What are the Requirements to Call a Room a Bedroom?

by Michelle J. Lane, Realtor

When listing properties, the question often comes up – can they call this room a bedroom?  The questions typically comes up for rooms without a closet or room in basements.  The legal requirements for a bedroom are listed below.   The surprising answer is that a closet is not required.  However, particularly with basement and attic rooms, the ceiling height and second form of egress become the issues.   Most basement and attic bedrooms do not meet the ceiling height requirement.  Basements also typically do not meet the requirements for window size.  As your agent, I need to follow these requirements when listing your home.   Beyond that, Buyers get annoyed when Sellers stretch the description, measurements or room count of their house.  

If you are a buyer, you can use this outline to determine if a listing is property advertising the number of bedrooms.  

  

Seven features that define a bedroom

  1. Minimum square footage:  In Massachusetts, 70 square feet is the acceptable minimum.
  2. Minimum horizontal footage:  A bedroom must also measure at least 7 feet in any horizontal direction.  So a 7×10 or 8×9 would work as a minimum size.
  3. Two means of egress: There must be two ways out of a bedroom. Traditionally, these would be a door and a window.
  4. Minimum ceiling height: At least half of the bedroom ceiling must be at least 7.5 feet tall.
  5. Minimum window size: The window opening must be a minimum size, usually 5.7 square feet. The bottom of the egress window opening cannot be any higher than 44” from the finished floor.  The minimum egress window opening height is 24” high. The minimum egress window opening is 20” wide.
  6. A heating and cooling element: We’re talking a heater (a space heater won’t qualify) as well as a way to cool it down, whether that’s by opening a window or good old AC.
  7. Electricity – Two separate wall-type convenience outlets, or one outlet and one electric light fixture. The outlets shall be placed in practical locations and shall insofar as practicable, be on different walls and at least ten feet apart.

Does a bedroom need a closet?

Legally, a bedroom does NOT need a closet to be considered official.  Closets are expected in newer homes.  But back in the day, people did not have nearly as much clothing as they do today so clothes were stored in chests or dressers, with maybe a couple of things being hung on a hook.  The hanger was not invented until 1869.  That’s why, if an older house does have closets, they are shallow and many still have the original hooks in them.  

If you have a room that does not meet these requirements, you could get away with calling it an office, nursery, playroom or bonus room.  Buyers will appreciate your honesty in not calling it a bedroom. 

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

Does Remodeling for a Home Sale make sense?

by Michelle J. Lane, Realtor

I often get asked by clients what they shoud do to prepare their home for the market.  The answer, unless the property makes sense for a builder, for the most part, is clean up, do necessary repairs and sell the property you have.

While nice kitchens and baths do sell a home, spending the money to renovate these right before a sale will net you less in the end.   The Remodeling ROI report for 2018 outlines the average cost of remodeling projects and the return on those costs.  You can see from the chart below that the only renovation that gives you a 100% return is replacing the garage door.

That is not to say that you shouldn’t do renovations on your home, just that you should do them several years before you sell your house so that you can get some enjoyment out of them first.  After all, that is part of the ROI.

So where to expend your effort if you are getting ready for a sale?  

  • Clear out all the extra junk in attics, basements, closets, etc.  If it is not going with you to the next place, sell, donate, trash.
  • Fix things that are broken.  Seeing visibly broken things affects the buyer’s perception of value.  Look around your house for broken panes of glass, rotted wood, holes in the walls, light switches that don’t work, have your furnace cleaned, touch up paint, etc.  Those things are worth addressing.
  • Curb appeal  – have the yard cleaned up, edged, plant some nice flowers.
  • Have the house professionally cleaned.

I deal a lot in estate sales.  I would say that for most of those, it is also worthwhile to take up the wall-to-wall carpeting that is covering hardwood floors and, if necessary, refinish the floors.  The impact of how much it transforms the house is worth the expense.  This is fairly easy to do with estate homes as they can be cleared out.  Understandably tough to do this for a house you still occupy.

If selling your home is a few years away, it is worthwhile to have your Realtor come in and walk through the house with you to give you a checklist of those things you can do to prepare your home for sale.  That way you can take your time getting the work done and can enjoy the rewards of getting it done before you go to market.

