The 6 Resources You Must Use When Buying a Home

a couple searching on a computerScrolling through online listing photos, scouting for the best neighborhoods, and pondering décor in your new home is fun. But the home search itself is not the only enjoyable experience; the entire home buying process can be pleasant when you have access to the best tools.

Here are the top six resources you should use to make buying a home easier and enjoyable.

1. A Wants vs. Needs Checklist

First determine what price, location, size, and any special features your new home must have. Then you can hone in on your favorite properties by searching for additional features that you would prefer.

2. A Mortgage Payment Calculator

What do you want your monthly mortgage payments to be? We have an easy mortgage payment calculator you can use to find out how much you can afford for a home. This tool takes into account the length of the loan, the interest rate, and annual tax and insurance to calculate how much you will pay every month.

3. A Reliable Home Search Tool

a person holding a magnifying glass over a houseIf you are using national real estate sites to search for homes near you, keep in mind that you are not seeing all the homes that are for sale. HousingWire reported that websites such as Zillow show fewer listings than are available in many major cities, which means you could be missing out on the best home.

The best source for your home search is a real estate agent and a database of available properties called the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

4. A Local Neighborhood Guide

Choosing the best home involves more than the property itself. It’s important to research areas and neighborhoods. Here are a few questions you may want to consider when researching communities:

  • Does the community offer amenities, such as a swimming pool or fitness center?
  • What are the parking options in the community?
  • Where is the nearest grocery store, gas station, or shopping area?
  • How is the local school district?

We have helpful information about neighborhoods and areas on our website that you can use when searching for a home.

5. A List of Recently Sold Homes

a line graph with a magnifying glassResearching the real estate market will also make your home search much easier.

If you are thinking of buying a home in a particular community, ask us for the Neighborhood Sold Report, which can help you determine whether the home is fairly priced.

You can always ask us about the real estate conditions in this area, too.

6. A Local Real Estate Expert

But your best resource for buying a home in this area is the local real estate expert. He or she will have all of the tools you will need, including sold data and an easy-to-use home search, to help you easily find the best home.

Are you ready to buy a home? Let us help! Contact us today and we can work with you to find your ideal home.

5 Simple Ideas for a Low-Maintenance Indoor Garden

a small potted plant on a living room tableMany homeowners find gardening is an enjoyable outdoor activity with several additional benefits: enhancing curb appeal, creating bright pops of color, and even providing homegrown ingredients for meals.

But outdoor plants need just the right amount of sunshine, space, fertile soil, and maintenance to be able to flourish.

You don’t need to abandon your dream of having a garden if you don’t have the space — bring the garden indoors! Here are a few ideas to spice up your home with easy-to-maintain indoor plants.

Grow Herbs on Your Kitchen Windowsill

Cooking can be a breeze when you have fresh herbs within easy reach. Choose a spot in your home with a lot of natural light, plant your favorite herbs in a container with great drainage, and you’ll be all set.

Make Your Own Terrarium

Transform an elegant glass container into a beautiful closed terrarium filled with succulents. Not only are succulents durable indoor plants that don’t require much water or sunlight, they come in a variety of colors and textures to enhance your home décor.

You can view step-by-step instructions for creating a terrarium on this HGTV guide.

flower on a living room tableFreshen a Table with Indoor Flowers

Place a brightly colored flower on the coffee table or dining room table to instantly add a focal point to the room. African violets and geraniums come in a variety of colors to match your decorations.

Create a Small Garden on a Tiered Stand

If you want to fill an empty space with color, place a variety of indoor plants or flowers on a multi-tiered stand. This small garden is a perfect addition to an empty corner or blank wall, or at the end of a hallway.

Choose Easy-to-Maintain Plant Varieties

The best indoor plants are durable and do not need much sunlight, warm soil, or water, making them the best choice for your low-maintenance indoor garden. Top picks for easy-to-maintain plants include:

  • Pothos
  • English Ivy
  • Peace Lily
  • Rubber Tree
  • Ficus

a leafy indoor plant in a potYou Can Use Plants During Your Home Staging

When you’re selling your home, you don’t have to get rid of your indoor plants to help your home sell. Placing a few simple plants or flowers in a room can make it feel fresh and look like home.

