Home Buyers: Questions You Should Ask Before the Home Tour


home with dollars for roof and walls that can get full asking price at saleFalling in love with your potential dream home comes with expensive risks: the risk of buying a money pit or (worse) a big case of budget remorse. If you want to avoid the risk, ask your real estate agent these questions before you decide you have to make an offer.

How much are property taxes? What are monthly utility costs?

Focusing on the cost of a property can give you blinders that could affect your budget later. Make sure you know all the financial facts about your next home, including whether you can afford to pay your property taxes and utility bills.

Are there any HOAs?

It’s important to know whether you need to budget for any homeowner’s association fees—or if there are any homeowner association restrictions you need to know in the long-term. Some homeowner associations can limit the size of any fences installed on the property or even the color you choose for the property.

Can I see the Condition Report?

A condition report is a required document in Wisconsin that gives you important insights into the property you’re looking at. The Condition Report includes more than 20 categories of disclosures, including significant information about the well water, roof, and electrical system. If the property does not have a defect in one of the categories, and has never suffered damage as a result, the seller indicates that the property is clear in that area.

If the property has had a problem in the past, this is where you can get that information. For instance, if the basement has flooded, the problem should be on the Condition Report, along with the cause and what was done to fix it.

What school district is it in?

If you have a family, or are interested in starting a family, this is a ‘must ask’ question. Find out what school district the home is in so you can research the district and the proximity to the school your kids may be attending.

Once you’ve asked these key questions, let your eyes take the next step. Look for these red flags as you tour the home. If you’re serious about the property, request an inspection so you be confident that your decision to make the offer was the right one.

Mistakes Home Sellers Make When Showing their Home Over the Holidays


home decorated for the holidays while on the real estate marketThe holidays are the most wonderful time of the year, but they can feel extremely tricky for home sellers. After all, how do you make your home festive while its on the market? The good news is that you and your home can get in the holiday mood even when your home is on the real estate market. The bad news is that it can be incredibly easy to jeopardize your home sale if you make these mistakes.

Not clearing the walks

If you want potential sellers to be able to see your home, make sure your walks are clear of snow and decorations. Your home needs to make the best first impression it can so home buyers want to come in. Make sure your yard is landscaped and neat, and the sidewalks and driveway are clean and repaired.

Covering up selling features

It’s okay to decorate your home, but don’t cover up your home’s selling features. Instead, use your holiday decorations to accent the items that sell your home. Add holiday boughs to your mantle to showcase your fireplace and décor that shows off key architectural details. Don’t be afraid to ask your real estate agent for recommendations that they’ve seen sell homes.


One of the most common mistakes home sellers make—during any time of year—is making their home’s rooms look smaller because of too much clutter. Make sure that you don’t over-decorate your rooms so they look bigger and more spacious during showings. Use the same strategy outside; a lot of outdoor decorations can make your lot size appear smaller.

Burning too many candles

You want your home to smell pleasant, but don’t trigger potential buyers’ allergies by burning too many candles or using a lot of air fresheners. Too many scents in a home can also make potential buyers suspicious and leave them thinking that you’re trying to cover up a potential issue (i.e. mold, water damage, etc.).

Thinking that you can’t have any notice

The holidays are hectic with a huge to-do list. Don’t feel that your home has to be ready for an immediate home showing; instead, ask your real estate agent for 24-hour notice (if possible) before a showing. This simple step helps make your holiday merrier—and hopefully ending with the ultimate gift of a home sale.

How long does it take to sell my home?


for sale sign at home ready for showingUnfortunately, there are no solid answers to this common question. The national average is approximately 65-70 days, but the true answer depends on many factors: location, season, real estate market, salability. While you can’t change many of those factors, there are steps you can take to make that sale sooner.

Curb appeal, curb appeal, curb appeal.

When you put your home on the market, you need to start thinking like a buyer. As a buyer, first impressions go a long way—and they start before they even walk in the door. Make sure your driveway and sidewalk are clean, and your lawn and flower beds are well-kept (a full curb appeal checklist can be found here).

Give your home a deep clean.

Spiders, dirty tubs, greasy stoves, yucky toilets. All these items can leave potential buyers repulsed and heading for the door—or ready to make a really low offer that covers cleaning and replacement costs. When getting your home ready for sale, deep clean every floor, counter, appliance, and every other surface before potential buyers walk in the door (or ask your real estate agent for the name of a good local cleaning service that can do the job).

