listing your home.

Prioritize Curb Appeal

The outside of the home is the first thing perspective buyers will see when they walk up to the door. You know what they say about “first impressions”, and this is especially true with home sales. Do everything you can to make your house look good from the street. Clean your gutters, weed your flower beds, fertilizer and water your lawn, keep your lawn, bushes, and shrubs trimmed, and prioritize outdoor repairs for your windows, roof, siding, and driveway. Bottom line: make your home exterior as aesthetically pleasing as possible within the constraints of your budget.

Clear Out the Clutter

Lots of furniture, furnishings, and personal items make the inside of the home seem smaller.  Also, when you have your personal stuff all over the place, it is much harder for buyers to picture themselves living in the home. When your house is for sale, you need to sacrifice “livability” in favor of “marketability”. It will be an inconvenience to be sure, but it will pay off in the long run. For the time that your house is on the market, remove much of the furniture and other items. If you don’t know where to put them, consider renting temporary storage space or asking a family member or friend if you can put the items in their garage for a while. If you want to be even more proactive, consider removing all the furniture and renting new furniture that will help stage your home better. A professional staging service can help you do this more effectively.

Price your Home Appropriately

One common mistake that home sellers make is putting too high a price on their house. It is understandable that you have any emotional attachment to your home, but you need to balance that with a realistic view of what it is worth based on the current market. Overpricing your home can significantly limit the number of perspective buyers that come through your door, which usually means your house sits on the market longer, prompting buyers to question what’s wrong with it. Set a reasonable price for your home, and keep in mind that most buyers search by price points based usually on $5,000 or $10,000 increments. For example, it is much better to set your home at a price like $199,000 than $200,000, because that $1,000 difference in price is likely to attract far more traffic.

Hire a Listing Agent with Proven Results

Not all real estate agents are created equal. Some are full-time, while others do real estate as a side hustle. Some agents work primarily with buyers, while others work mostly with sellers.  Those who work with sellers are commonly known as listing agents. Look for a listing agent who is full-time, has plenty of experience, and has a marketing system in place that has been shown to get results for other home sellers. The agent you choose will have a major impact on the success (or lack of success) of your home sale.

Hire an Experienced Real Estate Attorney

In Alabama, a real estate lawyer is required to draft and prepare all the legal documents related to the real estate transaction. These documents may include contracts, deeds, titles, powers of attorney, and many others. Your real estate attorney takes over after the sale has been agreed to by the buyer and seller to take care of the legal documents, negotiate repairs and other adjustments to the terms the deal, and handle any other issues that may come up. Be sure to choose an attorney who has extensive knowledge of real estate law, and an in-depth understanding of the complexities of these types of transactions.

At the offices of Davis, Bingham, Hudson & Buckner, P.C., we have over 40 years of experience assisting clients with residential real estate transactions and all other issues related to real estate in Alabama. We work closely with our clients, putting our experience to work to help ensure a smooth and seamless transaction, and to ensure that our clients’ rights and interests are fully protected throughout the process.

For a consultation with one of our attorneys, call our office at 334-821-1908. You may also send us a message through our online contact form.

Commercial Real Estate

Investing in Commercial Real Estate for the First Time

Owning commercial real estate can be an exciting way to build your investment portfolio. The commercial market offers the potential for higher growth and greater rewards down the road. Buying commercial property is also far more complex then purchasing residential real estate, and there are more risks involved.

Those investing in commercial real estate for the first time can find the process complicated and confusing. There are numerous potential pitfalls, and the experience could be very costly if you are not thoroughly prepared. Here are 5 important steps that first time commercial real estate investors should take before entering the market:

Assemble your team of experts to assist you with the purchase

There are many ‘moving parts’ involved in a commercial real estate transaction, and you should plan on the process taking significantly longer than the purchase of a typical residential property. During this process, you will need experts to help you with various steps that must be completed. At a minimum, you will need an experienced commercial real estate lawyer, commercial realtor, accountant, and a mortgage lender. Depending on the complexity of the property you are considering, you may also need to bring in appraisers, engineers, environmental specialists, and other specialists.

Determine the purpose of the investment

The first thing you need to get clear on as a new commercial real estate investor is why you want to get into this business, and which type of commercial property is most appealing to you. For example, is this a short-term play where you plan to fix up and sell the property for a quick profit? If so, you should be aware of the risks going in, and the fact that expenses to repair a commercial property could end up being much higher then you originally projected. On the other hand, you may be looking at an investment that you want to provide long term cash flow. Decide before going in the purpose of your investment, what do you plan to do with the property, and your exit strategy (i.e., how you plan to eventually recoup your investment).

