Deciding on a “Fixer Upper”


Here’s what to find out before you sign up for a major home project.

Buying a fixer-upper is a whole new ballgame; before you sign on the dotted line, it’s important to find out as much as you can about exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Agents use the term “fixer-upper” liberally — it could be code for a train wreck of a house, or it could refer to a home that simply needs cosmetic updates. Use the questions below to begin useful conversations with professionals on your team.

Questions for your agent

What are the neighborhood stats? Neighborhood dynamics become mission-critical when buying a fixer-upper. Will the remodel dollars needed to make this home livable work well with the neighborhood? Ask your agent for her analysis (and the stats to back it up). If you invest $30K in improvements but update the home beyond the neighborhood’s value, your ability to recoup your investment is greatly diminished.

Is the home located in a historic district? Buying and fixing up a charming Victorian home sounds dreamy: original crown molding, wainscoting, and lovely stained-glass windows. But buyer beware: If the property is historic or located in a historic neighborhood, the remodeling and finishes may have to be completed to an association or city standard. In many cases, this means getting approval for improvements and updates and often comes with a hefty price tag.

Questions for your inspector

What is the state of the home’s major systems? Given that the term “fixer-upper” is often synonymous with “a ton of work and cash,” it’s important to choose your inspector wisely and to listen carefully. Cosmetic work is expected, but what about the foundation, electrical, and plumbing systems? Better yet, how is the roof — can it hold in heat and keep out rain? These items can run easily into the tens of thousands — and could turn a quick fix into a money pit.

What are the huge hidden expenses? Ask your inspector to dig deep into the home’s details. For example, does the unfinished basement have an adequate ceiling height and is there any evidence of flooding? If the basement needs a new subfloor and vapor barrier, do you need a permit to complete the work and must you hire a licensed and bonded professional? If an issue is uncovered, you may need to call in an inspector who specializes in that area. Your inspectors are the first line of defense against a poor investment. Use reputable professionals with relevant experience; their advice can be worth their weight in gold.

Questions for your contractor

What is the total investment? Once you formulate a plan based on the inspector’s report, sit with your contractor and discuss your options. As with any project, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. There are plenty of middle-road solutions that can satisfy your bottom line as well as a time commitment that’s comfortable. With that said, budgets and timelines may run over, so work with a reputable contractor to minimize the headache of living in a construction zone.

Questions to ask yourself

How is the overall layout of the home? With considerable cost and headache, it’s possible to change the structural layout of a home. However, I would counsel you to closely consider the existing layout of the home. Are there many small rooms with random nooks, whereas you’re more of a great-room kind of buyer? What about the number of existing bedrooms and bathrooms? If you require a four-bed, two-bath home and it’s currently a two-bed, one-bath, be certain this home will truly meet your needs.

Do I have the time, energy, and patience for this project? This is where you dig deep in your soul and be honest with yourself: Are you prepared to have a DIY project every weekend for the foreseeable future? Or on the flip side, are you prepared to drop a boatload of cash, paying professionals to make your fixer-upper into the dream home you’ve always wanted? Get real with your expectations and available resources.

Fixer-uppers can be a great investment and allow you to customize a home to your specific needs. But it’s best to have a sense of what you’re signing up for! With some strategic due diligence upfront, you can purchase and remodel your new home with confidence.

Lynn Kronk – Realtor

Affordable upgrades that won’t over improve your home.

Granite Countertop

Whether you plan on moving in the distant (or not-so-distant) future, these upgrades could be worth making before you go.

Say you’re living in a starter home. You don’t plan on being there forever, but you also aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. You’d like to make some home improvements, but you’re worried you won’t get much return on your investment when you’re ready to sell.

While this thinking could be accurate if you’re planning to fully gut and renovate your kitchen, there are plenty of projects that will add enjoyment to your day-to-day living without over improving your abode. “Think cosmetic changes, not huge overhauls,” says Audrey Loder, showroom director at Wilkinson Supply, a luxury kitchen and bath retailer in Raleigh, NC. These five projects are inexpensive (around $5,000 or less) to implement and will provide you with enjoyment for years to come — or at least until you hang that “for sale” sign in the front yard.