Make your rooms look bigger.

A cluttered home can make your rooms look smaller and cover up the features that impress buyers. Remove all necessary objects from your rooms and clear out nick nacks to make your home look bigger and show off all the selling features (i.e. anything that covers up your fireplace mantle, items on a bathroom vanity, etc.).

Bring in the experts.

If you want to sell quickly, don’t hesitate to bring in the experienced pros that can help hasten your sale and make the process easier. Hire the best local real estate agents (tips for finding the best real estate agent here), and a recommended home inspector that can give you the head up on any surprises that could slow the home sale process (called a pre-listing home inspection).

Show how well your home is maintained.

You’ve cared for your home for years; now is the time to show off years of fantastic home maintenance. Replace any burned out light bulbs, fix leaky faucets, and repair any items that could raise a red flag with potential buyers—and could delay the closing date.

Home Buying Terms Every First Time Buyer Should Know


Photo of small chalk board with message about home sweet homeNothing about buying a home is normal. It’s not like buying a purse or a TV. After all, buying a house is one of the largest purchases of your life. It’s also a process that’s full of foreign-sounding terms that make you feel like you’re in over your head.

One way you can stay on top of the home-buying process is to hire a good real estate agent to guide you. Another way is to do your research and know common home buying terms you’re sure to encounter as you search for and purchase your first home.

Buyer’s Agent

As straightforward as the home buying process can be (basic steps of buying a home here), there can be snags along the way (i.e. issue during home inspection, negotiation problems, etc.). That’s when it’s helpful to have a contracted agent that works for you. The good news is a buyer’s agent is typically free. In most cases, the buyer’s agent commission comes from the seller.


Pre-approval is a vital part of the mortgage process, and can give you insight into how much home you can (or want to) afford. Once you have chosen your mortgage lender, they’ll inevitably ask for documents that prove you are able to pay for the home. Those documents typically include W-2’s, income taxes, bank statements, and these other documents. From those documents, your mortgage lender pre-approves you for a mortgage and gives you the maximum amount the institution is willing to lend.

Purchase Agreement

A purchase agreement, or offer, is the document submitted to the home seller that includes important information, such as the amount you are offering for the property, conditions of the sale, and proposed closing date.


Your offer should contain a proposed price and any contingencies, or conditions, of the sale. For example, a common contingency is a financing contingency which means your loan must go through for the sale to be final. Another common contingency is an inspection contingency where the house must pass a home inspection or both parties come to an agreement on how to handle an issue that arises during the home inspection. There are other contingencies that can be included in your offer; discuss your options with your real estate agent.

Earnest Money

This term describes funds that you put down on a property to show you are serious about the transaction. An earnest money sets your offer apart, and applies to the final sale at closing. For example, if you are purchasing a $300,000 home, you may put $10,000 down to show you are earnest about the property. At closing, that $10,000 is applied to the sale. To determine the amount of earnest money right for your sale, ask your real estate agent for their recommendation.

Condition Report

A condition report may seem like another document in a pile of paperwork, but a condition report is full of useful disclosures about a potential property. The Condition Report contains information about any current or past property issues. In the report, home sellers are required to include any problems they’ve dealt with and how they have fixed it.

Home Inspection

A home inspection is a going-over of your potential property, performed by a home inspector before closing day. After the home inspection, the home inspector provides a report of issues that need to be addressed or repairs that need to be made in the future. It is important to note that home inspectors can only find issues they can see, such as a roof in poor condition or water damage from a leaky pipe. If the home inspector finds any issues, your real estate agent can inform you of the options you have if you want to proceed forward with the sale.


Closing day is the day when all the paperwork is completed for the sale of the property. You may have to bring payments to the closing; ask your financial lender for the exact documents and fees you need to provide at closing. Once all the paperwork is completed, you get to receive the keys for your new home. You’re officially a homeowner.

7 Key Things to Do Before You List Your Home


For Sale Sign Under Home Showing Selling PropertyThe decision to list your home is a very exciting time…and a very busy time. All you have to do is put a ‘for sale’ sign on the front lawn, right? Not quite. If you want a quick sale and a good price, there are a few tasks you need to take on to make your property someone else’s dream home.


