How is The Coronavirus Affecting the Real Estate Market?

The real estate market across the country is bracing for an unpredictable season following the economic challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic. Some analysts are of the view that extremely low costs of borrowing may not be enough to attract home buyers until the current climate of economic uncertainty begins to improve.

 

The job market that had been going all guns blazing has come to a screeching halt, which could set the stage for a sluggish housing market in 2020. However, housing sales is not the only challenge for real estate agents and investors right now, but also a host of commercial and legal issues may also need to be addressed going forward.

 

Mortgage Modifications

 

As many economists and large financial institutions are expecting the economy to go through a recessionary phase, the job losses across the country may mount further before the business and economy begin to stabilize. When people get laid off or their business gets shut down, they may quickly start missing their mortgage payments.

 

Lenders will have to facilitate mortgage modification programs requiring homeowners to repay their loans in smaller monthly installments. Experienced mortgage modification attorneys can assist homeowners in negotiating with their lenders for more conducive and manageable mortgage payment plans in the new economic scenario triggered by the coronavirus.

 

Impact on Existing Real Estate Sales Contracts

 

Many real estate buyers and sellers who have already entered into a contract may be wondering whether they could terminate the contract citing Covid-19 as an “Act of God” or in a situation where they are directly affected by coronavirus illness or quarantine. In these cases, it is best to consult with a real estate attorney who will assess the terms of the contract and provide appropriate legal advice.

 

A standard residential real estate sales contract is not likely to have a provision for termination of the contract due to a pandemic situation. The contract typically will have a clause that allows termination of the contract by one party if the other party fails to meet the conditions of the contract.

 

A reasonable solution may be for both parties to mutually agree to an extension of the closing date because of Covid-19 related illness, quarantine, local lockdown or shelter-in-place orders. A knowledgeable real estate lawyer can advise how to maneuver an extension in carrying out the legal obligations under the contract due to the pandemic.

 

Protection against Real Estate Fraud

 

During times of stress and uncertainty, fraudsters are the first ones to start taking advantage of individuals and businesses by perpetrating sophisticated scams, including real estate transaction frauds. They may send offers of distress sales of prime real estate at attractive prices, and ask for advance payments, or present fake documentation to lay an elaborate trap.

 

It is prudent in these times to exercise more caution than usual, and scrutinize the claims, offers and documentation offered by an unknown party. Any personal data or financial information should not be provided without first being sure that you are dealing with a legitimate buyer, seller or broker.

 

Real estate transactions involve large amounts, and it makes sense to have strong representation from a real estate attorney. They will be on your side and will protect your interests and your rights at every step of your deal. That is the kind of assurance and security you should have, particularly in the wake of the complications arising from the prevailing Covid-19 crisis.

 

Legal Advice on the Risks of Racial Discrimination

 

Covid-19 is an infectious disease, and when the origin of such diseases is associated with a certain geography or population, it can lead to unfortunate situations where a party gets wittingly or unwittingly charged with discriminatory behavior.

 

In the times of coronavirus illness, landlords, property managers, real estate agents and brokers as well as investors should be conscious about their legal obligations under state laws as well as the Fair Housing Act. No such action should be taken that gets perceived as discriminatory against particular segment of the society or an ethnic group.

 

While you are free to ask prospective clients, tenants, or associates whether they have recently traveled to areas with high risk of exposure to Covid-19, you have to be uniform in this type of screening for all potential candidates or prospects. And based on their responses, you should treat all parties equally.

 

It is best to consult with a seasoned real estate attorney who can help you cover all the legal bases in this unprecedented situation that has occurred due to a global pandemic.

 

Astute Legal Guidance is Available for You

Davis, Bingham, Hudson & Buckner, P.C. is one of the premier law firms in the greater Auburn community in Alabama for commercial and residential real estate transactions. For nearly four decades, we have been providing dependable and highest quality professional services to individuals, families and businesses.

 

We have the skills and the resources to get some of the most complicated matters resolved, especially with regards to real estate closings. To schedule a consultation with one of our real estate lawyers, call us today at (334) 821-1908.

 

What is The Process for Obtaining a Zoning Variance in AL?

If your business is different from the specified zoning use of a particular area, you may require a zoning variance. In these kinds of cases, a variance will be necessary regardless of whether you want to buy, lease, or build.

