Why Are Tax Returns Important For Your Mortgage Application?

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All those tax returns that you’ve been filing over the years could one day prove to be very important documents if you ever decide to buy a home in the future. While they might just be gathering dust in your filing cabinets, at some point you might need to submit your tax returns to your lender in order to provide proof of your taxable income.

Some lenders might not request such documentation, but you want to ensure that you’re prepared to hand over this paperwork just in case, and not just the first page or two. Today, lenders often require entire tax returns and all schedules that come with it. That gives the lender the opportunity to assess your entire income position.

Essentially, your lender is interested in looking at your full tax returns for the last two or three years in order to see if your income is sufficient to sustain a mortgage, as well as to identify if there is any sign of loan fraud.

W-2 Wage Earners

If you are employed and receive a W-2 form from your employer, the IRS will get a copy of this every year which details how much you earned in that year and how much taxes were held back from your paycheck. Your lender will want to know if your income can be verified and if it’s consistent and sustainable.

There’s a chance that your lender may not ask for your tax returns if you’re a W-2 employee, but it’s important to be prepared just in case. However, if you are collecting pension income or social security income, you will likely have to come up with the last two years of tax returns to submit to your lender.

If you deduct any unreimbursed business expenses on your tax return – such as union dues, mileage for work travel, or mobile phones needed for business purposes – your lender will probably subtract this amount from the income you can use to qualify for a home loan. These expenses will then be deducted from your annual salary, which is the actual income that your lender will use towards your home loan qualification.

Self-Employed

If you’re self-employed, you will absolutely need to hand in your tax returns. These documents are really the only way for your lender to verify your income over the last few years to assess how much you make after all costs to operate your business have been paid, and whether that income is enough to show that you are financially capable of making good on your monthly mortgage payments.

Your tax returns will show what your actual net income is after you’ve paid your taxes. If you inflate your business expenses or under-report your income, you could be sabotaging your ability to get approved for a mortgage. You won’t be able to modify your previous tax returns to help you qualify, either.

Dividends or Interest From Investments

If you own any investments, such as mutual funds or stocks that pay your dividends or earn you interest, your lender will want to now how much you earn from them and if this income is regular and steady. A one-time income collection is not likely to be counted towards a mortgage approval.

Commissions

If you’re in some type of sales position, you will likely collect commissions based on your performance. Any commissions that you earn will be analyzed by your lender to see if this additional income is steady. If you didn’t report your commissions to the IRS, this money will probably not be counted towards your income, and therefore won’t be used to assess your ability to pay your mortgage.

Business Losses

If you or your spouse run a business, any losses will need to be recorded when you file your taxes at the end of the year.

Rental Income

If you own an income property that you regularly collect rent from, this amount will need to be specified on your tax return. However, if you bought the property in the current calendar year, the rent you collect needs to be documented on back-to-back monthly bank statements. If you don’t enter any rent collected on your tax returns, you can’t claim that as income when trying to qualify for a mortgage.

Capital Gains

When you sell an income property, you’ll be subject to paying taxes on your capital gains, which is the profit you make from the sale of the property. However, it’s not uncommon for capital gains to be counted towards your income because it’s not exactly a viable and continuous type of income, which is essentially what your lender will want to see before a loan is extended to you.

The Bottom Line

Any document that your lender can get a hold of that provides a complete picture of your actual income will likely be asked for. Be prepared to hand in your tax returns from the last two or three years, especially of you are self-employed or are collecting some form of income aside from your regular paychecks.

Why You Need to Check Your Home For Radon, the Silent Killer

Just about every homeowner knows the danger of carbon monoxide and how it can build up in the home without offering any signs of its presence. It’s colorless and odorless, and can be deadly. That’s why it’s necessary to have carbon monoxide detectors installed in a home in order to help detect its presence and take action to eradicate it.

But another “silent killer” that doesn’t always get the same amount of exposure is radon. Yet it can also be present in the home without homeowners knowing it’s there because it is also odorless, tasteless, and colorless, and can pose a deadly threat to all occupants of a home.

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What is Radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium that’s naturally present in just about every type of soil and rock. Since it is a gas, radon can easily travel up to the air from the ground, and can even enter the home through cracks in the foundation where it then gets trapped and becomes concentrated.