Even during the coldest times of the year, landscaping around your house does wonders for the look of the house—and the impression made on potential buyers. Mowed lawn, weeded flower beds, pruned trees—everything you do makes a positive impression on potential buyers. Use this landscaping checklist to make sure your home looks well-kept and cared for, from the moment they drive up until the end of the showing.

Find out the value of your home

Deciding on the listing price of your home is not as simple as asking for the amount you owe on your property, or the amount you think it is worth. The worth of your home is determined by the selling prices of local homes that have recently sold. Because it’s important to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges, your home value is set by other homes with comparable lot sizes and square footage.  To get this number before you put your home on the market, contact a real estate agent to set an appointment so you can get a full review of your property and honest evaluation of a fair sales price for your home.

Seal and repair the driveway and sidewalks

One of the first impressions your potential buyers make about your home happen when they pull in the driveway. If the driveway is cracked or disintegrating, your buyers are going to start making a mental list of costs they need to pay for once they are in the house. Often, the result is a lower offer (if they even make an offer on the property) that accounts for all the repairs they need to make to the driveway or sidewalks.

Pressure wash your home

A clean property is a home that looks its best; a thorough pressure wash of the siding or bricks can help your home look it’s best. After you pressure wash, cleaning the windows completes the look of a well-manicured, cared-for home.

Clear the clutter

Empty rooms can make it hard for a potential buyer to envision the purpose of every room. The opposite, a very full room, can have the reverse effect. Rooms full of furniture, pictures, and knick knacks can make it hard for potential buyers to imagine the home with their belongings in it. It can also make rooms look smaller. To make your room look its best, only leave necessary items and furniture in each room. Remove pictures from the walls and add a fresh coat of paint to make your home look ready for the next buyer.

Deep clean

Disgusting tub. Dirty kitchen sink. Stained carpet. A floor so dirty they can’t tell the quality. Don’t give your potential buyers a reason to want to leave your house (or make a lower offer to accommodate replacement costs). If you have pets, “de-pet” your house; deep clean the house to remove any pet dander or odors (even if you can’t smell them, others may be able to). Remember the old saying about  kitchens and bathrooms selling the home. Make sure that every surface and fixture in these areas is deep cleaned (a good local real estate agent can give you the name of a good cleaning service).

Fix any issues

If you want to avoid any surprises during home inspection, you can hire a home inspector to do a pre-listing inspection. The results, a list of issues with your home, can give you the opportunity to get those problems repaired at a price you choose (and by a vendor you choose). In addition to the list you get from the home inspector, make sure you replace light bulbs, make sure all your switches work, and check all your plumbing fixtures so your home is ready for the next buyer.

Home Sellers: Negotiation Tips that Get Your Home Sold


Home sold with high resale because of home improvement projectsWhen the ‘for sale’ sign goes up in your front yard, the home sale starts to feel real—and can make you very anxious about getting your home sold. Then you get an offer. Hooray…until you see the amount of the offer. Here’s here to navigate through the home negotiation process and on your way to closing.

Know the real worth of your home.

As you go through the negotiation process, you should know the “bottom line” and what a fair offer price actually is. That number is not the amount you need for your next home; rather, it’s the value of the home based on the sale of comparable properties in your area.

Understand what the final amount in the offer is.

As you look at the offer, keep the value of the property in mind—and that any contingencies requested take away from the total sales price. For example, if the offer is for $150,000 with $5,000 requested for closing costs, the total amount offered is $145,000. A knowledgeable real estate can help you with these numbers; contact a local real estate agent for a free assessment of your property.

Don’t be afraid to counteroffer.

Unless the offer is the asking price, don’t hesitate to talk to your real estate about making a counter offer. You have the right to counter offer with a new price, a new amount of closing costs, etc. You can also put an expiration date on your counter offer or ask the home buyer to submit a new offer.

Get a pre-listing inspection to minimize surprises.

Many buyers submit offers contingent on the results of a home inspection. If any issues are found during the inspection, the buyers can request that repairs be made—and who makes them. To minimize the amount of issues found during an inspection, and to control who makes the repairs (and how much you pay to resolve them), get a pre-listing inspection. A pre-listing inspection is done before the home is placed on the market, giving you an idea of what issues need to be resolved; and what costs could lessen the final amount of the sale.