Determine the type of property you want to purchase

There are numerous different types of commercial real estate properties you could invest in. Examples include apartment complexes, office buildings, shopping and retail centers, medical facilities, warehouses, industrial property, hotels, or even farmland. Each type of commercial property has its own unique set of risks and potential rewards. Consider which property you are most passionate about, and which one is most likely to yield a good return on investment. It is also important to look at market factors that may present a risk for various types of property. For example, consumers have been trending toward online purchases in recent years, and this has hurt the retail industry. This is something do you definitely want to take into account if you were looking at purchasing a retail property (such as a strip mall).

Understand your local market

Macroeconomic trends are important when considering which commercial real estate property to invest in, and equally important are the trends within your local area. Look at the demographic trends. Is the population growing or declining? Is it a younger or older population? You should also understand something about how your local municipalities operate. There is a very good chance you will need permits and approvals from the city or town to make certain alterations to the property and bring in certain types of merchants. Find out the time frame and what it takes to secure various types of approvals from your local municipalities. This is one of many areas in which your commercial real estate attorney will be able to provide invaluable assistance.

Figure out your financing

One of the most critical pieces to the commercial real estate investing puzzle is the financing. Most investors do not have the ability to pay cash for their first commercial property, so you will need to find the most favorable financing options. First of all, you should not plan on borrowing too much. A bank or private lender would not finance 100% of the purchase of a commercial property anyway; but even if they did, this would most likely put you in a difficult financial position. There are various factors that lenders will look at depending on the type of property you are purchasing and the purpose of your investment. Assuming you are purchasing a property from which you plan to collect rent to cover the loan payments, a lender will generally want to see a break-even ratio (BER) of 85% or less. The break-even ratio is (operating expenses + debt service payments)/gross operating income. If your BER is less than 85%, this means that operating income (e.g., rents) could drop by as much as 15%, and you would still break even on the property. This allows for vacancies in the event that some of your tenants fall on hard times.

Selecting the Right Real Estate Agent - Davis Bingham Hudson & Buckner

The Top 5 Things to Look for in a Real Estate Agent

Buying or selling a home is one of the most important transactions you will ever be involved in. This is a complicated process, and there are many pitfalls you need to watch out for. In Alabama, the law requires that a licensed real estate attorney prepare all the legal documents for a real estate transaction. In addition to retaining the services of a skilled attorney, it is also a good idea for buyers and sellers to work with a real estate agent.

A reputable agent helps sellers analyze the current market and set an appropriate listing price, market the property to prospective buyers, hold open houses, field offers, and negotiate a sales price with the agent for the buyer. An agent can help buyers by sifting through the available properties to find the ones that meet their criteria, presenting a good initial offer on the home they want to buy, negotiating the purchase with the seller’s agent, and working closely with the real estate attorney during the closing process.

There are thousands of real estate agents in Alabama and finding the right one to handle your home sale or purchase can be a challenge. One of the first places to start is to ask around among your family and friends for someone they can refer you to. You can also look online or get names from looking around to see which agents are listing multiple homes in your area. For sellers especially, this can be a good indication that they know your neighborhood and they are trusted by other home sellers.

Even after you receive glowing reviews about agents from someone you know or find agents that have a strong online presence or look to be active in your area, don’t just take the word of others and/or assume that any particular agent will be the right one for your purchase or sale. It is best to interview the agents you are considering before you decide which one to work with.

There are several things to look for in a real estate agent, here are five of the most important:

Responsiveness

Before you even sit down with an agent, you may be able to narrow your search by how they respond to your initial inquiry. You want an agent you can work closely with, someone who will be your advocate in the buying or selling process, and someone who is highly responsive to your needs, questions, and concerns. If an agent takes a long time to get back to you after you call them initially, this could be a sign that they are not going to be as responsive as you would like them to be once you hire them. Like other professionals, agents are busy. But it is reasonable to expect them to get back to you within one business day or sooner after your initial call, text, or email.