If you want help with that, just ask!

Michelle J. Lane
MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

Newton Stats – Week of February 12 2018

Comparison of what is on the market this week vs same time last year.  5 fewer properties and slightly lower median price.  We are trending lower inventory overall this year.

 

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

State of the Market – February 2018

by Michelle J. Lane, Realtor

I am writing this on the tail of my post of a couple of weeks ago.  I don’t typically give you updates so frequently, but given it is year end, I have just updated my market report on how the Greater Boston towns have fared over the past few years, through the last slump all the way back to the last peak.  The chart now includes the data for 2017 and can be found by clicking on the image below.

You will notice that most towns have faired well over the past few years, with most having surpassed their pre slump prices.  The towns north of Boston – Somerville, Everett, Malden, and the Boston neighborhoods that had the most room to climb – Mattapan, Dorcester, Chelsea, South Boston, Winthrop have seen the greatest growth. 

I would expect this growth to slow down as interest rates climb.   As I have mentioned in past updates, the real estate market goes in roughly 10 year cycles, where it will climb, level off, come down a bit, then go back up, usually not dipping below the past low.  The last dip we had was in 2012, so it’s been 5 years of growth.  We are due for a leveling off.   The recent increase in interest rates is the start of that.  They have been climbing for a few weeks now and came out today at 4.22% for a conventional 30 year mortgage.    If you want to chat about your home’s value and best time to sell, contact me.

This update is more for the benefit of sellers.  Because of tight inventory, I believe we will still have some growth this spring, but not what we have been seeing.  So, if you are an owner who is thinking of selling, this would be a good year to do so.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

State of the Real Estate Market – Jan 2018

by Michelle J. Lane, Realtor

Housing Value

There are so many topics we can cover in talking about the state of the Real Estate market.  To be succinct, I will briefly cover these three topics.

  1. Tax Reform Bill
  2. Inventory
  3. Interest Rates

Tax Reform

There are many articles out there on the new tax reform bill and how it impacts homeowners.  I wrote one you can find here.  As you probably know, the key changes are that the Mortgage Interest Deduction has been capped to a $750,000 mortgage, down from $1m and that the maximum amount of real estate tax you can deduct is $10,000.  These changes will affect homeowners here in the Greater Boston area.  Today the median home price in Newton is $2,295,000, which would clearly require a mortgage over $750,000 for most people.  Moody’s is estimating that this will cause a 4% loss in home values from where they would have been if the Tax Reform Bill were not in place. 

Inventory

It is early in the year to be able to say where inventories will be for spring, but looking at a snapshot of today compared to the same day over the past 4 years, inventories are remaining low:

Newton Housing Inventory

Interest Rates

Given the Tax Reform Bill reduction in the Mortgage Interest Deduction only affects new mortgages (after Dec 15, 2017), it is possible that sellers will want to hang on to their existing mortgage and stay in their homes, which will further exacerbate inventory shortages.

Are now over 4%.  I expect they will stay there and possibly go up from there.  I say possibly only because rates have defied rate hikes by the Federal Reserve over the last couple of years.  The Fed does expect to make at least two more hikes in 2018. 

In Summary….

Because inventory is still low and people have not yet felt the impact of the Tax Reform Bill, I expect the spring market to still be brisk.  I suspect that the less desirable homes will feel the sting of the changes  by staying on the market longer.  By less desirable, I mean those that need a good deal of updating.  Buyers (who are not builders) are reluctant to buy these.  Once they make their downpayment, they don’t have money left over for updates.  If they have any money left over, they don’t have time to manage the projects, don’t want their children breathing in construction dust, and cannot find contractors to do the work.  

At the entry level prices (in Newton that is around $600K) you will find Buyers who are willing to take on projects in order to get into the city.  However, once you get to prices where they can buy a house  that does not need work, say $800K or more, they would rather get into a bidding war on an updated house than buy a project house.   If you want to know the value of your home, contact us here.

