Recent News

    The Best Time to Sell Your Cape Cod Home

    Realtors are always being asked by prospective sellers, “When is the best time for me to list my Cape Cod home for sale?”  So let’s explore the options and the relevant data.

    First, we need to dispel a myth that the summer is the height of the real estate market on Cape Cod.  While the summer is surely the height of our tourist season, it is not when most home sales occur, nor is it when most homes go under agreement.

    Examining the last 3 years of sales data, the most popular months for CLOSINGS on the Cape are consistently May and June.  Home sales that closed in May or June most likely went under agreement between mid-March and mid-May, making late-winter through mid-spring the busiest time for buyer activity.

    So what does this mean for sellers?  It means you should get your home on the market by April 1st or even sooner to participate in the best buying season.  Winter buyer activity is largely weather dependent.  If we are experiencing frequent snow storms, buyer activity will be low until March.  But if we are experiencing low snowfall, as we have been thus far in 2020, buyer activity will be moderate throughout the winter.  Regardless, it typically gets very busy by April 1.

    After May and June, the next consistently popular month for real estate closings on the Cape has been October, judging by the last 3 years of data.  October sales most likely went under agreement from late August through September.  August and November were also strong months in different years.  The FEWEST closings consistently take place in February followed by January.  This confirms the obvious assumption that buyer activity is low during the holiday season – which runs from mid-November through New Year’s.

    Regardless of the time of year, the most important factor in selling your home is making sure the home is ready for sale.  This means at a minimum, eliminating the clutter in the home and giving it a professional-level cleaning.  Fixing obvious maintenance issues on both the inside and outside of the house will help eliminate post-inspection renegotiating when the home goes under agreement.  A fresh coat of interior paint will give the home a clean, fresh look and will help all buyers more readily picture themselves living in the home.  Other pre-selling tips will depend on the home.  A good Realtor can help you decide exactly what improvements will give you the best bang for your buck in your market.

    If you are thinking of selling your home in 2020, and if you want to take advantage of the busiest buyer season, you should be speaking with Realtors NOW to get their opinion on what your home is worth in today’s market and what you should do to prepare your home for selling.  Please contact me if you would like a free, no-obligation market analysis of your home.  It would be my privilege to assist you.

    Why Sellers Need An Attorney

    Sellers sometimes ask us whether or not they need an attorney in order to sell their home.  In Massachusetts, it is standard for buyers to be represented by an attorney and is even mandatory when the buyer is taking out a mortgage.  (Technically, that attorney is representing the bank, but for the most part, the bank and the buyer are both “on the same side”.)  For sellers, there is certainly no law in Massachusetts mandating that they be represented by an attorney.  However, there are definitely seller obligations that are best handled by an experienced real estate attorney.  With such an important asset at stake, sellers would be ill-advised to “go it alone” or to believe that their Realtor can handle whatever comes up.

    Below is a list of typical attorney services* that are provided by the attorney representing the seller:

    • Comprehensive review of Seller’s Title and Opinion of Title
    • Review of Offer to Purchase
    • Drafting, negotiation and finalization of Purchase and Sales Agreement
    • Closing Document preparation (deed, trustee certificate, release of homestead)
    • Obtaining seller’s closing documents (6D certificate, payoff statements)
    • Assist in the coordination of the closing and representation at the closing
    • Limited Power of Attorney
    • Attend the Closing & review all closing documents and explain their meaning and significance to the seller

    Your Realtor will be involved with most of these steps as well, but does not replace the need for an attorney.  For a cost that is typically in the $800-$1300 range (depending on the attorney), it is well worth the peace of mind of having these important issues handled by a legal professional.

    If you are thinking of selling your home, you should engage an attorney as early in the process as possible so that he or she can conduct an initial title search to be sure no unexpected problems arise that could result in a lengthy delay after you find a buyer.  Your Realtor should be able to recommend a good real estate attorney.  If you don’t have one, it would be my privilege to assist you in the sale of your Cape Cod home. Please contact me to get started.

    * List of services courtesy of Cape Cod Title and Escrow.