If you’re considering selling your home or are preparing to put your home on the market, we can help you decide which elements of your small indoor garden would be most effective during home staging. Just contact us; we would be happy to help.

The Top 5 Home Features That Save Time and Money

Everyone wants to save money on energy bills every month. But did you know that having today’s popular energy-efficient features in your home can also save you time and stress when you sell your home?

two home buyers surrounded by moving boxesMore and more first-time home buyers are searching for homes in the area, so there is more of a demand for move-in ready homes or homes with certain features.

As Millennial Magazine notes, what buyers are looking for in a home include open floor plans, homes with great cell service, and energy-efficient features.

Having the best energy-efficient home features now means you won’t need to upgrade your home later when you sell. Plus, these features may also add value to your home.

5. Programmable Thermostats

Programmable thermostats let you control when you want the heat and air conditioning to be running in your home, saving you money on your monthly energy bills. Some thermostats, such as Nest Learning Thermostats, even let you control the temperature remotely on your phone, an appealing feature for today’s home buyers.

upgraded kitchen with bright spring flowers4. Energy-Efficient Appliances

There are plenty of cost-saving options for the appliances throughout your home. Energy Star offers many appliances and equipment from kitchen appliances to water heaters that are popular energy-efficient home features.

3. Green Home Construction

Materials involved in home construction can be also be energy-efficient. Different types of insulation and energy-efficient windows, such as low-emissivity (low E), can be installed to reduce your heating and cooling costs.

2. Low-Flow Plumbing Fixtures

A way to save money on your water bill is to replace your toilet, faucet, or shower head with a low-flow toilet and water-conserving features.

LED light bulb on a white surface1. LED Lightbulbs

A simple switch from incandescent lighbulbs to LED bulbs will not only brighten your home but save you money on your energy bill.

Using these bulbs can also help you as you’re selling your home, too; brighter rooms are more appealing to buyers who are scrolling through online listing photos and viewing homes.

Today’s Buyers are Searching for Your Home

Not all home buyers are searching for new construction homes in the area. In fact, the National Association of Home Builders found that less than 9% of Millennials and only 12% of older home buyers bought a new home.

Today’s home buyers may be searching for a home that is similar to yours, and if you have the energy-efficient home features they are looking for, they may value your home more.

But Before You Upgrade Your Home…

person using an iphoneAs the real estate experts in this area, we know what features home buyers are looking for. So before you completely upgrade your home with these features or other home improvements, talk to us about whether you need to spend the time and money installing them.

All your home may need is expert marketing to attract buyers.

We’d be happy to talk with you about the best energy-efficient home features and what today’s buyers are searching for. Just give us a call.

Is Renting Truly Cheaper Than Buying a Home?

Owning a home is a dream for many people. You have the opportunity to invest in a place of your own and build equity, not to mention carve out a space that reflects who you are and what you love.

However, worries about down payments, property taxes, maintenance, and insurance (and student loans) can make buying a home seem like wishful thinking, which is why you may prefer to rent a home or apartment.

But is renting cheaper than buying a home? There are more than just financial costs to consider. Let’s discuss the advantages and disadvantages of renting.

a person holding a wad of cashYou Receive No Return When You Rent a Property

As a renter, you’re paying hundreds of dollars a month to live in your community, and if you want to move, it’s much easier. But renting a home doesn’t offer you investment opportunities.

Unlike paying off your home loan and building equity, the money you pay when you rent goes straight to the property owner or manager.

You Don’t Build Credit When You Rent

As this recent Forbes article explains, your credit score often does not factor in your on-time monthly rent payments, so renting a property is not a great way to build credit.

Additionally, renting doesn’t provide you with any tax benefits. If you own a home, however, you can deduct mortgage insurance and property taxes, and exclude capital gains when you sell.

You Cannot Customize Your Living Space

upgraded kitchen with bright spring flowersNot all costs are financial. There are opportunity costs of renting a home instead of buying a home, and customization is one of them.