You may want to, say, run a construction business in an area zoned for retail outlets. To do this, you may need to contact the local zoning or planning board to request an exception (variance) to the current zoning type prior to proceeding to open your business.

A variance refers to a zoning restriction that allows the land to be used for purposes other than the stipulations of the zoning for that area. A locality may give variances for enterprises that present valid reasons for requiring the variance and those that can demonstrate that the variance will not reduce property values or cause interference with the use of the property by local residents.

Sometimes you may have to present your case before the municipal government or city council.

Zoning Permits and Variances

A zoning permit allows a property to be used for something other than the designated use by the property’s zoning, as long as the enterprise does not negatively impact the neighborhood. It is similar to a zoning variance. A zoning permit or variance may be necessary for various situations that may alter the zoning classification of the property as follows:

  • If you are involved in the construction or modification of a building that may alter its classification
  • If you desire to change the use of an existing building to another zoning classification
  • If you want to construct on vacant land
  • If you want to alter the use of land to another zoning type
  • If you want to bring about any change in a non-conforming use, i.e., changing the zoning requirements of a building that had earlier been “grandfathered” from following the current zoning requirements

A skilled commercial real estate lawyer can take you through the process of acquiring a zoning permit or variance. Before you can commence construction or use the edifice for business purposes, you must obtain a permit or variance from the zoning or planning board.

Home-Based Enterprises

To start a home-based business in a residential area, an entrepreneur may have to obtain a zoning variance, depending on the kind of home business that they plan to run. They may also need to acquire the permission of neighbors prior to commencing their home-based business.

For instance, a couple has a lovely Victorian home where they want to start bed and breakfast. They have guests coming to their residence but restrict it to one booking at a time. In this case, they will need to apply to the city to acquire a variance as the zoning of the property is residential.

In addition, they must get the permission of their neighbors to run this hospitality operation. Finally, they will need to submit the permissions to the city zoning board and seek approval.

In your town or city, the process may be different. Therefore, it is a good idea to check with your locality and inform them that you intend to operate a home business and abide by the regulations. Obtaining a variance can be expensive and time-consuming. More often than not, variances are denied. Ensure that you will be able to get the variance that you need before signing a lease agreement or sales contract on a business location.

Conditional Use Permits

Conditional use permits are similar to variances in that they allow a different use for the property than the zoning code allows. These permits are typically granted at a public hearing in front of a political body, often with the understanding that the property’s new use will be beneficial to the public.

Eminent Domain

The power of the government to take over private property for public use is known as eminent domain. Traditional government endeavors of building public facilities and roads are examples of public use.

In cases where the government zones a part of a property such that the owner is unable to use the piece of land effectively anymore, eminent domain may apply. The property owner may be able to claim compensation as the government has acquired the land.

Consult an Experienced Real Estate Attorney for Zoning Changes and Variances

Zoning changes and variances can either open up unforeseen opportunities for using your property or have disastrous consequences. It is best to consult a legal expert before attempting to address these issues on your own.

The seasoned real estate attorneys at the law offices of Davis, Bingham, Hudson, Bucker, P.C. have a detailed understanding of the complex laws surrounding zoning changes and variances and can guide you on the steps necessary for obtaining a change in property-use for your specific case. For an in-depth case review with a skilled real estate attorney, call today at (334) 821-1908. 

What to Expect at Your Real Estate Closing in AL?

Closing is the last and final step in a real estate transaction, during which the seller receives the proceeds from the sale and the buyer becomes the legal owner of the property.

What to Expect at a Closing If You Are the Seller

A day or two before the closing, you should make sure that all the contingencies listed in the contract are fulfilled. For example, if you agreed to repair or replace something, you need to get it done at least two days before the day of closing.

The day before the date of closing, the buyer – along with their agent or real estate attorney – will do a final walkthrough and inspect the property to make sure it is exactly in the same condition as described in the contract.

On the day of closing, you need to sign a number of documents to transfer the ownership of your property to the buyer. These include the deed, the settlement statement, and the closing statement.

In addition to this, you will have to sign the following documents.

  • A name affidavit in order to attest to your identity and prove that you are indeed who you claim to be.
  • Tax and utility receipts.
  • Proration agreements which specify the housing costs owed by both parties (you and the buyer). For example, if you are selling your property in March, but have already paid property taxes and homeowner association fees for the whole year, the buyer is required to reimburse you for 75% of the bills you paid.