    Understanding the 1031 Exchange

    While roughly 200,000 people call Cape Cod their year-round home, more than 500,000 are here in the summer months, meaning that many of Cape Cod’s homes are purchased for vacation or investment purposes.  If you own an investment property on the Cape or elsewhere, and have thought about upgrading to a nicer property – perhaps one closer to the water that will bring in greater income – then you should understand Section 1031 of the U.S. Revenue Code, more commonly known as the 1031 Exchange, which allows you to defer the capital gains tax on your current property and apply it to your newly purchased property.

    Here are the basic rules that govern the use of a 1031 Exchange.

    1. It must be investment property. You cannot use the 1031 Exchange on your primary residence or even a vacation home that was not used for investment purposes. It is strictly for use with investment assets, including but not limited to real estate.
    2. You must engage a Qualified Intermediary. A Qualified Intermediary is a person or company that facilitates the 1031 exchange by holding the funds from the sale of your first property until they can be given to the seller of your new property. This person or company can have no other formal relationship with any of the parties involved in the transaction.
    3. You must be investing MORE money, not less.  You must must use ALL of your net proceeds from the sale of your property to purchase the new investment property (or properties).  You can invest more than that amount, but you cannot invest less.  Think of Monopoly.  To get a hotel, you need to exchange one or more houses plus some additional capital.
    4. Properties must be “Like Kind”.  The 1031 Exchange can only be used to exchange “similar types of investments”.  But pretty much all real estate is considered “similar kind”.  You can even exchange a commercial building for a rental home.  You can exchange a condo for an apartment building.  You can exchange a 2-family home for a restaurant property.  But you cannot exchange stock or a valuable collector’s painting for real estate.
    5. You can buy multiple properties. If you so choose, you can buy three investment properties in exchange for your original one investment property, as long as the net cost of the three new properties is greater than the net sale of the original property. Likewise, you can SELL multiple investment properties in exchange for one new investment property,
    6. There are time limits on the Exchange. In general, you must identify your replacement property within 45 days of the sale of your original property, and then close on the new property within 180 days of the sale of your original property.

    These are the most basic and general rules associated with the 1031 Exchange option.  If you are considering a 1031 Exchange, you should speak with your financial/tax advisor(s) to fully understand all of the rules and to make sure it makes sense for your particular situation and portfolio.  For assistance in buying or selling an investment property on Cape Cod, please contact Marie.

    The Sale/List Price Ratio

    As of the writing of this Blog post, the average sale/list price ratio for Barnstable County is 94%, meaning that ON AVERAGE, homes are selling for 94% of their list price. This leads both buyers and sellers to believe that a home priced at $500K should sell for $470K. But when it comes to negotiating, whether you are the buyer or the seller, the sale/list price ratio is not a meaningful statistic, and should have little to no influence when considering the likely sale price of a home. Here’s why.

    First of all, when we talk about a ratio involving “list price”, we need to know what list price is being used. Is it the ORIGINAL list price, or the MOST RECENT list price (after potentially many reductions). The figure listed above is actually referring to the original list price, meaning that the ratio involving the most recent list price would very likely be a larger percentage (perhaps 96%).

    But regardless of whether it is the original or most recent list price, it is still meaningless from a negotiating standpoint, because the number is nothing more than an average of diverse opinions. Some sales could show ratios at 75%, while others could show ratios over 100% (meaning the home sold for MORE than the asking price). The list price is set by the Seller and may or may not have any bearing on market reality. The list price could be ridiculously high, or just a little high, or right on the money, or even BELOW market value. It is entirely up to the Seller to decide the list price of a home. Hopefully the Seller has a good listing agent who has done a thorough analysis of market value, but that doesn’t guarantee the Seller took the Realtor’s advice and it doesn’t guarantee that the advice was sound.

    A similar argument could be made regarding the ratio comparing assessed value to sale price, although with certain constraints, that ratio is arguably a little more useful. If you are comparing homes in the same neighborhood that were built around the same time and have received a similar amount of “like” updating, the assessed/sale price ratio could be ONE factor to consider, but by no means the only nor most significant.

    The only way to discover the fair market value of a home is through a market analysis of “like” properties either nearby or in similar areas that have recently sold. Homes that are currently on the market are not as useful because those homes have not actually SOLD at those prices. By comparing YOUR home, or the home you are trying to purchase, against these comparative homes (or “comps”), you will obtain the best knowledge regarding the likely selling price of your home or the home you are pursuing.