There may be rules and regulations in your rental community that prevent you from changing your space to fit your style, such as painting the walls or upgrading the kitchen. These rules may also prevent you from living with a pet.

Owning a home means you can create your own space (with your choice of countertops and kitchen cabinets), you can invest in home improvements, and you can live with your furry companion.

You Have a Harder Time Connecting with Your Community

Forming deep connections with your neighbors is likely not high on your priority list if you’re a renter, especially when you consider that you will only be living in the community for a short time. If you desire to get to know your neighbors, homeownership is a better option.

buyer holding house keys to new homeRenting vs. Buying: The Bottom Line

Renting gives you flexibility and little maintenance to worry about. Buying a home is a long-term investment that gives you a space you can customize, helps you build credit and equity, and connects you with your community.

We want to help you make the best decision, and we have important real estate market resources that you can use to help you decide if renting is cheaper for you than buying a home. Just give us a call and we can talk about your plans.

Tips for First-Time Home Buyers in the Silicon Valley

You’ve decided to buy your first home, and you’ve chosen the Silicon Valley!Estate Agent Showing Prospective Female Buyer Around PropertyIt’s a wise choice—high-paying and high-tech jobs abound, attractions and entertainment wait around just about every corner, and quality of life is very high in this blossoming area. But where to begin? Buying your first home can be a very daunting process if you don’t know where to start. But it doesn’t have to be stressful or overwhelming. Start slow, get organized, be prepared, and the process will go smoothly.

Before You Buy

Before you start searching for homes or attending open houses, there are a few important details to work out.

1. What type of home are you looking for?

Do you want a brand-new home, or are you willing to try your hand with a fixer-upper? Do you want your own space or something more urban, such as a condo or townhome?

2. What neighborhood and home features do you need?

Some neighborhoods have a lot of amenities, others offer quiet seclusion and large yards. And deciding the details of your home—number of bedrooms, style of kitchen, closet size—is obviously crucial, as well.

3. What size loan do you qualify for?

You’ve got the perfect image of a home in your head—but that’s only relevant if you can get a loan! Find out what lenders will actually offer you, based on credit and income, before you start really searching for houses.

4. What can you afford?

Just because a bank will give you a certain amount of money, doesn’t mean you can afford it! Consider all the costs associated with buying a home—from down payments and closing costs to insurance and property taxes. Keep in mind that home costs aren’t just your monthly mortgage payments, and remember details like the cost of maintenance and repairs.

Discussion with a real estate agent at the officeBuying a Home

So you’ve worked out all the details… Now it’s time to really get started!

So, what’s first?

1. Find an agent.

This is an important first step—especially for a first-time buyer. Since this is your first time in the home-buying arena, you want to focus on finding an agent who knows the local market, inside and out, but who will also be able to give you the personal attention and time to guide you through the process and answer all your questions.

2. Find your home.

Use an advanced search tool to narrow down your home search by location, neighborhood, price, amenities, styles, and more!

3. Hone in on your finances.

There are many  home-buyer assistance programs in California and the Silicon Valley designed to reduce the amount of your down payment and make buying your own home considerably more affordable.

4. Make an offer.

Once you find that perfect home, make an offer. Your agent will help you find the right price to offer.

5. Request a home inspection.

Have a trained professional walk through and check for quality, safety, and overall condition of the home.

6. Close.

Breathe a sigh of relief, and then dive into the paperwork.

7. Move in!

Finally… It’s yours!

Are You a First-Time Home Buyer in the Silicon Valley?

If you’re a first-time home buyer in the Silicon Valley, you’re probably looking for a top real estate agent that you can trust to guide you through the complicated process and ensure you’re getting the best possible deal on your valuable investment. We at Gary & Robert Real Estate Team would love to answer all your questions and talk more about the buyer services we offer. Contact us today and let’s get started.

Not moving to the Silicon Valley? Our network of Preferred Realtors can help you find the right agent, wherever you’re headed!

7 Best Strategies for House Hunting

Spring is almost here! The warmer weather, beautiful flowers, and longer days are perfect for viewing homes in person, and it’s no wonder that the spring season is a popular time for home buyers to start looking at homes and neighborhoods.