How to Make an Offer on a House


new home owner receiving key in hand after buying homeYou found the right house! Congratulations! Before you start buying new furniture or contacting a moving company, you need to make an offer on the house and make it yours.  The process of making an offer on a house and having it accepted can come with a million different questions; we’ve heard them all—and have compiled the most frequent into a list of answers. (You can also get the answers—and our expertise—in person. Just contact us.)

How much should I offer on a house? What is the right price to offer?

The right amount to offer on a house is dependent on your budget and the value of the property. Your real estate agent should be able to give you an idea of what the house is worth, based on comparable sales in the area. Basically, the worth of the property is based on the sales prices of other local properties with similar lot sizes and square footage.

There are a few factors to keep in mind as you make an offer:

  • A low-ball offer can offend a seller and lead to a more difficult negotiation (this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make a lower offer, it’s just something to factor into your decision if you really want the property).
  • The amount the seller sees is the amount with all the “others” factored in. For example, if you make a full offer of $150,000 but ask for $10,000 to cover closing costs, the seller is going to look at the offer as $140,000 (not full price).
  • A large amount of contingencies or major contingencies can make a seller choose not to accept your offer. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include contingencies; it’s your right to include as many as you want.

What contingencies should I include?

The exact contingency or combination of contingencies a buyer includes depends on their exact situation. These are some of the most common contingencies buyers include in the offer:

  • Home inspection. This contingency gives the buyer the option to walk away if there is a problem found during the home inspection. If there is a minor issue, the buyer can request that the seller fix the problem. However, if the problem is more severe, like a bad roof or furnace that needs to be replaced, the buyer can opt out of the contract. This is a contingency that we recommend that every buyer include in their offer.
  • Financing. If the buyer is using financing to cover all or part of their home purchase, a financing contingency covers the situation where the financing would fall through before the closing. This contingency gives the buyer the chance to opt out of the contract.
  • Property sale. For buyers who have their home on the market and are making an offer on a new house, a property sale clause gives the buyer the chance to walk away if their home doesn’t sell.

What do I do if the seller does not accept my offer?

If the seller does not accept your offer, you have two choices. You can either make another offer or walk away. Your real estate agent can help you make the choice that best fits the situation, or set up showings for other properties that you make want to submit an offer for.

Pet Owners: Tips for Buying the Perfect Home for You and Your Pet


woman with dog looking for new homeDog, cats, chickens, snakes, birds. There is no doubt that our pets play a key part in our lives. They are family. Why shouldn’t they be an important part of our home search? That’s why we’ve put together a list of tips that can help you as you search for the best home that suits you—and your furry, feathered, and scaled friends.

Identify the ‘musts’ of your new home.

After applying for a mortgage, the next important search is to identify what is most important in your home search. As a pet owner, your list may be different than a non-pet owner; for example, a sun room for your cats or birds or an adequate fenced-in yard for your chickens and dogs may be at the top of the list. If you have an arthritic pet, a home with a limited amount of stairs could be included. If you are concerned about clean-up, add hard and durable floors to your list so you can easily clean up after your pets (especially during potty training!). Share your list with your real estate agent to make sure you are both on the same page during your home search.

Ask about fencing and other rules that could affect you and your pet.

Before you sign on the dotted line, ask the right questions to determine if there are any rules that could impact you and your pet. Most neighborhoods have basic regulations about cleaning up after the pet and controlling your pet, but there are some areas that could have additional rules. If you want (or own) chickens, ask if they are allowed. There are also municipalities and homeowner’s associations (especially pertinent for condo, town home, and some neighborhood purchases) with rules concerning noise restrictions (be aware dog owners), the number of pets you can own, the types of pets, fencing, etc.

Research your neighborhood.

If you have a more energetic pet or a pet you like to socialize, research your neighborhood to make sure your pet is allowed to visit local parks and businesses. Pay attention to traffic patterns, as well, so your pet is not at risk from a busy street (both when they are out in the yard or when on walks). Lastly, research local businesses so you don’t have to drive far for all your pet’s needs (i.e. food, grooming, daycare, health, etc.) To narrow down your options, talk to your real estate agent about any special needs you and your pet have before you start looking at homes.