    Whether buying or selling, our team of local, knowledgeable Realtors would be happy to represent you and provide you with a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the value of your home or the home you are hoping to purchase. Please contact us for expert, professional, local advice.

    Rest Easy With Up-To-Code Smoke Detectors

    When a home is sold in Massachusetts, it is Massachusetts law that the smoke detectors be compliant with current smoke & carbon monoxide detector laws. In general, it is up to the Seller to review their smoke/CO detectors, be sure they are up to code, and have them inspected by the local fire inspector to have them certified as being compliant. The Seller is obligated to present the smoke compliance certificate at the closing.

    But what if you’re not buying or selling a home? Are YOUR smoke/CO detectors compliant with today’s law? Replacing the batteries each year is great, but that does not necessarily mean that your detectors are in compliance with today’s laws. For greater peace of mind and to help safeguard your family and guests, you should review your smoke and CO detectors and bring them up to code – especially if your home is more than 10 years old. Massachusetts provides a complete guide to the smoke/CO detector law (for one and two-family homes) that is an essential resource to help you do this, but here are some of the highlights of the law just to give you a brief overview:

    As you probably know, there are many different types of smoke detectors. Some are hard-wired with battery backup and some operate strictly on battery. Some use photoelectric technology and some use ionization technology. Some use both. The exact type of smoke detectors you need depends on the year your house was built and or renovated. The Massachusetts guide will tell you EXACTLY what you need.

    • In general, homes built before 1975 and not renovated or modified afterwards can use detectors that are battery-powered. The new battery powered detectors feature 10-year sealed, non-rechargeable, non-replaceable batteries. They do not use 9-volt batteries like the older ones. They must feature photoelectric technology. CO detectors must be present on every level of the home, including habitable portions of the basement and attic.
    • Homes built or substantially renovated between 1975 and August 27, 1997 must be hardwired and interconnected. The technology utilized (photoelectric or ionization) depends on where they are located. In general, photoelectric technology can be used everywhere, whereas ionization technology can be used if the alarm is more than 20 feet from a kitchen or bathroom. CO detectors must be present on every level of the home, including habitable portions of the basement and attic.
    • Homes built or substantially renovated after August 27, 1997 have even stricter requirements, particularly in terms of number of units required. They must be hardwired and interconnected with battery backup. Like the rule above, photoelectric technology can be used everywhere, whereas ionization technology can be used if the alarm is more than 20 feet from a kitchen or bathroom. CO detectors must be present on every level of the home, including habitable portions of the basement and attic.
    • There are two more categories of homes that dictate the smoke/CO detector requirements, and those are for homes built or substantially renovated after January 1, 2008, and those built or substantially renovated after February 4, 2011. The requirements of these homes are even stricter, particularly with respect to where you can use photoelectric, ionization, or both technologies.

    The exact number and placement of both the smoke and CO detectors also depends on the age of the house and should be fully understood. For the COMPLETE set of rules that pertain to your home based on its age, please consult the official guide to the Massachusetts Smoke/CO Detector LawThis blog post is not intended to be used as a substitute for the guide. Consult your local fire department if you have questions about any part of the law.They will be more than happy to assist you.

    Power Home Shopping on Cape Cod

    Sign Up For Daily Alerts

    With more than 2000 Cape Cod homes currently on the market, you can’t possibly see them all. So how can you be sure you’re not missing any that might have been the perfect fit? Here are some tips for power shopping the MLS.

    First and foremost, make sure you are signed up for Daily Alerts. You can do this yourself by signing up on a website like ours which offers consumers direct access to the Cape & Islands MLS.

    Strategic Selection Criteria

    When you are filling out the MLS form indicating what you’re looking for, be sure that you are being selective enough to weed out uninteresting properties, but not SO selective that you accidentally weed out interesting ones! For example, if you feel you need 2,000 square feet or more in your new house, be sure to make your lower limit just a bit smaller than 2,000 square feet – because there may be a house that is absolutely PERFECT for you, and that is listed by the assessor as having 1,999 square feet. Do you really want to rule that one out? If your criteria said 2,000 square feet or more, you will never even receive notice of that perfect property in your email.