Experience

One of the most important questions to ask is, “how long have you been a real estate agent?” Experience is critical in the real estate business, not just because of the in-depth knowledge of the process that is acquired over a period of years, but because real estate is a commission-based business. This means agents only get paid when they deliver results for their clients, and the longer an agent has been in the business, the more likely they are to be successful. It is true, however, that everyone was new at some point. If you are interviewing an agent who is fairly new, it is best if they are part of an overall team that includes other seasoned agents who would also be working on your behalf.

Specialization

It is important to know whether the agent primarily represents buyers or sellers. As mentioned earlier, agents perform different functions depending on which side of the transaction you are on. An agent should specialize primarily in one or the other. That said, they should have some experience and knowledge with both buying and selling. Otherwise, they would have a more limited perspective. For example, it may be difficult for a buyer’s agent to know what a seller’s/listing agent is thinking during negotiations if the agent (or someone on their team) doesn’t also have some experience with home sales.

Area Knowledge

Some agents handle specific areas, while others will travel halfway across Alabama to handle a real estate transaction. In general, it is best to hire an agent that works primarily in the area where you are looking to buy or sell a home. Someone who is on top of your local market will be able to analyze, in detail, comparable listings and comparable properties that have recently sold. They will also be familiar with specific characteristics and nuances in each neighborhood that may impact the value of a property.

Proven Results

At the end of the day, you need an agent who is experienced, responsive, someone you feel comfortable working with, and someone who has a proven track record helping other clients to complete successful transactions. Experience will be a strong indicator, but you should also ask for further details about their process (e.g., how they will help you acquire the right home or how they will effectively market your home for sale) and ask for a list of other clients they have previously worked with who you can call and speak with about their services.

Normal wear & tear on a rental property - Davis Bingham Hudson & Buckner

What is Normal Wear & Tear with a Rental Property?

Renting has been a growing trend in recent years. In the wake of the Great Recession of the late 2000s, many families found themselves underwater with their mortgages, leading to record numbers of foreclosures. This created an increasing demand for rentals as previous homeowners were no longer able to qualify for a mortgage. The strong rental market has prompted a lot of homeowners to rent their properties rather than sell them.

While renting has its advantages, there are some drawbacks to becoming a landlord. The responsibility of maintaining the property, making repairs, and other headaches can create a lot of stress for property owners. And when a tenant decides to move out, the landlord has to clean the home and make sure it is in condition to rent again. This creates a dilemma for landlords: “what is considered normal wear and tear, and when should I deduct for repairs from the security deposit?”

What is “Normal Wear & Tear?”

Wear & tear refers to the deterioration of the property that occurs over time under normal conditions. Some examples of normal wear & tear may include:

  • Paint that gets faded over time;
  • Carpet that gets faded or worn thin, especially in high-traffic areas of the home or apartment;
  • Wallpaper that is faded or slightly torn;
  • A few minor chips, dents, smudges, scrapes, cracks, or nail holes in the walls;
  • Lamps or window shades that are dirty or faded;
  • Curtains or blinds that are moderately dirty;
  • Scuffed varnish on wood floors through regular use;
  • Dark patches that may develop on hardwood floors after they have lost their finish;
  • Doors that become sticky due to humidity;
  • Cabinets that become warped over time (usually due to humidity) that no longer close;
  • Window panes that become cracked due to a faulty foundation or the building settling;
  • Mold that develops due to lack of proper ventilation;
  • Loose grouting and loose bathroom tiles;
  • Malfunctioning appliances due to normal use or faulty equipment;
  • Clogged sinks or drains due to aging pipes;
  • Warn varnish on plumbing fixtures.

Essentially, normal and reasonable wear & tear refers to anything that occurs due to property or appliance defects or what would be expected to occur over time when someone is living in the home or apartment.

What is Considered “Excessive Tenant Damage”?

In Alabama, landlords are allowed to charge a security deposit of up to one month’s rent. There some exceptions, however. If the tenant has pets, there are changes made to the unit, or other there are other circumstances that create an additional liability for landlords, a higher security deposit can be required. Landlords can withhold a tenant’s security deposit (or a portion of it) for:

  • Unpaid Rent
  • Damage that exceeds normal wear & tear

Excessive tenant damage is damage that impacts the value, functionality, or usefulness of the property that does not occur naturally and is committed on purpose or because of neglect. Examples may include:

  • Damage cause by pets (e.g., torn carpeting or carpet stains);
  • Holes, stains, or burns on the carpet;
  • Ripped screens, broken windows, and broken window hardware caused by tenants;
  • Unapproved paint, wallpaper, drawings, or crayon markings on the wall;
  • Large holes in the wall caused by accidents, neglect, or abuse;
  • Water stains on wood floors;
  • Broken appliances caused by accidents, abuse or neglect;
  • Broken doors or doors with torn off hinges;
  • Cracked hardwood floors or cracked or missing floor tiles;
  • Broken toilet seats or broken bathtubs;
  • Cracked or broken mirrors.