While some areas in California are more susceptible to radon compared to others, it can still be present in both old and new homes alike, regardless of the particular region. Unless it’s tested for, it is impossible to know if your home is filled with radon or not.

Health Risks Associated With Radon

The reason why radon is so dangerous is because prolonged exposure to elevated levels of the gas can lead to an increased risk of developing lung cancer. While not everyone who is exposed to radon will develop lung cancer, it certainly increases the risk. According to the U.S. EPA and National Cancer Institute, the number of yearly lung cancer deaths among Americans that are associated with radon exposure is between 7,000 and 30,000.

On average, the concentration of radon in homes across the country is approximately 1.3 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). Exposure to radon concentrations over 4 pCi/L is considered dangerous. Testing the indoor air is the only way to know if the radon is at a potentially lethal level. The good news is that testing for this gas is easy and affordable. It’s recommended that actions be taken if the radon level in a home measures 4 pCi/L or more.

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) recommends that all homes should be tested for radon, regardless of the area, just to be safe.

Testing For Radon

If you’re buying a home, you can have your home inspector conduct the test during the inspection. Otherwise, you can either hire a professional radon test service, or do it yourself using a radon testing kit that is available at home improvement stores. After the allotted time has passed, the detector will then need to be sent to a lab to be analyzed.

It may be necessary to test in all levels of your home if you have a forced air HVAC system, as this gas can travel more liberally throughout the home. As such, you may find the same radon levels on each level.

All windows and doors need to be kept closed (except for general use of exterior doors to enter and exit your home) for at least 12 hours before the test is done and during the actual testing process. If you don’t typically use your air exchanger, keep it turned off during the test. Your HAVC systems can operate as usual.

The detector is placed away from sources of moving air, and shouldn’t be used during windy or wet weather, as this can produce inaccurate results.

The Next Steps

If the level of radon in your home is far less than 4 pCi/L, great. However, if it’s approaching 4 pCi/L or has even exceeded that level, it’s time to take action. There are radon mitigation systems that can help rectify the situation in your home.

One method of reducing the level of radon in your home is through active soil depressurization, which gathers up the radon that is under your home before it’s able to get in. This system sucks out the gas from underneath and then releases it outside, far from any openings to your home.

The Bottom Line

Whether you’re buying, selling, renovating, or are just planning to stay put, you should have your home tested for radon. Even if the average data in the area you live in shows low levels of radon, don’t take a chance. Radon levels can be different from one house to another, even on the same street. It’s a quick and inexpensive test, and might even save your life and that of your family.

What Are Your Options For Home Insulation?

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When it comes to revamping your home, you’d probably rather focus on projects that will improve the visual esthetics of the space. New kitchen cabinets, refinished hardwood floors, and updated light fixtures are the types of cosmetic jobs that can really make a big difference in the look of your home. But what’s behind the walls and hidden from plain view is just as important for a comfortable, efficient home.

Insulation plays a critical role in reducing the exchange of air between the inside and outside of your home, which means less cool air will escape. If you’ve got your air conditioner running, you don’t want to be wasting energy (and money) operating this unit only to have a good chunk of this cooled air lost to the outdoors. Insulation is therefore crucial for maximum energy efficiency.

The “R-value” of a certain type of insulation measures it effectiveness, whereby the “R” represents resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the better the insulation. The walls in your home aren’t the only areas in the home that should be insulated. Other areas include the attic, foundation walls, floors over crawlspaces, and walls and floors between an attached garage.

Whether you’re planning a renovation or are simply looking to improve the insulation – or lack thereof – in your home, here are some of your options.

Batt and Blanket

This is the more common type of insulation and is made of fiberglass, rock wool, or cotton. They come in rolls that can be easily cut to the desired length. It’s important that this type of insulation is precisely cut to fit around awkward spots, such as around electrical wiring or plumbing pipes. If it is stuffed in these spots carelessly, it can lose as much as 50% of its effectiveness. 

Fiberglass batting comes with an R-value between 3 to 4 per inch and is widely available. The main issue with fiberglass – aside from the fact that it can cause itching when installing it – is that it contains phenol formaldehyde which has been linked to cancer.