  1. Swap out your kitchen countertops

But don’t assume granite is always the best choice. “Granite isn’t as special as it once was because every kitchen has it now,” advises Loder. If the countertops are the only upgrade you’re planning, splurge on recycled glass (around $85 per square foot) for a true wow factor, or for a less expensive but equally stunning option, try quartz (around $60 to $75 per square foot). Stick with neutral colors like white, gray, or “greige,” which will appear clean and bright and won’t turn off potential buyers. If your budget allows, Loder recommends upgrading your backsplash with wide, light-colored subway tiles (think 4-inch-by-16-inch tile) arranged in a unique pattern, such as herringbone.

  1. Invest in a free-standing bioethanol fireplace

“They add a ton of character without breaking the bank,” says Erin Davis, lead designer at Mosaik Design and Remodeling in Portland, OR. “Free-standing units use piping to vent the smoke out of the home, so it makes for an easier, more cost-effective installation.” Things to keep in mind: Since the heat radiates from all sides, you’ll need at least 36 inches of clearance around the unit. Opt for one that comes with a stand (most do), which will alleviate the need to add noncombustible flooring.

  1. Increase your living space with decking

“It’s an affordable extension of your home and a perfect place to entertain guests or relax with your family,” says Thomas O’Rourke of, a resource guide to buying and installing decking. And we’re not just talking raised decks either. Decking materials can be used to create patios, outdoor living rooms, and even outdoor kitchens.

  1. Add low-voltage outdoor lighting

Think lights along your driveway, walkways, and patio, and up lights on trees. “Doing so creates ambiance in the evening, especially when entertaining, and it will increase the quality of any photos you post of your home when it comes time to sell,” says John Bodrozic, co-founder of HomeZada, a digital home management site. Once you have a lighting system in place, make sure to install timers, which can also deter burglars.

  1. Give your exterior a makeover

Have your house exterior and front porch professionally power-washed, upgrade light fixtures (this can be as simple as replacing the bulbs with Edison-style ones, which instantly ups the cool quotient of your current fixture, says Loder), swap out the hardware on your front door, upgrade your mailbox, replace worn-out or broken shutters, and freshen up your landscaping. These simple changes outside will pack a punch without crushing your budget.

Great tips from the pros that know!

What home upgrades have you chosen? Share your tips and experiences in the comments.

Lynn Kronk ~ Realtor

How to Find an Affordable Neighborhood



Trulia Maps offers a wealth of information on low-cost areas across the country. Find out all you need to know.

There’s more to consider when buying a house than the house itself. The neighborhood can be equally, if not more, important. You might already have must-haves in mind for the type of property you’ll buy — at least two bathrooms to stay sane, for example. Now you need to focus on finding the best neighborhood that fits your budget. Read on for some tips, techniques, and practices to help you find affordable neighborhoods.Top of Form


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1. Use the Affordability layer in Trulia Maps

The most important factor when looking for an affordable home is price. No surprise there. But the listing price doesn’t tell you the full story. The seller could have simply picked a number because that’s what they’d like to get, a price that might have nothing to do with reality.  Use the Affordability layer in Trulia Maps to compare listing prices with recent sales prices. Just scroll over your neighborhood of interest to see the median listing price, change your filter, and then scroll over the same area to see the median sales price. There may be a huge price difference between the two, which besides a too-optimistic seller could also reflect a softening market. A once-unaffordable neighborhood, based on listing prices alone, might now be in reach once you see what homes are actually selling for.  Also look at the sales price per square foot, a real eye-opener. You can see exactly how much location affects a home’s price. If using a price-per-square-foot comparison, the homebuyer must be sure to compare similar-sized properties or allow for the different results based upon the differences in size.