 

Spring Home Sale – Using the Winter Months to get Ready for a Spring Sale

Spring Home Sale

You will likely have seen a lot of good checklists on what to do to get your home ready for a spring home sale.  Most of those, however, focus on general cleanup and staging right before you go on the market. There is a lot to do before you even get to that phase. So below are action items you can start now while you are waiting for the spring selling season. 

Get Rid of Hazardous Waste and Junk in Basements, Attics, and Garages.  This is one of the top stressors sellers encounter as closing date approaches.  Movers won’t take them. And they are impossible to get rid of at the last minute unless you are willing to risk breaking the law and mother nature by tossing them in your regular trash.  Buyers do not want you to leave them behind, so don’t count on that.  If you visit my Seller’s Blog Page on www.michellelanerealtor.com or the www.newtonma.gov web page, you can find more information on how to dispose of hazardous waste and bulky trash items.

Get Rid of Furniture that You won’t be Keeping or Using for Staging. This is another stressor for sellers at the end of the sale process.  Charities who take used furniture will only take furniture in good condition and pickup needs to be planned weeks in advance. If you are not taking the furniture to your next home and your Realtor (me) tells you it is not worthy of being used for staging, then start planning now for it’s removal.  It is especially good to do this BEFORE you touch up paint on the walls.  My team can help you find the charities that will take your unwanted furniture and household items.

If  you are going to Need a Dumpster, Get it Now.  It doesn’t look appealing to buyers who are driving by your house before the first open house to see a dumpster in front of it.  Plus, it is too stressful to be doing all that at the last minute. So best to do this early. 

Inventory the Work that Needs to be Done around the House.  We all get used to the little flaws around our house – screens with holes in them, doors that don’t shut, locks that don’t work, cracks in the walls and windows.  We learn to live with them because they are a nuisance to fix.  The buyers also think they will be a nuisance to fix, so not only will they will call you out on these things, but it will impact their estimation of the value of the property.  

Get a pre-listing Home Inspection.  Clients often ask if they should have a presale inspection and my answer is – it depends.  If you are not going to fix anything the inspector finds, then you may want to get the inspection just so you know what you will have to negotiate post buyer inspection. But if you have no money to make any of the repairs that come from the inspection, knowing everything that’s wrong with your home will mean you are obliged to disclose all those problems to potential Buyers. If you can fix things like asbestos, mold, leaks, malfunctioning mechanicals before a spring home sale, then get an inspection and take care of those things before you put your house on the market.

Get a pre-listing Survey.  Maybe.  Surveys are not cheap – roughly $1,500.  But if you suspect a neighbor’s fence, shed, stone wall is encroaching on your property, better to find out and deal with it now rather than have your sale fall apart.  Plus, Buyers will be psyched to have that survey in case they want to put in a fence or such after moving in.

Look up Permits for Your Home. Once a client signs a contract with me, my team does this for you.  But if you want to get a head start, look up your home with the city to see if there are any open permits.  Buyers will insist that you have them closed out, which may mean bringing in the appropriate contractor.

Line up Contractors. Contractors are notoriously difficult to line up any time of the year, but nearly impossible to pin down in the spring when everyone wants work done.  So, once you have inventoried what needs to be done, start lining up the contractors now while they have the time to come out and give you quotes and get you on their calendar.

Figure Out How Much You Can Afford to Spend on Preparing the Property. And where you will spend it.  Aside from the repairs already mentioned, the biggest bang for the buck is spending the money on:

  1. Spackling and Painting in neutral, modern colors.
  2. Refinishing Floors or Replacing Carpet
  3. Changing Light Fixtures

Lighting makes an incredible difference to how a home looks to potential buyers. I can’t tell you how often people make commentary on lighting and light fixtures in homes on the market. 

Start Collecting Up Boxes.  You will never have enough boxes so start accumulating them now. You can get them from stores, on Facebook Yardsale groups or buy them at UHaul.

Donate Stuff to Charity.  If it is not going with you to the new home and not needed for staging, get it out of the house now.  My team can help you find charities that will take your donations.