Rock wool has an R-value between 4 to 5 per inch, and is more fire-resistant compared to fiberglass and makes use of a lot of recycled content. The downside to rock wool is that it tends to retain moisture, so if it gets wet or damp, it can be a breeding ground for mold.

Cotton batting has an R-value of 3.5 to 4 per inch and consists of a minimum of 85% recycled materials. However, it’s more expensive and not as widely available compared to other materials.

Loose Fill

This type of insulation is made up of ground-up fiber that’s been treated with fire retardants and is blown into spaces using special equipment. It’s usually pricier compared to batt and blanket insulation, but it is much more effective at filling in gaps and corners, which means it can help reduce air leakage and provide optimal sound insulation. Loose fill insulation comes with an R-value of 3 to 4 per inch.

Spray Foam

While more expensive than batt and blanket insulation, spray foam comes with an R-value between 4 to 6.5 per inch. It’s also great at creating an air barrier that virtually eliminates the need for other tasks to cut down on air leakage, such has caulking.

Spray foam insulation comes in either open-cell or closed-cell polyurethane. Open-cell polyurethane spray foam is able to stop the movement of air, but allows moisture to pass through, which means a moisture barrier will also need to be added. This type of spray foam is cheaper than closed-cell polyurethane, but its R-value is much lower.

Closed-cell polyurethane spray foam also stops the movement of air, but goes a step further than open-cell polyurethane by inhibiting the passing of moisture as well. It has an R-value of 6 to 6.5 per inch.

Rigid Insulated Panels

Rigid insulated panels offer much more energy efficiency compared to other types of insulation, but they are also much more expensive. These are ideal when replacing large surfaces, such as roofing, siding, or crawl spaces. Some panels come with tongue-and-groove edges that allow for a tight seam that’s highly energy-efficient. Polystyrene panels have an R-value of 4 to 5 per inch, while polyisocyanurate/polyurethane panels are as high as 6 to 8 per inch.

The Bottom Line

The type of insulation you choose will depend on a number of factors, including the actual space being insulated, and your budget. One thing is for certain – insulation is certainly not one of those jobs that you want to cut corners on. Any effort or money that you might want to save on today will only cost you a lot more in the future in energy loss.

6 Things All Buyers Should Know About Before Closing Day Arrives

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Finding the perfect home and negotiating a deal that both parties can agree to is a huge accomplishment. But as stressful as that process is, waiting for closing day to arrive can be just as nerve-racking. Anything can happen from the time of offer acceptance to the day of closing, so it’s important to keep your head up and make sure you don’t do anything that could potentially sabotage the entire deal.

As a buyer, here are 6 things that you should know before the deal finally closes.

1. The Final Walk-Through Still Needs to Be Done

The home may have been in a certain condition when you last saw it, but things can change between then and the day of closing. Whether the sellers neglected the home or a natural disaster hit, anything can happen that could compromise the property.

Luckily, a final walk-through is a standard clause in the purchase contract in California. This will give you the opportunity to make sure all the major systems are working, no damage was done to any part of the home during escrow, the necessary agreed-upon repairs were made, and the seller has vacated the premises. If you do come upon an issue during the final walk-through, you’ll need to address it right away. 

2. Your Mortgage Still Needs to Be Approved

You may have been pre-approved for a mortgage, but the real approval process starts after you’ve signed a purchase agreement. Just because you’ve filled out and submitted a mortgage application and provided all the necessary documents to your lender doesn’t mean you’re automatically approved.

That’s the whole purpose of including a financing contingency in your real estate contract – this provides you with an opportunity to secure financing before closing so you’re not stuck with an extremely expensive asset that you can’t afford to pay without a home loan.

Many lenders will continue to verify credit, assets, and income right up until the last day of escrow. That’s why it’s important not to make any major purchases on credit (such as a new car), apply for a new credit card, or change jobs before you have solidified your mortgage approval. Don’t make any financial moves that could throw a wrench in your mortgage approval process.

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2. You Could Be Stuck With a Higher Mortgage Rate Than Initially Quoted

You may be quoted a specific mortgage rate from your lender, but that number could change by the time the deal closes. That’s because mortgage interest rates fluctuate every day, and the rate that you’ve been quoted won’t stand forever. Your lender will lock in your mortgage rate for a certain amount of time, usually 30, 45, or 60 days.