2. Explore other neighborhoods

If you already have a neighborhood in mind, take some time to look at the bordering neighborhoods as well. You might find more affordable options that have the same benefits. As home prices increase within desirable areas, generally speaking, locations on the periphery become in demand.  Pick your neighborhood of interest and note the listing and sales prices. Then pick a bordering neighborhood that costs less to buy into. Compare amenities in Trulia Maps, and you can see where the restaurants, grocery stores, nightclubs, cafes, stores, arts and entertainment areas, spas, and active-life spaces are located.  Don’t rule out up-and-coming neighborhoods. Yes, you’re taking a risk here. “Up-and-coming,” as a description, might turn out to be a tad too hopeful if the neighborhood is really going nowhere. How do you minimize the risk? Look for warning signs. Distressed areas generally are identified by low sales volumes, elevated value decreases, and poor access to amenities.


3. Look for fixer-uppers

If your heart is set on a neighborhood that lets you bike to work and raise urban chickens, you might not be able to get a dreamy, move-in-ready abode with all new upgrades. Instead, target fixer-uppers, or remodels, or teardowns. You might wish to consider a house with “good bones,” as they say, meaning there’s potential in there somewhere. If the house doesn’t even have that, a teardown might be in order. You can often find fixer-uppers in the foreclosure arena. But beware. Purchasing an REO/short sale or auction property when the asset is sold ‘as is’ necessitates a network of professionals to understand the condition and to project rehab costs.  Contractors, electricians, plumbers, even structural engineers may be required in order to adequately analyze a property.  You’ll also need to devote some time, or sweat equity, to save money when you buy a fixer-upper. It is important to have a sense of how much work would be needed to get the house in the shape you would want it to be. You would need to get estimates for the work — the final cost will probably be higher than the estimates — and try to determine how long it will take to get permits approved and contractors in the door … [and] it will probably take longer than everyone tells you. But when you are pulling your hair out because you are cooking dinner in a half-finished kitchen, remember all of the money that you saved when you bought.

4. Factor in the cost of your commute

Trulia Maps has you covered when it comes to figuring out commute time. Once you determine yours, figure your expenses. Although the house might be cheaper farther out, the cost in gas and car maintenance will be higher. Living an hour from work could potentially cost you a bundle in gas and car maintenance costs — no wonder commute times are a top factor for those looking to move.  Determine if the lower-cost home purchase in the suburbs offsets the time spent commuting and the commuting costs involved outweigh the higher-priced properties more proximate to employment centers and urban areas.


5. Consider a house that’s not a house

When is a house not a house? When it’s a condo. If you just cannot afford a single-family house in the neighborhood of your choice, look at other options. Condos and townhouses are often less expensive than single-family homes. But wait, there’s more. The advantage of a condo or townhouse is the reduction in exterior maintenance, which is typically taken care of by the property management.


Now that you have a keen sense on how to search for an affordable neighborhood. Let’s find that property! Call me today ~


Lynn Kronk ~ Realtor


Spring Listing – Prep NOW


Even though it’s the middle of the winter season, before you know it, spring will be here. Historically in most real estate markets, the spring is the busiest season. The spring real estate market generally yields the highest prices for those selling their home. This is only possible though if the proper preparations are taken prior to when spring is upon us!

If you’re thinking of selling your home in the spring, you should be aware that even though you may receive top dollar for your home, there will also be a lot of competition. Therefore it’s absolutely critical that you’re prepared for the spring real estate market. These tips below will help you prepare your home for listing.

Begin Interviewing Prospective Realtors

It doesn’t matter what time of year you decide to sell your home; it’s critical that when selling a home, you know what questions to ask when interviewing realtors. Make sure you start reaching out to the agents you think would be a great representative to sell your home sooner rather than later.

Know What Your Plan Is

A common mistake sellers make is not knowing what their plans are once their home sells. Are you planning on purchasing another home? Do you have the option to move in with family? Could you rent, if need be? Do you need to sell your current property to purchase another? These are things you should think about and know the answers to before the spring real estate market hits. It’s a great idea to discuss your financing options with a local lender before you list your home for sale. If you can get pre-approved to purchase a home non-contingent on the sale of your home, it will give you a huge advantage.