Ask about previous pets.

A home with pets is not an automatic reason to not purchase a house; however it is a question that needs to be asked. If you have pets that would mark where a previous pet was, you do need to factor in the cost of new flooring or a deep flooring clean so you and your pet are both comfortable in your new family home.

What are the first steps to selling my home?


young homeowner selling home and moving outIt’s time to sell your home! There are a million emotions that accompany the decision to sell: excitement, panic, nervousness, anticipation. The good news is that there aren’t a million steps that go with a home sale, just a few steps that stand between you and that sold sign.

Find out how much your home is worth.

One of the first steps is to find out how much your home is worth. Don’t check your property tax bill for the information; the value of your home is based on comparable sales in the area, location, condition of the property, and square footage (more details about how to determine the value of your home here). Instead, contact a local experienced real estate agent for a free estimate of your home’s worth.

Do your financial research.

Once you’ve found out the value of your home (and subtracted the costs to sell), it’s time to choose a lender for your next real estate purchase (details on how to select the right lender here). If you’re not buying another property, contact your financial advisor or tax consultant for advice.

Get a pre-listing inspection.

A pre-listing inspection is basically a home inspection done before you put your home on the market. The advantage to a pre-listing inspection is that it gives you, the home seller, the chance to resolve any issues found at your own cost by a contractor you choose. For example, if the home inspector identifies a window that needs to be replaced, you can choose a window and replace it at the cost you choose instead of making concessions that cut into your bottom line.

Once you’ve made necessary repairs, ready your home for sale. Improve the curb appeal of your property (use this curb appeal checklist) and prepare the interior for a showing. Give your home a deep clean or ask your real estate agent for a list of local cleaning companies that can make your home look like no one has ever lived there. Declutter your home so you can show off the best features of your home (i.e. archways, fireplaces, etc.) and make rooms look bigger.

Contact a real estate agent (again).

When your home is ready, contact a local experienced real estate agent to list your home.  Then wait for the sign to go up in your front yard, the calls about showings to come in (here’s how to get your home ready for a showing), and the sold sign to go up.

Make Your Home Offer Competitive in a Seller’s Market


for sale sign at home ready for showingOur local real estate market is hot these days, and we’re not just talking about the temperatures. The market has gotten extremely competitive, making it imperative for buyers (like you) to take extra measures that make your offer stand out in our hot seller’s market.

Minimize contingencies.

There are numerous contingencies that can be included in an offer to purchase, such as the sale of your home before the sale or a home inspection. To make your offer more attractive, put together a clean offer with a minimal number of contingencies—if you’re comfortable with the risk. Talk with your real estate agent to decide what your best offer does and doesn’t include.

Show you’re earnest.

If you want to show you’re serious about the sale, consider including earnest money in your offer. Earnest money is a deposit included with your offer that is applied to the purchase price at sale. For example, if you include an earnest money amount of $5,000 in your offer of $225,000, you will pay $220,000 at closing.

Make your offer competitive.

A seller’s market is not the time for low ball offers. Though it may be tempting, submitting numerous low ball offers can ultimately play into losing out on the property. While you’re trying to get the lowest price possible, another offer can come in that trumps anything you’ve offered. Instead, submit your best offer; ask your real estate agent to determine what a competitive price is for the property.

Lean on experience.

An experienced real estate agent can be worth their weight in gold during a seller’s market. Choose a local real estate agent that knows the area and property values. They can give you information to make sure you don’t overpay of your dream home, helps you deal with a difficult seller, and can assist you with any obstacles that come up with the sale.

Think about it—but not too long.

Be prompt throughout the process; from the initial decision to make an offer until the last communication with the seller, make sure you meet all deadlines and respond in a timely manner. It’s okay to want to sleep on a big decision, but don’t slumber too long. If you wait too long, you could lose the property.

Be careful about closing costs.

It’s normal to want closing costs paid by the seller; however, remember that while you see the offer as full price, the seller only sees the bottom line (minus the closing costs!). If you need to include closing costs, keep the amount of closing costs to a minimum or make the offer over the asking price but include closing costs. For example, if the house is listed at $150,000, submit an offer of $155,000 and ask for $5,000 in closing costs. Contact a real estate agent to determine what the right amount that makes you a home owner and satisfies the home seller in a competitive market.