Once you sign all the documents, you are required to hand over all the keys, devices that control various appliances, and the passwords to the security system to the buyer. At the end of the closing process, you will receive the proceeds from the sale of your property.

What to Expect at a Closing If You Are a Buyer

A day before the closing, you need to do a final walkthrough to make sure that all the contingencies listed in the contract are met. You need to check if the property is clean, all the doors and windows are intact, all the repairs and replacements have been made as stipulated in the contract, and if all the mechanical and electrical appliances are in proper working condition.

The importance of a home inspection cannot be overstated, especially in Alabama, where real estate transactions are governed by the ‘caveat emptor’ doctrine.

The doctrine states that sellers in Alabama are not legally required to disclose all the details about the condition of their property. So, it is up to you – the buyer – to inspect the property carefully and find out if there are any cosmetic or structural defects that need to be repaired before you can move in.

On the day of closing, you need to sign a number of documents including the deed, bill of sale, truth in lending statement, mortgage agreement and note, monthly payment letter, and transfer tax declaration.

You will also have to pay the closing costs and a number of other fees. The mode of payment can be a cashier’s check or a wire transfer, depending on the preferences of all the parties involved.

What If the Seller Is Unable to Move Out Before the Closing Date?

Generally, the seller is required to move out of the property a few days before the closing date, as specified in the contract. If they are unable to do so for any reason, they can negotiate with the buyer and enter into what is called post-closing possession agreement.

Under the agreement, the seller can live in the property for a short period of time – which can range from a few days to a few weeks – in exchange for a daily or weekly rent. At the end of the term, the seller is required to move out. Not all buyers, however, might agree to this kind of an arrangement.

Why You Need a Real Estate Attorney by Your Side

Whether you are a buyer or a seller, it is essential for you to have an experienced real estate attorney by your side during the closing process. Under Alabama law, all the documents needed for a real estate transaction must be drafted, prepared, and reviewed only by a real estate attorney who is licensed to practice law in the state.

Moreover, an attorney can negotiate and re-negotiate with the other party on your behalf, assist you with the pre-sale home inspection, make sure the other party does not make any unreasonable demands, and also make sure that your rights and interests are not violated or transgressed upon by any party at any time during the transaction.

Qualified Real Estate Attorneys in Alabama

The experienced real estate attorneys at Davis, Bingham, Hudson, & Buckner P.C. have decades of experience in handling residential and commercial real estate transactions. We can skillfully guide you through the process of buying, selling, renting, and leasing real estate properties and ensure that your rights and interests are protected at each step.

You can contact our real estate attorneys at 334-821-1908 for a free consultation.

Three Legal Issues to Consider Before Listing Your Home for Sale

When it comes to real estate, Alabama is considered a seller-friendly state. This is thanks to the ‘caveat emptor’ doctrine. The doctrine allows you to sell your home without disclosing every single detail about the physical condition of your property. In this article, we will take a detailed look at the caveat emptor doctrine and the three important legal issues you need to be aware of while selling your home.

How Does the Caveat Emptor Doctrine Work?

Caveat emptor is a Latin phrase which stands for ‘let the buyer beware’. It is basically a disclaimer which is used in transactions where products or services are bought, sold, or exchanged between two or more parties.

In Alabama, the sale of residential properties is governed by the doctrine of caveat emptor, which means the seller is not legally obligated to disclose all the details about the physical condition of the property they are trying to sell. On the contrary, it is the responsibility of the buyer to inspect the property carefully, find out if there are any defects, and determine if the property is worth buying.

Most other states in the country require sellers to disclose every known detail about their property – in writing – before they sell it to someone. In this aspect, Alabama stands out from the rest, which is certainly good news if you are a seller. At the same time, the caveat emptor doctrine does not give you a free pass to sell your property to someone without revealing any information whatsoever.

There are three exceptions to the caveat emptor doctrine which you need to be aware of if you are planning to list your home for sale:

1. The Fiduciary Relationship Exception

If the relationship between you and the buyer can be described as ‘fiduciary’ – wherein you are legally obligated to act in the buyer’s best interest – you are not allowed to withhold certain kinds of information, especially if doing so might harm the buyer’s interests.