However, after the lock expires, you’ll be given the most up-to-date rate. In some cases, it could be higher, and in others, it could be lower. It may even stay the same. The point is, it’s important to understand that there’s a possibility that you may be given a slightly different interest rate if the lock expires.

4. Title Needs to Be Successfully Cleared

Before title is transferred to you, it needs to be cleared first. There could be any number of issues with the title of the property you just agreed to buy. Perhaps there is a lien on title that the seller hasn’t taken care of yet, or maybe there is an additional person on title that needs to be part of the transaction that wasn’t initially included.

Usually, title clearance occurs without a hitch, but there may be instances where an issue is present that needs to be dealt with before the title can be transferred.

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5. There Are Tons of Documents to Sign

When closing day finally arrives, be prepared to sign a lot of paperwork, including the deed, affidavit of title, transfer tax declarations, loan estimate, and closing disclosure. The actual closing can take place at the lender’s office or at the escrow company’s location. 

6. Post-Closing Agreements

You’ve successfully closed! At this point, you’re the rightful owner of the home and can move in. However, there may be some post-closing agreements that need to be fulfilled, such as specific repairs or property tax reimbursements.

There may also be seller rent backs to deal with if there was an agreement to allow the seller to rent the place before they move into their new home. This is a unique situation, but handling it is made easy thanks to the Purchase Agreement Addendum (PPA) that Californians have at their disposal to deal with situations like these. This addendum modifies the original purchase contract and deals with short-term seller rent backs that are less than 30 days.

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The Bottom Line

Once you and the seller agree to all the terms of the purchase agreement, the work isn’t over yet. There are still plenty of things that need to be taken care of before closing day arrives. The good news is that your real estate agent will be there every step of the way to guide you through the process and make sure all steps are taken to ensure a successful transaction for all parties involved.

Extra Expenses You May Not Have Thought Of When Renting

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Renting out your own apartment is exciting and liberating, especially when you’re just moving out on your own for the very first time. There are various expenses that you don’t necessarily have to worry about that come with homeownership, including mortgage insurance, property taxes, maintenance fees, and others.

However, there are still plenty of other expenses that you will likely be responsible for covering aside from your monthly rent. It’s important to be aware of these expenses and factor them into your budget in order to make sure you’re comfortable and capable of handling these expenses.

Before you sign that lease, make sure you include the following costs in your overall monthly budget.

Storage Fees

Many apartments come with a storage locker as part of the overall unit and associated rent. However, some units don’t. If your apartment doesn’t have a lot of space, or the storage locker that comes with it is too small to fit some of your larger items, you might need to rent out extra storage space.

Depending on your location and the size of the storage space, you could be looking at spending anywhere from $30 to $200 a month for the extra storage facilities.

Security Deposit

It’s no secret that the majority of landlords require an up-front security deposit on top of your advanced rent payment, which is usually a few hundred dollars. The good news is that you can get that money back when you move out, but don’t expect to see a penny if you leave the place in shambles. If there are any repairs or improvements that need to be made before you vacate, the money needed to make such changes will come directly from that deposit. It can also be used to cover any back rent, damage, cleaning, or key replacement.

In addition, some apartments and landlords charge non-refundable move-in fees that you won’t get back, even if you leave the place in pristine condition. Make sure you read the fine print on your lease to see what money paid is refundable, and what isn’t.

Renters Insurance

Homeowners aren’t the only ones who are responsible for insuring their belongings. While the unit itself is the responsibility of the owner to insure, you are responsible for any coverage for your belongings, including your furniture, electronics, or any other valuables that don’t come with the apartment. You don’t necessarily have to take such insurance coverage out, but it would be in your best interests to do so. Not only that, your landlord may require it.

The good news is that renter’s insurance is typically a lot cheaper than property insurance, and can cost as little as $10 a month, depending on how much coverage you need. In the event of a fire or theft, you’ll be financially compensated for any losses suffered.

Utilities

Before you sign a lease, make sure to find out if utilities are included, or if they’re extra. While many rent prices include utilities – such as electricity, gas, water, sewer, garbage, cable, telephone, or internet – others don’t.