But before you start driving around and visiting open houses, you should follow these important house hunting tips.

a buyer getting preapproved for a mortgage with a lender1. Get Preapproved for a Mortgage

Getting preapproved for a home loan is one of the best tools you have when searching for a home, especially when you have competition.

If you are preapproved, the home seller takes your offer seriously and may end up accepting your offer over another interested home buyer who is not preapproved.

2. Get to Know the Neighborhood

If you have a specific home in mind, it’s best to visit the area more than once, at different times of the day and week.

3. Have a List of Your Wants and Needs

Have a detailed house hunting checklist outlining your wants and needs, and make sure that your list covers the type of home (e.g. house or condo), the location, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and home features that you are looking for.

One mistake that home buyers make during their home search, however, is having a wish list that is too strict. You don’t want to get stuck searching for the perfect home that may not exist.

Hand holding magnifying glass. Plain background4. Don’t Be Afraid to Examine Everything

If you have narrowed your home search and are viewing homes in person, it’s time to examine everything: doorknobs, cabinets, windows, faucets, light switches. Now is the time to find out if there is anything that needs repair, not after closing.

5. Consider the Weather

Relocating from another state or country? When buying a home in a new area, considering weather conditions and seasonal temperature changes is important.

For example, you may value a home that has a covered garage if you move to an area where snow is more common, or you may want to choose a home with a shaded backyard in an area with warmer temperatures.

6. Order the Home Inspection

It’s crucial to have a trained professional examine the home you are interested in buying, even a home that has just been built. This is the best way to identify any major repairs that need to be made.

a home buyer meeting with a trusted real estate agent7. Have the Best Real Estate Agent on Your Side

If you are feeling frustrated and overwhelmed while house hunting and competing with other home buyers, your real estate agent is there to guide you through the process and keep you focused on the next steps.

We want you to be able to find the best home in the best location, and we are here to help. So if you are searching for a home this spring, talk with us about what you are looking for in a home and we can find it together.

10 Easy Spring Cleaning Ideas

The month of March brings spring, and with spring comes bright budding flowers, longer days, warmer weather, and spring cleaning. There is no better way to shake off the dreariness of winter than a freshly cleaned home ready to welcome the season. Here are 10 easy ways you can clean your home for spring.

homeowners on a couch in front of open windows1. Open the Windows

There’s nothing like the sun shining through your windows to usher in the feeling of spring.

Throw back the curtains, part the blinds, and open up the windows to let the fresh spring air waft through your home.

2. Organize Your Closets

If you are running out of closet space, you can put away many of your bulky winter clothes to leave room for your spring wardrobe. You can even take a few extra minutes to sort out any clothes you no longer wear to donate, giving you even more room for the upcoming season.

3. Use Detergent as an All-Purpose Cleaner

A little bit of laundry detergent can go a long way. Warm water, laundry detergent, and items that you may have around the house can help you clean:

  • oil spills
  • carpets
  • cabinets
  • stovetops
  • sinks
  • toilets
  • walls
  • countertops
  • bathtubs
  • and more!
a cup full of laundry detergent used in cleaning supplies

These recipes for all-purpose cleaners recommend just 1/4 cup of detergent for 5 gallons of water. Simple and effective.

4. Brighten Rooms with Simple Changes

A simple change of pillows on a sofa or comforters on a bed can make a world of difference. You can rotate these household items seasonally, keeping your décor fresh and rooms feeling like new with very little effort.

5. Reorganize Living Areas

Again, small changes can make a big difference in the look and feel of your home, and rearranging the furniture in main living areas can leave your home feeling fresh and ready for spring.

6. Clean Light Switches and Fixtures

Take a few minutes to wipe fingerprints off light switches, dust your lamps, tighten the screws on any loose door hinges, and replace any incandescent light bulbs with brighter and more energy-efficient bulbs.

clean kitchen with bright spring flowers7. Clean Kitchen Appliances

Give your microwave and fridge a fresh look by cleaning any old food remnants from inside the appliances. An easy way to clean the microwave is by heating a bowl of water — the steam loosens the residue for easy clean-up.