For example, let us assume that you are a doctor and the buyer is a patient of yours. If the buyer is allergic to cedar wood, and if the doors, windows, or closets in the house you are planning to sell are made of cedar wood, you cannot withhold the information from the buyer as doing so might be a breach of your fiduciary duty towards them.

Similarly, if you happen to be the financial advisor of the buyer and if you know that the cost of repairing and refurbishing your house is likely to be much higher than its resale value, you are legally obligated to disclose the information to the buyer prior to the sale.

If you have any kind of professional relationship with a potential buyer – wherein the buyer pays you for your services – it’s a good idea to consult a lawyer and find out if your relationship can be described as fiduciary in nature.

2. The Health and Safety Risk Exception

If there are any defects in your house that could post a threat to the buyer’s health and safety, you are required to disclose the details of the same prior to the sale.

For example, you are supposed to inform the buyer of the presence of hazards like asbestos, lead paint, and black mold. Similarly, if your house has major structural defects – weak foundation, damaged roof, or a severely damaged attic that could give way at any time – you are legally obligated to disclose the details to the buyer.

3. The Direct Question Exception

If a potential buyer asks you a direct question regarding the presence of a safety hazard or a structural defect in your house, you are not allowed to evade the question or lie about it for any reason.

Potential Consequences of Suppressing Information from the Buyer

If you fail to disclose certain information about your property to the buyer, despite the fact that you have a fiduciary relationship with the buyer or if you know that withholding the information can pose a serious threat to the health and safety of the buyer and their family, the buyer can take legal action against you and seek damages from you.

Similarly, if you lie about a defect in your house despite being asked about it – and if the buyer or any of their family members suffer an injury or develop a health problem as a result of it – you can be charged with misrepresentation, suppression of material facts, negligence, or fraud, depending on the circumstances.

Residential Real Estate Services in Alabama

If you are thinking of selling your home, it is a good idea to have an experienced real estate attorney by your side as they can make sure that you are not in violation of the legal doctrine that governs the sale of residential properties in Alabama.

The residential real estate lawyers at Davis, Bingham, Hudson, & Buckner, P.C. can help you with the sale of your property, let you know what kind of details you should reveal to the buyer, and provide all other types of legal guidance with real property transactions. Call our office today at 334-821-1908 or message us online to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.

What is The Current State of Residential Home Building?

Residential home building activity has consistently increased year-over-year across Alabama for the last three years. In 2018, the sales of newly constructed residential buildings grew six percent compared to 2017.

In general, the new residential home building market in Alabama grew faster than the country as a whole in 2018. The same growth trends for home construction industry have also continued in 2019.

New Residential Construction Inventory on the Rise

In 2018, even though the aggregate number of homes listed for sale in Alabama trended downward (in sync with the national trends), new residential construction inventory continued to grow in the state. As a representative sample, if we take the data for one month (February 2018), it shows that 3,138 new residential construction units were listed for sale in Alabama.

This represented an increase of 1.9 percent from the previous month, and a substantial jump of 20.9 percent compared to the same period from a year ago. During February 2018, as many as 301,000 new home construction units were listed for sale across the US. This represented an increase of 1.4 percent from the previous month and a rise of 16.2 percent compared to the same period from a year ago. 

Clearly, Alabama was staying ahead of the national trends in terms of new residential home building. Also, during the same representative month, Alabama’s new home construction market had a supply of 6.2 months, compared to 5.9 months of supply across the US. In terms of pricing, Alabama showed more favorable trends towards the buyers of new homes.

The median sales price for newly constructed homes in 2018 in Alabama was $224,470, which was slightly lower than the prices in 2017. On a national scale, however, the median sales prices witnessed a marginal increase.

Increased Number of New Home Building Permits

Housing starts and building permits are early signs of activity in the new residential home construction market. These trends are also useful in estimating the general economic climate, because the housing market is often one of the first sectors to see a boom or bust when the economy expands or contracts.

New housing permit data reveals that Alabama’s new residential home building market has been growing at a faster pace than the country as a whole. The US Census Bureau considers the beginning of excavation for the foundation or footings of a building as the start of construction activity. On the other hand, the Alabama Center for Real Estate looks at building permit data to determine the project housing starts. 

Housing starts and building permits have been growing in Alabama, which is encouraging news for the new residential construction industry as well as the state’s economy going forward.