Consider Having a Pre-List Inspection

One of the biggest reasons a home sale gets derailed is due to the home inspection. Almost all buyers will have their offer contingent on a home inspection. The smallest home inspection finding could turn off some buyers. It can be easy to avoid this possibility and have your home inspected by a professional before listing it. This way you can remedy issues that may arise prior to listing.

Clean & Organize

It’s imperative to give your home a thorough “spring cleaning.” This doesn’t mean wait until spring though. Be proactive and start cleaning now; you’ll be glad you didn’t wait. Huge turnoffs for prospective buyers are foul odors. Things such as pet and smoke odors will hurt your chances of offers.

Here are a few items to make sure you clean before listing your home: wash your windows, dust your blinds, dust baseboard trims, clean appliances, clean showers, sinks & toilets and clean inside cabinets. It is also important to de-clutter and organize your home. A great way to achieve this is by packing, you will need to pack at some point anyways, so why not do it now! Clean out closets and pack away items that you do not currently need. It is incredible how much better a home will show and how much quicker it will sell if it’s organized and de-cluttered.


Lynn Kronk ~ Realtor

What is your home really worth?


If you are thinking of selling, refinancing, or just want to get an idea of what your home is worth, you have many options. Most people these days like to do things themselves, since there is so much information available at our fingertips online. There are also some great real estate sites and many local brokerage sites, so there are multiple ways to access the information. But you need to be careful, as what you get on some of those sites may be inaccurate, especially in today’s market.

Sites like Zillow and Trulia provide easy access to recent sales, and even provide estimates for the value of your home. Some things they may not take into consideration are:

  1. The condition of your home and comparable sold properties
  2. Upgrades
  3. Additions – sometimes these take a long time to show up in the public records, which could alter the valuation of your home
  4. Very recent sales (closed in the last few days)
  5. Pending sales that are about to close escrow (as they will have an effect on your sales price should you decide to sell)
  6. Whether or not your property is distressed or other recent sales were distressed
  7. inside knowledge about other homes that may have just gone into escrow or appraised
  8. Other factors. There may be other factors that can affect your sales price, such as information displayed in the confidential remarks on sold properties (that only licensed agents can see) that provide details – for example, commissions may have been reduced, sellers may have reduced the sales price due to expensive necessary repairs, or other factors could have affected the sales price. Also, there may be information about construction in the surrounding area that can affect sales prices in the future (freeway extensions, plans for new shopping centers, Or there could be issues with the condition of the home that sold.

All of these details are important in analyzing your home and making sure you get the correct information. Thus it is very important that you consult a local area real estate broker or agent to provide you with a specific and detailed market analysis.

There are many things we can do ourselves these days online, but if you are considering selling make sure you get the right information so that you can make an informed decision. Real estate agents are there to help you, and I do not know of any who charge for a detailed market analysis. So find a skilled agent to assist you, and make sure you have all the pertinent information before making any major decisions.


Lynn Kronk ~ Realtor



5 Tips for Buying a Home If You Have Student Loans


Credit to: Teddy Nykiel is a staff writer at NerdWallet.

When Kristin and Sean Couch were ready to buy their first home, they feared that one thing would hold them back: Kristin’s student loans. Her broadcast journalism master’s degree from Syracuse University had left her more than $80,000 in debt.

The Couches are part of a generation that’s delaying major life decisions, like whether to buy a home, because of student loan debt. More than half of student loan borrowers say their debt affects their ability or decision to become a homeowner, according to a 2015 survey of 1,934 student loan borrowers by American Student Assistance, a Boston-based nonprofit. But becoming a homeowner is possible even if you have student loans. The Couches bought their 2,900-square-foot Craftsman home in Gainesville, Georgia, last spring. Here’s how you can do it, too.

Shop for a home you can afford

Home shopping can be tempting. Three-car garages! Granite countertops! Stainless-steel appliances! Before you get carried away, research the type of home you actually can afford. If you’re a first-time homebuyer, you may have to settle for a starter home instead of your dream abode. But there are good reasons to buy a home sooner rather than later, namely tax incentives and the opportunity to build equity, says Brian Koss, executive vice president of Mortgage Network, a Massachusetts-based independent lender.