Line Up Where You Will Store Extra Stuff While the House is On the Market. Perhaps you have things that you will take to the next house, but they are not necessary for selling this house – extra toys, books, clothes, dishes, etc.  Figure out now where that will be stored – relative’s house, storage unit, POD and line that up now so you are not stressed as the time to list your home approaches.   

Inventory Major Mechanicals and Improvements.  Buyers always ask these questions:

  1. How old is the furnace, hot water heater, roof, windows, etc. Look that up now.
  2. How old are the appliances? Are they under warranty?
  3. If you have an oil furnace, have it serviced. Buyers look for those service tags.
  4. If you made improvements, give your Realtor (me) information on when all those were done.

Dig up Your Paperwork on the House.  Your attorney, your agent and buyers are going to ask a lot of questions, so start digging out the paperwork now: utility bills, tax bills, mortgage details, survey and rental contracts.

Thin out Closets and Storage Areas. Buyers will open your closets.  So, they should look like IKEA closets – sparse and organized.  Same for the kitchen cabinets.  If they are crammed full of stuff, the buyer gets the subliminal message that there is not enough storage in the house.  Which means you will have some packing up to do.  If you have expensive shoes, coats, purses, those should be taken out of the house and stored someplace safe.  If you are still using them, do this as you get closer to listing the house.

Discuss Staging with Your Realtor (me).  An early discussion with your agent on staging will help you determine what to toss and what to keep.  My service is unique in that we offer partial to full staging of the home either free or at a reduced cost, depending on the extent of staging required.  An early discussion will help you know what I can stage for you and thus, what you can pack or toss.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

 

Getting Your Home Ready to Sell – Disposing of Things that Cannot go in Regular Trash Collection

This information is for those of you who live in the City of Newton.  If you don’t live in Newton and want the information for your town, just ask!

There are so many things to do to prepare a home for sale.  Then, once it is under agreement, a whole new set of To-Dos to get ready for closing.  Many home sellers don’t think about disposing of all the stuff they are not taking with them until they are packing to move which causes undue stress and can even hold up a sale.  So, to help those of you who will be selling this spring, the follow is useful information on the disposal of large bulky items and hazardous waste.

Some products which have been considered hazardous in the past can now be disposed of with the regular trash. These include:

  • Alkaline batteries made since 1994 (AAA, AA, C, D and 9 volt)
  • Smoke detectors
  • Latex paint (dried out or with sand or kitty litter to solidify) OR bring usable (less than 3 years old) paint to the Latex Paint Exchange at the Recycling Center
  • Soiled bandages in plastic bags, securely fastened
  • Driveway sealer (latex or oil based, with lid off)

As you may know, the City of Newton will take up to 5 large bulky items (rugs, mattresses, etc.) per week on your normal collection day.  You just need to call by 3:30 on the business day before your collection.  You can schedule online by clicking 311 on the home page.  Or you can call the main number at (617) 796-1000.  You should start doing this weeks before your closing so that you can get everything removed before the day of closing.  Buyers don’t appreciate when there are large pieces of furniture and junk out front on the day of the closing and can even ask you to remove them before closing.

The city does not take construction materials such as cinder blocks, bricks, pieces of wood, old toilets, etc. To dispose of building materials, you would need to rent a dumpster or hire a junk removal company to take the materials away.

They also do not take TVs, Metal or Plastic as part of bulk pickup.  TVs and metal items can be picked up curbside or dropped off at the Recycling Center for a fee which you must pay online in advance.  Appliances can be dropped off for free or picked up curbside for $25 per item. MassSave will pick up working old refrigerators and freezers and give you a $50 rebate!

Large pieces of cardboard, plastic and metal for recycling can be dropped off for free at the Recycling Depot.

Hours and Address of Recycling Center
Monday-Saturday from 7:15am-2:30pm*
Closed on Sundays and Holidays

Located at 115 Rumford Ave, Auburndale, MA 02466 

There are many options for donating household items, clothing, and other useful items.  Too many to name here, so I will provide those in the next blog post.  Feel free to reach out to me if you need that info now.