If the particular apartment you are planning to rent out does not include utilities, find out how much they are first. Your landlord should be able to provide you with that information, after which you can include that figure in your budget and see if it’s something you can comfortably afford.

Improvement Projects

Some leases may stipulate a requirement for vacating tenants to bring the unit back to a certain condition before being released of all obligations under the agreement. If such a stipulation is part of your lease, you should expect to take on certain tasks to bring the unit back to its original state. That can include painting the walls or making any minor repairs to floors and other components. Such improvements cost money, which should be factored into your overall budget.

Pet Deposit

If you plan on moving your pet into your unit, your landlord may require a one-time up-front deposit in order to compensate for any potential damage that your furry friend causes.

Moving Fee

This isn’t reserved just for rentals, but you’ll need to account for any moving fees associated with filling your new apartment with all your furniture and belongings. Even if you don’t hire a moving company to take care of the moving and decide to handle it yourself, you’ll still need to buy packing and moving materials like boxes and tape, and you may even need to rent out a van to make the job easier.

The Bottom Line

Renting is often the most affordable option for those who are just getting their feet wet in the real estate market. However, there are still plenty of expenses to cover aside from the monthly rent. Make sure you’re aware of such fees and tack them onto to your budget to make sure you’re signing a lease that you’re comfortable with.

Should You Lock in or “Float” Your Mortgage Rate?

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When it comes time for you to shop for a mortgage, you’ll be faced with plenty of options, one of which is whether to “lock” or “float” your mortgage rate. What do each of these mean, and what are their differences? More importantly, which option is best for you?

Locking Your Rate

Locking in your interest rate essentially means that you will be bound to a specific interest rate throughout the term of your mortgage. You and your lender have a specific window within which to close the loan, which is typically anywhere between 15 to 60 days.

If you lock in your rate within this time period, that is the rate you will be bound to throughout the mortgage term. It will always remain the same, even if the market rate fluctuates. A locked-rate mortgage essentially means that you are guaranteed a specific interest rate on your mortgage. Your interest rate will not change, even if mortgage rates dip or spike over the term of your mortgage.

This is obviously advantageous if rates increase at some point. However, it also means that you will miss out on potential savings if the rates decrease.

It’s important for you to understand the difference between a rate “quote” versus a rate “lock.” A lender may quote you a certain rate when you apply for a mortgage, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the rate you will be able to lock into. The rate can change from the time you’re quoted to the time your mortgage closes. Be sure that you fully understand whether or not you’re locked in; if you are, confirm what the interest rate and terms are in writing.

Borrowers often choose to lock in their rates because they like the peace of mind knowing that their monthly payments will always stay the same. This makes it a lot easier to budget. If your tolerance for risk isn’t very high, then locking in is likely a more sound option for you.

Floating Your Rate

If you choose to float your interest rate, you are assuming the risk that the rate will either increase or decrease at some point before your mortgage closes. Obviously, if rates drop, you will benefit; on the other hand, your lender will benefit if rates rise. If you are not locked in and “float” your rate instead, you need to be willing to assume this inherent risk.

During the time frame within which you and your lender have to close the home loan, the rates can rise, fall, or remain where they are. The longer this time frame is, the higher the chances of fluctuation in the interest rate.

If rates have been on the decline lately and are anticipated to continue on this downward trend, you might want to consider floating your rate if you believe rates will be lower by the time your mortgage closes compared to what they are today. This is the predominant reason that most borrowers choose to float their interest rate on their home loan. If interest rates have been on the decline, floating your interest rate makes sense, depending on the length of time that you have to lock in the rate.

If the rate drops, you can either choose to continue to let it float, or get in touch with your lender to lock the rate. On the other hand, if the rate starts rising, you will need to decide if you want to risk letting your rate continue to float, or to lock it in now to avoid any further potential increases.

Floating your rate might make sense if you are only planning on keeping your home for a short period of time, in which case you will only be keeping your mortgage for a short time period.

You should understand the potential consequences of letting your rate float too high. If rates rise so high that you will no longer be able to afford your monthly mortgage payments as a result, you are essentially “floating” yourself out of your mortgage. At this point, your lender will likely not approve your home loan, so make sure you are very vigilant with the interest rates if you choose to float your rate.