Estimates for the Foreseeable Future

According to construction industry experts, several market segments for new home building activity are likely to remain robust. Older millennials, for instance, are upgrading in significant numbers from their first homes.

In 2020, they are estimated to make up more than 45 percent of mortgages. For anyone associated with the real estate or construction business, or someone who is looking to buy or sell their home, this is a good time to be in the market.

Alabama has generally seen appreciation in home values in 2019. Average home values during this year grew by 5.9 percent, and they are expected to rise another 3.5 percent in 2020. In the current scenario, residential homes are available on average for three and a half months on the market before they get sold out.

Although the new home building market in Alabama has favored buyers over the last few years, a gradual shift is now taking place. The demand is on the rise and the inventory levels are reducing, which favors the sellers.

At 3.7 percent, the unemployment level in the state is currently below the national average as industries continue to expand. Employment in Alabama has increased year on year in the leisure and hospitality, information, trade, and transportation and utilities sectors.

Consult with a Dedicated Alabama Home Building Law Firm

Davis, Bingham, Hudson & Buckner, P.C. is one of the experienced and reputable construction and real estate law firms serving East Alabama for more than four decades.

Whether you are a contractor or builder seeking professional guidance and support against claims, or an individual homeowner or home buyer in need of legal advice, our attorneys have the knowledge and skills to effectively handle your case. To learn more, call us at (334) 821-1908 or contact us online for a consultation.

Using Drones in the Real Estate Business

Since the dawning of the digital age, technology has radically changed the way real estate properties are bought and sold. Home buyers no longer have to wait until the Sunday newspaper listings or until an open house in order to learn details about a particular property.  Today, it is easy to browse real estate listings online any time of the day or night.

Home sellers are also using far more sophisticated tools to market their listings. Forward-thinking real estate agents now employ a wide range of digital marketing strategies in conjunction with the traditional open houses. The latest technology that is being rapidly deployed in the real estate business is drones.

In 2016, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) relaxed its guidelines regarding drone usage in the U.S., making them far easier to use in the real estate industry. Since then, they have begun to take the industry by storm. A growing number of real estate agents are now using drones as part of their marketing strategy, incorporating them in the creation of video footage that is used to provide a virtual tour of the property.

Many in the real estate industry believe that drones are the most important new technology for marketing a home since the internet, and it is easy to see why. Drones can take stunning video footage of a property that was never before imagined. This can give prospective buyers a much greater level of detail regarding the specifics of the property, giving them a better picture of what it would be like to live there.

Advantages of using Drones in the Real Estate Business

There are several reasons why a growing number of real estate agents are now using drones to market their listings:

Better Virtual Tours for Property Listings

The virtual tours that are filmed with a video camera cannot hold a candle to what can be produced from drone video footage. Drones can move effortlessly over areas of the property that would otherwise be very difficult to access. This is especially helpful for more expensive and expansive properties that include a lot of land and outdoor features such as a swimming pool, tennis court, or a waterfront.

Drones can also be used indoors to show details of the home’s interior. In fact, a drone-made video could start walking up to the entrance of the home, go through the front door and into each room of the home, then fly out the back and show the patio and back yard. This can provide a more interactive and realistic presentation than any other form of technology currently available on the market today.

More Affordable than Comparable Alternatives

Competition in the industry and technological advancements have driven down the cost of drones in recent years. In addition, a growing number of photography services are now using drone technology, making it much easier and more affordable for realtors to access. A realtor can generally hire a service to put together a video that incorporates drone footage for around $500 to $2000. This is a fairly significant marketing expense, but most realtors already hire some type of photography service, and using drones is far less expensive and much easier to arrange than obtaining aerial footage from an airplane or helicopter.

The “Wow” Factor

Using drone-made footage produces high-quality HD videos that show breathtaking views that would not be available without this technology. The level of detail it can show prospective buyers (both inside and outside the home) is unequaled, and it can even show nearby amenities, stores, restaurants, hospitals, etc. This can give buyers a perspective they could not get otherwise and help establish a greater emotional connection to the property.

Drone Limitations

With all its features and benefits, drones still have a few limitations, which will require other solutions to address. For example:

  • Drones are not ideal for marketing smaller spaces, such as condominiums and apartments;
  • Drones are not a substitute for carefully focused, fixed-position photos, such as standard street level shots of the home. You may also want to take standard photos if you are trying to make a room or yard look bigger or not show an unpleasant feature of the property;
  • For properties with lots of overgrown trees, it may be more difficult for a drone to show a clear aerial view.