Landlords in Alabama must return a tenant’s security deposit by first-class mail within 35 days after the tenant moves out. If a landlord deducts all or part of the security deposit, they must include an itemized written statement giving the exact reasons why part or all of the security deposit was withheld. If the deposit is being withheld for tenant damage, the statement should outline the damage that occurred and the approximate cost to repair it.

What to Do if you Have a Security Deposit Dispute

If you have a tenant that just moved out and there is a dispute about your security deposit, or you are not sure how much to withhold, it is best to speak with a skilled Alabama landlord-tenant attorney. An experienced attorney can thoroughly assess your circumstances and advise you of your legal options.

How Technology Has Changed the Mortgage Experience - Davis Bingham Hudson & Buckner

How Technology Has Changed the Mortgage Experience

In today’s increasingly digitized world, technology is rapidly changing the way we do business. This is especially true with the home-buying process. In the early days of the internet, real estate companies began posting their listings online. This gave buyers the ability to find and compare several properties from their computer, so they could identify the homes that fit their criteria before seeing them in person.

This technology has evolved over the years, with many listings now including detailed information, dozens of photos, and virtual tours. Today, over 90% of buyers go online to compare real estate listings as the starting point in their search for a new home.

The mortgage experience has also changed dramatically since the dawning of the internet. Traditionally, obtaining a mortgage has been a slow moving and paperwork-driven process. Technological changes have transformed the industry and provided a far more pleasant experience for home buyers looking to obtain a mortgage.

There are several ways that technology is changing the mortgage experience, here are some of the most significant:

Borrowers have More Choices

In the old days, there were very few options for obtaining a mortgage when someone wanted to buy a home. Usually, borrowers would go down to their community bank to apply. Today, the options are nearly endless. In addition to the banks, there are numerous mortgage brokers you can go to. Brokers typically work with multiple lenders, so they can shop around to find the right lender for their client. There are also countless internet-based lenders you can go to. All these choices have vastly increased competition, which is highly beneficial to consumers.

The Process is More Streamlined

Obtaining a mortgage is a complex process with mountains of paperwork and documents that need to be reviewed. Not to mention credit checks, employment verifications, and numerous other tasks. It used to take several weeks or longer to get a mortgage approved. With many of these tasks now done electronically, the process is much more efficient and streamlined. Today, borrowers can often get approved for a mortgage in a matter of days, allowing them to close on their purchase much sooner. Borrowers can also get preapproved. This gives buyers and sellers the assurance that, once an offer is accepted and everything else checks out, the buyer will have the financing to complete the purchase.

The Streamlined Process Reduces Costs

More than two-thirds of the mortgage process is now automated. This not only makes the process faster and more efficient, it reduces the costs associated with completing these tasks manually. Lenders can pass these savings along to borrowers in the form of lower closing costs.

Borrowers have more Convenient Signing Options

Traditionally, closings have occurred at the office of the title company, and many are still done this way. However, with the advent of electronic signings and remote notarization technology, signings can now be done wherever is most convenient for the borrower. This also makes it easier for borrowers and their attorneys to review the documents before signing them to help ensure that everything is in order.  

Reduced Errors and Greater Transparency throughout the Process

The combination of humans and mountains of paper documents creates numerous opportunities for missed signatures and other errors during the mortgage process. Electronic files are far easier to track, audit, and record. This makes it easier to check for missing files, missing signatures, and other mistakes. It also makes it easier to locate and review documents to make sure they haven’t been altered or tampered with in any way. These electronic files can be checked and reviewed at any time, providing far greater transparency during the entire process.

The Role of a Real Estate Attorney in the Mortgage Process

In Alabama, a licensed real estate attorney drafts and prepares all legal documents for a real estate transaction. If you are purchasing a home in Alabama and your offer is accepted by the seller, a real estate lawyer will handle all the closing documentation. In some states, closing paperwork can be handled by settlement agents or escrow agents. In Alabama, however, the law requires that this process be handled by a real estate closing attorney.