    Similarly, if the most you can spend is $450K, be sure you are looking at houses priced up to perhaps $475K or even $500K. Depending on how long the homes have been on the market, the Seller might be “motivated” and willing to negotiate with a solid Buyer.

    A good MLS site will also allow you to refine your selection with a Map Search. Sometimes you are interested in a particular section of a town rather than an entire town. The Map Search can help you hone in on your target area.

    Find A Good Buyer’s Agent

    If you are serious about buying a home, you should definitely have a Buyer’s Agent working on your behalf to supplement your own search efforts. There are MANY reasons for this. First, we have FULL access to the Cape & Islands MLS, which means we have access to certain data fields that you most likely don’t have through your publicly accessible MLS portal. We can help refine your search in ways that you most likely can’t.

    Second, a Realtor who knows a neighborhood well may have knowledge about the area that you don’t have, and can also help set up all your appointments when you’re ready to begin looking at your “short list”. Since you don’t have to pay for a Buyer’s Agent, you may as well find one that you like and let him or her work on your behalf, at no cost to you.

    Lastly, when you find the perfect home and want to make an offer, having a good Buyer’s Agent assisting you with pricing, negotiating, paperwork, and all other aspects of buying a home is invaluable. So don’t cheat yourself out of this benefit by “going rogue”.

    I would welcome the opportunity to assist you in finding and purchasing the perfect home. Contact me today for expert, professional assistance.

    The Role of the Appraisal

    If you are buying a home and taking out a mortgage, the Lender is going to order an appraisal of the property by a licensed real estate appraiser to be sure that they – the Lender – are making a good investment. You can offer whatever you want on a house, but if you’re taking out a mortgage to pay for it, the Lender has a vested interest in ensuring the home is worth what you offered. After all, they don’t want to lose their money in the event the home winds up in foreclosure.

    The appraisal is an important part of the mortgage commitment process. It is ordered by the Lender once you have completed your home inspections and have confirmed that you are definitely going forward with the purchase. This is typically around the time that the Purchase & Sale agreement is signed and your mortgage application is now considered “complete”.

    Appraisals are typically completed within a week of being ordered, although that depends on how active the market is. When the volume of home sales is unusually high, the time it takes to get an appraisal can be longer, since there is a finite number of licensed appraisers. The appraiser visits the home you are buying, completes an extensive report about the home, and then delivers the final appraisal report to the bank, usually within a few days.

    The general rule of thumb with conventional mortgages is that if you are putting down 20% and financing 80%, the home needs to appraise for at least the sale price. The Lender figures that if you default on your loan, they should be able to recoup at least 80% of the value of the home, in the event they need to sell it. If you are putting down 20% and the home appraises for LESS than the sale price, you may be able to renegotiate with the Seller and pay the appraised price instead of the offer price.

    If you are putting down less than 20%, whether intentionally or due to a low appraisal, you will typically need to take out mortgage insurance, which gives the Lender some added insurance on the amount over 80% that they are financing, should you default.

    If you are putting down MORE than 20% — let’s say 50% — then even if the home appraises for a bit LESS than your sale price, you can still buy it for the agreed-upon price, although you may not wish to do so. On a related note, if you are paying straight cash for the home, there is no automatic appraisal at all, although you yourself can request an appraisal and can even write into your offer that your purchase at the agreed-upon price is contingent upon the home appraising at or above the sale price.

    Whether you’re putting down 5 or 25 percent, paying cash, or financing the entire amount with a VA loan, I can help guide you through the process to home ownership. Please contact me for expert guidance. It would be my privilege to assist you.

    Security Cameras in a Vacation Rental

    More and more, vacation rental tenants are encountering properties with security cameras installed, which causes concerns about violation of privacy.

    Is it legal for homeowners to install security cameras at a rental property? Are there specific areas where surveillance can be placed or not? Do tenants have to be notified if surveillance cameras are in place?

    Homeowners

    Homeowners are generally within legal bounds to install surveillance cameras to protect their property. Cameras must be visible in common areas such as front door, driveway, and backyard. This is considered a reasonable measure to protect against break-ins and suspicious activities.