8. Bring Plants Indoors

A few indoor flowers and plants can bring the fresh blooms of spring into your home, brightening living rooms, kitchens, or windowsills with ease.

9. Check Your Cabinets

Look in your kitchen and bathroom cabinets to see if anything has expired, is almost empty, or needs to be thrown away. This is a simple way to declutter your home’s key features without spending a lot of time cleaning.

a new welcome mat in front of a door10. Put Out a New Welcome Mat

What better way to welcome spring than with a new welcome mat outside your front door? This fresh feature not only adds another focal point to your entryway, it makes an excellent first impression for visitors.

Cleaning to Sell Your Home This Spring?

These spring cleaning tips can help you prepare your home to sell. Home buyers love to see homes that are bright, clean, and inviting from the front door, and these easy tips can help you get started. We can also recommend other home staging tips and home selling resources to help you make the largest return on your investment this spring; just contact us and we can talk about selling your home.

Are You Taking Advantage of These Homeowner Tax Breaks?

a stack of coins gradually increasing in heightThere are many benefits to owning a home: A home is an investment that can earn equity, is often cheaper to buy than to rent, and is your own place that you can fill with wonderful memories.

But another great benefit about owning a home is the financial benefits that you can take advantage of during tax season.

Major Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Owning a home, and eventually selling it, can offer you opportunities for deductions on your taxes, and we wanted to outline the major tax breaks for homeowners today. Are you taking advantage of these tax benefits?

Deduction for Mortgage Interest

In many cases, you can fully deduct the amount of your mortgage interest on your taxes. The IRS has a chart you can use to help determine if your mortgage interest is fully deductible.

mortgage interest credit is available for lower income homeowners for part of the home mortgage interest that they pay.

Credit for Energy-Efficient Home Improvements

Available until the end of this year, homeowners who have installed solar hot water heaters, solar electric systems, wind turbines, or qualifying energy-efficient home improvements can take a tax credit as part of the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit.

The credit is for 30% of the cost for these energy-efficient home improvements.

Deduction for Property Taxes

In addition to deducting your mortgage interest, you can also deduct the annual taxes you pay on your home’s value, called real estate taxes.

Deduction for Capital Gains

calculator and financial worksheet for taxesIf you have used your home as your primary residence when you sell, you can exclude up to $250,000 in capital gains from the home sale on your taxes (or $500,000 if you are married filing jointly).

To learn what other tax benefits you may take advantage of, visit the Credits and Deductions page on the IRS website or read this MarketWatch article about other tax breaks for homeowners.

Let Us Help You Find the Perfect Home

If you have been considering buying a home and are ready to start your search, we can help you find the perfect home that falls within your budget and provide you with helpful real estate resources to make the journey to homeownership as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

Contact us today and let’s talk about your goals for owning a home.

5 Ways to Host the Perfect, Mess-Free Super Bowl Party

If you are hosting a big party to celebrate Super Bowl 50, you probably want it to be an event that you and your guests remember for years to come.

But Super Bowl parties can be messy: Crumbs and dirt from your guests’ shoes can embed themselves in your carpet, drinking glasses and plates can pile up, and the late-night messes can leave you feeling frustrated. But not to worry, we have a few Super Bowl party ideas that can help you minimize the mess.

Game-Changing Super Bowl Preparations

table cloth with appetizers and party itemsBefore you place the perfect decorations and put the snacks out on the table, prepare for game night with these helpful tips.

1. Buy Disposable Table Covers

Protect your coffee table from scuffs and crumbs by covering it with a disposable cover, whether it’s a plastic tablecloth or a roll of brown paper. For extra security, you can tape the edges to the underside of the table, and all you have to do is scoop up whatever’s left — including broken chips, bits of salsa, and water rings — and toss it out.

2. Put Everything in Easy Reach

Every second counts during the Super Bowl, both during the game and during the commercials, and no one wants to miss any of the action while heading to the kitchen to grab another drink or handful of chips.

Let your guests stay glued to the TV by keeping the food within easy reach on a large table in front of the couch. (The disposable table covers will definitely come in handy here.)

bite-sized pizza, fries, and dipping sauce 3. Go Bite-Size with the Snacks

Keep the mess to a minimum and select the best snacks that are bite-sized. You can stick toothpicks into your appetizers, too, to add an element of style to your snack selections.