2018 HAZARDOUS WASTE DAYS

First Saturday of the month and Third Thursday of the month – which are the following dates:

  • February 3rd
  • February 15th
  • March 3rd
  • March 15th
  • April 7th
  • April 19th
  • May 5th
  • May 17th
  • June 2nd
  • June 21st

 

MATERIALS ACCEPTED AT THE RECYCLING CENTER

The full list can be found here –Materials Accepted at the Recycling Center and includes things like paint, items containing mercury, batteries, auto products like oil and outdoor items like pesticides.  Please be a good custodian of mother earth and recycle these items instead of throwing them in the regular trash!

Stay tuned for more blog posts on getting your house ready.  If you are thinking of selling your house and want to go over all the step to get ready, reach out to me and I will be glad to help.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

What the House Tax Proposal Will Mean to Homeowners

By Michelle J. Lane, Realtor

By now, you have heard a lot about the House tax reform proposal (HR.1) and may be wondering how it will impact you as a homeowner and what the real estate industry is doing to protect your interests.  At a high level, those changes are:

  • Mortgage Interest Deduction is capped at a loan balance of $500,000.
  • Real estate tax deduction is capped at $10,000.
  • Tenure for Capital Gains deduction moves up from 2 of the last 5 years to 5 of the last 8.
  • Eliminates the Moving Deduction

How will this impact homeowners in the greater Boston area?

Cap on Mortgage Interest Deduction

Currently, the mortgage interest deduction is capped at a loan balance of $1,100,000. Under the House proposal, the cap would fall to $500,000.  The change applies to future impact future home buyers as the proposal maintains the cap of $1,100,000 on existing homeowners.  This will impact a great percentage of Massachusetts homeowners, particularly those in and around Boston. To make matters worse, the $500,000 cap is not indexed to inflation or home price growth, so over time, more homebuyers will be pushed into this category.  The plan would also limit the mortgage interest deduction to one principal home, ending any deductions for vacation homes.  It also will not allow you to deduct the interest on a home equity line.

Cap on Real Estate Tax Deduction

As drafted, real estate tax deductions are capped at $10,000 and that figure also is not indexed to allow for growing home values or tax rates over time.

Capital Gain Tenure

Currently, to claim the exclusion from capital gains, you must have lived in your house for 2 of the last 5 years.  This has been important to people who rent out their homes during a relocation for example. Under the House plan, a home seller will now have to have lived in the home for 5 of the last 8 years to claim the exclusion from capital gains. This will impact any home owner who sells in less than 5 years after buying their home. Roughly 20% of homeowners sell in 5 years or less due to divorce, relocation, or upsizing their home.  Imagine how this would impact those in the military.

This change would force people to hold onto their homes longer and intensify the low inventory problem.  

In Summary

Aside from these changes directly impacting real estate, the House proposal will eliminate the state and local income tax deduction.  This directly impacts all Massachusetts taxpayers who file a Schedule A for itemized deductions. Combined with the limitations on the real estate tax and mortgage interest deductions, this could push many people out of the ability to file itemized deductions.

To counterbalance these changes, the personal exemption will go from $6,350 to $12,200.  However,  the plan eliminates the deduction for dependents.  For homeowners in the greater Boston area, even with the increased personal exemption, the reduction in itemized deductions will result in a negative financial impact.

The National Association of Realtors (NAR) estimates that the impact of these changes will reduce home values by 10%.

The NAR is taking several actions to address these concerns.  They are spending millions from the dues we Realtors pay to lobby for changes to these provisions that harm home ownership.  NAR is also investing in ad campaigns in many markets to raise awareness.  Lastly, they are asking us Realtors to reach out to our representatives to express our concerns. 

This plan has not yet passed through the Senate, so there is still time for you to get involved. If you wish to reach out to your representatives, you can do that here – Take Action

And, of course, if you have any questions on all these, please ask.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904

Seller Testimonial – Wellesley

Michelle was very supportive and understanding in dealing with a sale of our Mom’s house. Mom is 85 and leaving her home of 58 years so it was a big deal. Michelle also dealt smoothly with two siblings on opposite side of the country. Her communication was responsive, clear and we always felt that she was doing her best for us. There were some ups and downs in finding the right buyer and Michelle kept working her networks to keep us the process which was ultimately successful and we were very pleased with the final price and the overall process. 