Minimize debt from credit cards and car loans

When lenders evaluate you for a mortgage, they typically look at four things:

  1. Your income.
  2. Your savings.
  3. Your credit score.
  4. Your monthly debt-to-income ratio.

Your debt-to-income ratio shows the lender your total financial obligations — including car payments, credit card debt and student loans — compared with your income. Lenders are looking for borrowers with a debt-to-income ratio of 36% or less, including the monthly mortgage payment. To keep yours low, pay off as much debt as possible before applying for a mortgage.

The Couches focused on paying off Sean’s truck and their credit cards, which they’d relied on when Kristin was “making less than peanuts” in her first few jobs. When they got their mortgage, their only remaining debt was from Kristin’s student loans.

Lower your monthly student loan payments

Even without other types of debt, having a lot of student loans could give you a high debt-to-income ratio. To lower that ratio and show your mortgage lender you have enough extra cash to make your monthly mortgage payments, consider refinancing your student loans or switching to an income-driven repayment plan to lower your monthly student loan payment.

There are tradeoffs involved with both refinancing and income-driven repayment plans. When you refinance federal student loans, they become private loans and you lose federal protections, including access to income-driven plans and federal forgiveness programs. Income-driven plans, which cap your monthly payment at a percentage of your income, increase the amount of interest you’ll pay over time because they extend your term length.

Most mortgage lenders won’t mind if your overall student loan debt will increase; they’re primarily concerned with your monthly payment, says Kevin Hanson, director of lending at Gate City Bank in Fargo, North Dakota. But you’ll save the most money on your student loans if you minimize the amount of interest you’ll pay over the life of the loan.

Make your student loan payments on time

When mortgage lenders look at your credit history, they’ll want to see that you’ve paid off other debts on time, including your student loans, car payments and credit cards. If you’ve proved you can handle debt responsibly and you have a good credit score to show for it, mortgage lenders will be more likely to approve you — even if you still have outstanding student loans.

“A student loan is never negative,” Koss says. “It’s just a question of whether you pay it on time.”

Save for a down payment and closing costs

Buying a home doesn’t just involve taking on a mortgage — you’ll also have to pay upfront for closing costs and the down payment. Closing-related costs include the home inspection, mortgage loan origination fee, mortgage insurance, home owner’s insurance premium and title fees. In total, closing fees cost the average homebuyer about 2% to 5% of the home’s price, according to Zillow.

A traditional down payment is 20% of the cost of the home, but there are other options for borrowers today, such as putting less down and paying for private mortgage insurance each month until you build 20% equity in your home (though the less you put down, the more you’ll pay in interest).

Despite Kristin’s student loans, the Couches were able to buy their home with just 3% down through a local bank. But that doesn’t mean her student loan payment isn’t still a burden. “It’s as much as a second mortgage,” she says.

Still, to her, owning a home is worth the extra responsibility. “It’s yours,” she says. “You bought it. It’s something tangible that you can see.”

Lynn Kronk ~ Realtor



New Construction – get the FACTS


It’s not often that home buyers find a house that embodies everything on their wish list.  If compromising on your wish list isn’t an option, building a custom home is the path that makes the most sense.  It sounds exciting.  You find a buildable lot in your price range, hire a contractor and in a few months’ time, you’re moving into your brand new dream home.

If only it worked out that way.  For most people, building a custom home requires many steps, an infinite amount of due diligence on the buyer’s part, and a ton of research.  Time is also a key factor.  It’s rare that construction ends on time and the entire building process from the property search to move-in can be well over a year.

Here is a list of 8 key questions and points of interest that buyers should research.


Cost of land is only a piece of the budgeting for building a custom home.  It’s important that you first price out what you can afford overall and then work backwards from there.  If you’re paying cash you know the cold hard number.  If you’re paying for this through a mortgage, you’ll have to consider what your down payment will need to be, how much you can afford per month and, if the land price will come from the mortgage, you’ll have to deduct that price from your overall number to determine what you have left to spend on the construction.