Check out these recipes for bite-size snacks on the Food Network or these appetizer recipes from Better Homes and Gardens for great bite-sized snack ideas.

4. Prepare Your Stain Removers

It’s always helpful to prepare for spills, and having carpet cleaner on hand can help you prevent stains from forming on your carpet or on your sofa.

A little bit of dishwashing detergent can go a long way to clean up soft drinks, wine, and beer. Visit Good Housekeeping for easy cleaning solutions for just about any kind of stain, including beverages.

5. Stick with Disposable Plates

Avoid any mishaps and broken dishes by buying disposable plates, bowls, cups, and silverware before game day, and have your guests personalize their glasses with a permanent marker to prevent any misplacing. Then, instead of having to wash dishes, you can toss everything into the trash bag and stick it in the garbage.

Preparing to Sell Your Home? We Have Your Covered!

clean and decluttered living room ready for a home saleThe home selling preparations don’t stop even during the Super Bowl. We hope these mess-free party preparations can help you stay on track and avoid having to clean massive messes, and we can recommend other helpful tips for cleaning and decluttering your home that can save you time and money.

We’re available to talk if you need any advice, resources, or real estate information, and we can help you sell your home for top dollar and in a short time. Just give us a call today and let’s talk about your goals.

5 Home Selling Tips for Homeowners Who are Not Selling (Yet)

Selling your home may be an idea you are seriously considering, but that does not mean you are ready to put your home on the market just yet. You may be waiting to pay off your mortgage, you may be waiting for the kids to move out, or you may not be ready yet to part with all the memories you have made in this home.

But that does not mean you don’t have to start preparing to sell.

What to Consider Before Listing Your Home

personal belongings cluttered in a home's attic, a DO NOT home selling tipMany home sellers feel overwhelmed when they are preparing to sell their home for a number of reasons: There is the daunting task of decluttering, the sometimes unexpected repairs that have to be made, and the seemingly endless list of squeaky doors and minor fixes that buyers would notice almost immediately.

And all of this happens in a short time. (Read this Popular Mechanics article about what surprises this first-time home seller experienced to get an idea of what can happen.)

Prepare Now, Feel Less Stressed Later

You are in the perfect position right now to do what many home sellers do not have the chance to — slowly start to get your home in order. Here are ten home selling tips you can try now so you won’t feel overwhelmed when you are selling your home later.

1. Start with the Necessary Repairs

Free yourself from future stress by making any major repairs now, whether that is repairing the HVAC or replacing the hot water heater.

paint roll and paint brushes2. Go for Neutral Colors

If you want to give your walls a fresh coat of paint, opt for more neutral colors. During home showings, neutral colors and décor make it easier for home buyers to picture themselves living in your home, which is your ultimate goal.

3. Start Decluttering Now

Home sellers often find that decluttering is one of the more frustrating and overwhelming tasks, but if you start cleaning the clutter now, you will thank yourself later. A good rule of thumb: If you don’t love something and use it, lose it.

4. Deep Clean Your Home Periodically

small vacuum cleaner on dark floors in a homeSometimes it feels like the little things pile up quickly, don’t they? Try to stay ahead of minor maintenance and cleaning tasks by:

  • cleaning fixtures and light switch covers
  • fixing broken doorbells
  • repairing squeaky doors
  • dusting high and low
  • cleaning floors and windows

Check out our previous blog post for more ways to clean, organize, and declutter your home.

5. Refresh Your Front Entrance

During the home selling process, making a fantastic first impression is the key to getting buyers in the door. Refresh your home’s curb appeal by purchasing a new welcome mat, painting the front door, and polishing or replacing the doorknob.

List Your Home with Us for a Smooth Experience

We hope you found these home selling tips helpful. We know that selling a home can be overwhelming, especially if the unexpected happens. But we want to make sure that you have as painless of a sale as possible, so we will do everything we can to help you sell your home for top dollar and in a short time. So when you do decide to list your home, just give us a call.