    Homeowners should not install surveillance cameras in any interior spaces where tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Invading a right to privacy can lead to a violation of the law. While there are no specific laws regarding visible security cameras, there IS a law that covers wiretapping. In most states, you are absolved from wiretapping if you have the consent of at least one of the parties involved. However, Massachusetts has a two-party consent law. The law states that you need the consent of both parties to legally record a conversation. Otherwise, you might be convicted of wiretapping. Bottom line, when using a security camera, be sure that people who are recorded know that they are being recorded.

    HIDDEN cameras are forbidden inside rental homes. In many states, unauthorized installation or use of hidden cameras is a felony, punishable with a significant fine and/or up to 2 years in prison. If hidden cameras are revealed in rental homes and found invading occupants’ right to privacy, the homeowner could face criminal charges and penalties.

    If a homeowner intends to install cameras outside or inside a rental property, (s)he should be sure to notify the rental agency and/or the tenant to be transparent and specific about the visible surveillance system before signing any leases.

    While there are surely benefits of having cameras installed at a rental property, it is understandable that a vacation rental tenant would object to being observed while on holiday. Homeowners should consider using surveillance equipment sparingly during the rental season. The off-season is a more appropriate time when the property is vacant for an extended period of time.

    Home security cameraTenants and Guests

    Before signing a lease, tenants and guests should be sure they are aware of and complicit with any and all surveillance equipment on the premises. Review the lease contract carefully to see if the presence of homeowner surveillance cameras is mentioned in written form.

    If hidden surveillance cameras are found inside a rental property and without your knowledge and consent, contact local police, who can help determine whether or not the presence of such equipment is unlawful.

    The information above is deemed reliable but is not guaranteed and should not be considered legal advice. Please consult local police and/or your attorney for expert advice regarding this matter.

    Understanding the Cape Cod Real Estate Market

    Whether you’re thinking of buying or selling a home on Cape Cod this year, it’s important to understand the overall Cape Cod real estate market to help you prepare for and negotiate your own transaction.

    Recent History

    Before the most recent real estate crash that affected nearly all US markets, the Cape Cod Real Estate market (as a whole) had peaked somewhere around the summer of 2006.* It took 10+ years for the median prices of Cape Cod real estate to return to their highs of that time, with the “bottom” occurring near the beginning of 2010. We have just begun, over the past 1-2 years, enjoying median and average sale prices that are higher than those of the 2006 peak. Compared to the consolidated Massachusetts real estate market, our recovery here on the Cape has taken longer and has not been as dramatic as the whole.

    All Real Estate is Local

    The Cape, also known as Barnstable County, is made up of 15 distinct towns and each one has their own unique real estate market. For 2018, the median sale price of single family homes in Harwich was $433,250 while right next door in Chatham, the median was $746,200. And it’s not just the prices. The number of new listings in Harwich in 2018 was up 10% compared to 2017, while in Chatham, they were down 8%.

    The Data

    We all understand the terms median price and average price, with “median” being the most commonly used to compare market prices in real estate. Other important data points include Closed Sales, Pending Sales, Days on Market (DOM/CDOM), and Inventory.

    Closed Sales represent the number of homes that actually closed that month. Those homes most likely went under agreement 6-8 weeks earlier. So a better statistic to examine if you are wondering when is a good time to list your home for sale would be Pending Sales. This is when the home actually went under agreement. A high number of pending sales in a given month is likely an indication that a high number of buyers are looking at that time.

    Days on Market (DOM) and Cumulative Days on Market (CDOM) are also useful measurements, but may not be as significant as you think. First, the difference between DOM and CDOM is that DOM reflects the most recent listing of the home, whereas CDOM includes past listings of the home when it did not sell. CDOM is generally the more relevant. Buyers often believe that if a home has been on the market for a long time, it must be substantially overpriced. While this is often true, it is not an absolute fact. Some homes that are priced correctly simply have a smaller pool of potential buyers due to some feature (or lack thereof), which itself influences the home’s market value, although not always. Also, markets can change quickly. A sudden shortage of inventory can cause prices to rise quickly and the home may suddenly sell close to its asking price. The best indicator of market value is the RECENT sale price of SIMILAR homes in the SAME or SIMILAR neighborhoods. But DOM/CDOM should still be considered, at least to understand why the home has not sold.