Locking With the Option to “Float Down” the Rate

You lender may be willing to extend a locked-in rate with the option for you to float the rate down if interest rates happen to decrease at some point during the lock-in period. This can give you the opportunity to take advantage of a lower rate and protect against an increase.

This type of arrangement does come at a cost, as it is typically more expensive than a locked-in rate mortgage without the option to float down the rate. Consider the costs associated with such an option before choosing it, if your lender offers it at all.

The Bottom Line

Consider what your specific goals are, how high your level of risk tolerance is, and how interest rates are currently behaving before you choose between locking or floating your mortgage rate. Your real estate agent and mortgage specialist will be able to fill you in on the current market to help you make a more sound decision.

5 Reasons You Should Consider Selling in 2017

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Is 2017 the year you finally sell your home? If you’ve been contemplating making a move but have been hesitant to do so up until this point, 2017 just might be the right time to bite the bullet. Of course, such a move should only be made after making the appropriate plans and preparing yourself to sell.

Here are 5 reasons why you should consider listing your home in the new year.

1. Inventory is Low

The Golden State is in the middle of a housing shortage – particularly in Southern California – and when inventory is low, it’s typically an opportune time to list your home for sale. Homes have been selling faster in 2016 than they were last year, with more and more of them being sold for over the asking price. One of the biggest factors in this scenario is the ongoing inventory issue across the state.

An increase in demand with a shortage in supply provides the perfect equation for would-be sellers. Because of the steep competition among buyers in a low-inventory environment, they’ll be pouncing on your listing the moment it hits the market, especially if it’s located in a desirable area. 

2. The Interest Rate Might Be Rising

Mortgage rates have been hovering near historical lows for a few years now, which has helped make homeownership more affordable. However, rates can’t stay down forever, and they’ve already inched a notch up over the past couple of months. The Federal Reserve also marginally increased the key interest rate in the middle of December, which usually means modestly higher rates on mortgages are to come.

Regardless of whether or not you believe the rates will rise in 2017, many prospective buyers are definitely concerned that they will, which will make it more expensive to carry a mortgage. As such, they might not be willing to wait as long to make a purchase in anticipation of a potential increase in mortgage rates.

Sellers benefit when more buyers can afford to pay a higher purchase price against a low interest rate. In addition, if you sell soon and buy your new home at the same time – or at least shortly after – you’ll be able to take advantage of this same low-interest rate environment.

3. Price Points Are High in Hot Markets

Some of the hottest markets in the country are right here in California. In particular, San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego, and Los Angeles take the top spots. Areas like these are in high demand, which drives the listing price of homes way up. If your property is in an established neighborhood with a long track record of high demand, it makes a huge difference come sale time. You’ll not only be able to sell your home quickly in a hot market, you’ll also get fair market value for it.

4. Carrying Costs Increase the Longer You Wait

Each passing day that you stay in your home will cost you more to carry it. If you’ve been waiting it out to see if you can boost your listing price by a percent or two, you might not even break even if your holding costs are more than that amount.

You could be slapped with a hike in property taxes, or your utility bills may end up costing more. There’s always a chance that something will break down in your home that may require fixing, not to mention the cost just to maintain it. Consider all the costs associated with carrying your home compared to an increase in selling price if you wait a few more months or longer. The wait just might not be worth it.

5. The Market Starts Early in the Year in Warm Climates

Many sellers in colder climates decide to wait until the spring season approaches before listing in order to take advantage of a better exterior appearance after the snow melts and the flowers bloom. This is not a concern in California, as the climate is conducive to beautiful landscaping year round.

As such, there’s no reason to wait until the spring or beyond to list your home for sale. In fact, it’s not uncommon for real estate brokerages to experience a surge in visitors to open houses and scheduled showings immediately after the Christmas holidays. At the very least, buyers are browsing online to keep their tabs on potential listings that might pop up.

The Bottom Line

There are plenty of reasons why 2017 might be the year you finally list your home. But before you do, make sure you arm yourself with a team of professionals in the real estate industry to make sure the process is a seamless one that garners you the most money by the time the transaction is complete.