With that being said, there’s more to pay for than what it costs to build the house.  You have to consider the price for demolition if you’re buying a lot with an existing structure, permitting, potential excavating, establishing a connection from the property to nearby utilities, water, energy, and sewer, among other items.  It’s recommended that you work with a buyer’s agent that has experience working with clients who’ve purchased land for which to build.

2. Financing the Project

Finding a spare plot of land in the area you desire may be hard to come by.  What is more likely to happen is that a property will become available on the market that has a structure on it which needs to either be completely demolished, or significantly renovated.   Cash is king- if you can pay cash for the entire job (property purchase to demo to move in) then this doesn’t apply to you.  For a bank to finance the project, the appraisal of the plans (which will assess the future value of the newly constructed home) must show that you’ll have at least 20% equity.

3. Location, location, location!

Your next step is to find a lot that’s zoned for residential construction, but more than likely in this area, you’re buying a “tear down” -an existing home to knock down.  You determined your area of the world; you know which state, town, and neighborhood you’d like to establish your foundation.  Now you’ve narrowed this area down to a few lot options if you’re lucky.  Don’t fall in love just yet.  You must first determine if the lot is zoned for the type and size of house you’re planning.

You also have to determine if the neighborhood has Covenants, Codes and Restrictions, which essentially are the neighborhood rules.  Some guidelines may end up restricting the style or size of house you’d like to build.  They can also have rules that prohibit fences, paint colors, and other decorative items, so look into this before you make an offer.

4.  Don’t be set back by “setbacks”

Buildable plots of land have predetermined borders called ‘setbacks’ which determine how close to the border of your property a house can be built.  Depending on the lot size, that may reduce how much surface area your home or garage can consume.  Hire a licensed property surveyor to determine the property lines so you know what you’re working with.

5.  Utility installation costs

You’re going to need a water pipe connection from your house to the nearest water main, you’re going to need gas or oil for energy, power lines, a septic tank or a hook up to the town sewer.  You’ll need permits for each, installation and inspections.  Price this out!  You may find this property has zero utility connections and that you’re going to have to start from scratch.  Some undeveloped land does have these connections already which could save you a lot of money.  A tear down will likely have these utilities installed which can be a huge money saver, but they may be in disrepair and need maintenance, so get them checked.

6. Is the land construction ready?

It’s probable that the land itself will need care before the home can be built.  It’s important for you to research what needs to be done prior to construction and what the fees will be.  You’ll have to know if there are problem soils, tree clearing costs, grade issues that may require filling with soil, gravel or stone, potential blasting requirements for the foundation or utility installation, site drainage installation and as well retaining walls that may need to be constructed.  Just because the land looks flat doesn’t mean its ready- so do your homework!

If your first step is knocking down a home prior to construction you should see what the towns rule are and how they compare between complete demolitions and partial renovations.  It may be easier to obtain permitting if you knock down the existing structure but build on the same foundation or keep a few of the original walls up.

7. Bring in the professionals

It’s highly recommended that you hire an engineer and an architect who work together.  It streamlines the process and can save you money in the long run.  As well, when you determine which builder you want to hire, it makes sense to work with a professional who is familiar with the neighborhood.  This will make it easier for you and your team to identify what needs to be done more efficiently.  They’ll likely be knowledgeable about required permits, costs, and town regulations.  Timeline should be determined with your building team as well.  You should have a solid idea of when your move-in date will be so you can plan accordingly.

Make sure that you learn about which permits are required to build and what they each cost, as this is a significant expense and can cause hold-ups if you don’t have what you need on time.  A team specializing in tear downs- if that’s your path- is highly recommended.

8. What will the neighbors think?

Will your neighbor be residential, commercial or conservation land?  If there’s already a person or business next door, you might need to notify them of your building plans.  If there’s no one there, it is suggested that you determine who owns the land or what it’s zoned for.  It may be a lovely wooded area now with a great view, but if the land behind your property is zoned for commercial construction, you may be looking at a gas station in two years instead of fall foliage- not an easy home to sell if your dining room faces loading docks.  Buyer beware!

Research, research and research more, make sure if you build that it’s done right.

Lynn Kronk ~ Realtor