    Inventory is a very important statistic for both buyers and sellers. Low inventory typically favors sellers and list prices are likely to be higher during periods of low inventory. High inventory favors buyers since sellers are competing against a large number of players for your dollars. Here on the Cape, inventory was historically low through 2017 and 2018. It is definitely on the rebound, although still somewhat low historically.

    Relevant Timing

    When Realtors are analyzing and estimating the market value of a home for either a buyer or potential seller, we generally compare the home to other homes that have sold only within the past 6 months. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but that is a general rule of thumb. Sales older than that are oftentimes irrelevant because of changes in the market conditions since then.

    For current Cape Cod real estate statistics at any time, view the County Report provided by the Cape Cod & Islands Association of Realtors. For a report of a specific town and/or specific time period, visit the Faststats main page and make your selections. And of course, always consult with a professional Cape Cod Realtor who can help you understand the data and provide information that is not easily available to the public. Please contact me, as I would welcome the opportunity to assist you with your buying and selling needs.

    Tips for Renting Your Cape Cod Home

    With 550 miles of coastline, Cape Cod is arguably New England’s premier summer vacation destination. If you’re lucky enough to own a home here, especially a second home, your home most likely has rental potential, which can help defray the cost of ownership when you’re not using it.

    But renting your home is not without its challenges and hassles. If you’ve never rented your home before, and even if you have, these tips from our expert team of rental professionals will help you maximize the rental value of your home while minimizing the stress and headaches that naturally come along with it.

     

    Take quality pictures. The majority of renters will be choosing your home strictly from the description and pictures they see on the Internet. Just like when you are selling a home, the pictures for your rental need to be perfect and plentiful. If you are taking the pictures yourself, be sure to read up on how to take good pictures for real estate purposes. If you have engaged a rental agency to assist you, be sure they do your home justice. If you have a high-end home and expect to get top-dollar for it, consider hiring a professional photographer.

    Stage it “Capey”. Regardless of what your own personal decorating style is, renters are coming here to see and feel the CAPE! Your home will be more attractive to renters if they can almost smell the ocean and feel the sand beneath their toes when they’re browsing your pictures.

    List your home EARLY. The rental booking season is well underway! It’s only January and we have already booked over 200 weeks. Renters book early. Don’t miss out by waiting too long to get your place posted online.

    Secure the “must haves”. Renters expect certain basic amenities such as wifi, a good TV, a gas grill, and air conditioning. Be sure these are all in good working condition prior to the season.

    Have a professional-grade deep-cleaning. The biggest criticism rental homes receive is that they were not clean. Be sure to do a deep-cleaning just before rental season begins to rid the home of the dust, dirt, bugs, cobwebs, and everything else it collects over the winter. Then be sure you’ve got a reliable cleaner lined up for in-between tenants.

    Make sure the bedding is clean and in like-new condition. Tenants will be wrapped in them for a good part of their stay. You’ll get much better feedback if you’ve got nice bedding. As for mattresses, medium firmness is best and be sure to use mattress protectors.

    Smoke & CO detectors. For the safety of both your home and your tenants, be sure all your smoke and CO detectors are functioning properly and have fresh batteries. Also consider adding a fresh fire extinguisher each season.

    Designate an “Owner’s Closet”. If you have a spare closet, put a lock on it and declare it the “owner’s closet”. Keep extra linens and supplies in there, as well as anything you don’t want your tenants to touch. If you don’t have such a closet, consider buying an inexpensive storage closet that can be placed in the basement.

    Create a nice Guest Book. A notebook containing important information about the house such as wifi password, emergency phone numbers, and other special instructions will go a long way toward ensuring that you don’t get phone calls in the middle of the night. Consider adding information about favorite restaurants and activities to help your renters make the most of their vacation.

    As you may have heard, Governor Baker recently enacted a new tax on short-term vacation rentals in Massachusetts. If you plan to handle your own rentals, you’ll need to understand this and all other laws related to rentals. If you would like our expert rental team to assist you, please contact us ASAP. It would be our privilege to represent you and your home for the 2019 rental season.