Joel Kushner, CA

Are Boomers Responsible for the Housing Inventory Shortage?

The answer is to a degree, but not entirely.  

To clarify my explanations below, when I refer to seniors I am talking about the generation that are mid-70s and older.  Baby Boomers are those in the 52-71 age range.

  1. New England is a bit unique in that people here, particularly the older generation, tend to stay put for many, many years. I specialize in selling homes of seniors and selling estate homes.  It is extremely rare to find an older home owner who willingly leaves their home.  If they move it is because their children have decided it is too dangerous for them to stay in the house alone.  You don’t know how many times I have heard some variation of “they are taking me out of here feet first, my children will be selling the house after I die.”
  2. In the big picture, they don’t think it makes sense for them to sell. One issue is that the value of homes in the greater Boston area has risen so much that if someone who has been in their house for 30,40,50 years sells, they would far surpass the $250K profit limit ($500K for a couple) at which point they would have to pay capital gains taxes. If they keep the house until they pass and leave it to their children, then the basis value of the home resets to whatever the market value is when they died. 
  3. Another issue is that there are very few choices for downsizing. If they are not leaving the state for a warmer climate, most seniors want to stay in the same town to be near their friends, neighbors, doctors, etc. Most of the towns outside of Boston don’t have enough inventory of affordable housing for seniors.  Boomers can’t go far because they are still working and need to be near their jobs.  All of this is compounded by the fact that demand is pushing up the price of houses on the lower end of the market, but not pushing up the price of the seniors’ larger houses commensurately.  I’ll use Newton as an example.  In Newton, a 2000sf 3-bed, 2-bath house in good condition might sell for anywhere in the $900K-$1.3m price range.   The home of a senior that might be in the 3,000-6,000sf range might sell for $1.5m-$1.6m.  Why is that?  Because if a younger person is going to buy a house of that size, they want a new one.  They realize the older homes cost more to maintain, heat, etc.  So particularly, Boomers who are working an can afford their homes, figure they may as well stay put.
  4. Boomers are uniquely nostalgic and resistant to change of their towns. Perhaps because our childhoods were at a time of prosperity for most American families and a time of suburban living with a lot of other children to play with.  The greatest resistance to change appears to come from this generation.  If builders knock down old run-down homes to build the new, big homes  we complain that the city is becoming gentrified.  Or we complain that these houses are not in keeping with the old Ranches, Capes and Split-Entries that proliferated after WWII.  If the city tries to build a higher concentration of affordable rentals, we complain it will bring crime to the city or bring people who are taking resources without contributing.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that if no new inventory is being added and seniors and Boomers aren’t leaving, there will be a inventory shortage.  Think of it like a revolving door and we are the ones with our foot in the door, blocking everyone behind us from moving forward.

While Boomers might be contributing, we are not entirely responsible for the shortage.  Boston is an area fortunate to be flux with high-paying jobs, but with no land left for housing developments. And we are certainly not responsible for the massive influx of foreign nationals buying homes here – with cash in their pocket and the ability to outbid most other home buyers, pushing prices up.  These people are coming here because of the great schools, the strong job market, and the stable housing market.  Several things could happen to change this in the future, but that is discussion for a future post. In the end, it still comes back to the fact that there s no room here to build more inventory unless we build up or in a higher concentration.    

It will be interesting to see what changes the future will bring – perhaps builders will find a way to build large, over 55 communities in or close to the city.  Or they will build houses that will appeal to Boomers who want a big entertaining area, but don’t need or want to pay for 5 bedrooms and 5 bathrooms.   Right now though, there is no profit for builders in creating smaller homes.

One change we all need to watch out for is inflation and rising interest rates.  If Trump succeeds in taxing everything coming into the country and bringing jobs here at a higher pay scale, inflation will follow.  Which is then followed by rising interest rates.  That could have a slowing affect on home purchases, particularly at the entry level.

I’ll expand more on these last few points in future posts as economic events unfold.

Michelle J. Lane

MICHELLE J. LANE, Realtor
Century 21 Commonwealth
CELL: 617 584-3904