The Future of Drones in the Real Estate Business

Drones are expected to become more mainstream in the real estate industry in the coming years. Real estate agents who adopt this technology early on can position themselves as innovators and firmly establish their services in the local marketplace. Home sellers who contract with a realtor who uses drones can help their home stand out in a competitive market, giving them a better chance of selling their home for top dollar.

Buying a Vacant Lot to Build a Home – What to Watch Out For

In pursuit of owning their own home in getting their peace of the American dream, many people decide to purchase a vacant lot on which to build. The thought of having an acre or two (or even several acres) outside of the city limits and building a home that can be customized to your specifications is very appealing to many. But before moving forward with the purchase of a vacant lot, there are several things to watch out for:

Location

The old adage “location, location, location” applies to all real estate purchases, and especially vacant land. You may love the location from the standpoint of being outside of the city, breathing in fresh air, having a beautiful view to wake up to every morning, and having lots of space to build your dream home and perhaps add some additional structures. But there are several other things to think about when it comes to location. For example, if you have children, how are the local school districts? Will your kids have access to a busing? What about shopping and access to medical help? How close are you to grocery stores, malls, restaurants, hospitals, etc.? And what about your commute to work? Will you be able to handle the drive to work every day?

Here’s another issue a lot of people do not consider when it comes to location. If you are buying a lot that is a significant distance from the city, you may have difficulty finding skilled craftsmen that are willing to travel to your location. You will still most likely be able to find a work crew to build your home, but you will probably be choosing from a smaller pool of available professionals, and you can expect to pay more in building costs because of access to materials, travel, and related issues.

Zoning Requirements

A vacant lot is most likely subject to zoning ordinances that regulate how the land can be used and developed. The land may be zoned for residential, commercial, farming, or a combination of these. And if that land is in an established subdivision, there may be additional laws, regulations, and requirements that apply. Check with your local authorities (e.g., city and county) to determine what the zoning ordinances are, and if you will be allowed to do what you want on the land. For example, if you want to build a house and have horses on the land, be sure you are permitted to do both.

Easements and Restrictions

Are there any rights of way or other easements that cross the property? Are the boundaries of the property clearly marked? Are there any natural hazards, environmental restrictions, or historical designations that affect the property? Does another party own mineral rights, water rights, or timber rights to the property? You will need to do a title search to uncover the answers to these questions and find out if any other potential title issues exist. Your lawyer may also advise you to have a land survey performed as well.

Access to Utilities

Living outside of the city has many advantages, but one of the potential issues you need to consider is how you will get access to your utilities. In many cases, this will not be as cut and dry as it would be living in an urban or inner-ring suburban neighborhood. Before you purchase the lot, find out how you are going to get your power (local power company, partially with solar panels, etc.), water (utility company or private well), heating and cooling (utility company, propane tank, geothermal technology, etc.), and phone and internet service. In most areas of the country, residents have access to high-speed internet. However, there are still some places where this may be difficult to obtain; and this could be a deal-breaker, especially for individuals who need a fast internet connection for work.

Do I Need a Real Estate Lawyer to Purchase a Vacant Lot in Alabama?

Purchasing a vacant lot to build a home on may be a great idea, but the process is full of potential pitfalls. If you are not careful, you could end up with zoning and title issues and other problems that can be very costly to resolve. And in some extreme cases, you may find that there is no viable resolution that will allow you to use the land the way you want it. To help ensure that you avoid any of these issues, it is best to hire an experienced real estate attorney to handle the closing for you.

If you are purchasing vacant land in Alabama, you must also keep in mind that Alabama is a Caveat Emptor (i.e., “buyer beware”) state. This means that the seller is not required to disclose anything to the buyer about the property’s condition. The seller’s only obligation is not to lie to the buyer. 

Your attorney will provide skilled guidance throughout the process, performing the necessary due diligence and preparing the documentation needed to complete the purchase. Your attorney can write up the sales agreement, perform all the title work, order the land survey, check with the city and/or county about zoning requirements, check on road access, and all other important legal tasks. By working with an attorney, buyers have the assurance that all their legal bases are covered, and they will end up with a positive outcome.

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.

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.

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.