MONEY selling a home

5 Ways to Deal With the Eyesore Next Door

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Stephan Zabel—Getty Images

Don’t let the neighborhood eyesore put your home sale at risk — take action with these 5 tips.

You’re almost ready to put your house on the market when you realize it: The neighborhood eyesore is going to pose a problem.

Sure, we know some people might view any attempts to hide an eyesore from view as being underhanded, sneaky, and designed to fool unsuspecting buyers. They might envision unscrupulous sellers and agents who keep their fingers crossed, just hoping no one spots the eyesore next door.

If you feel that way, by all means, point out the junkyard behind you that’s worthy of American Pickers, the yard next door that looks more like a prairie than a lawn, or the bail bonds sign spray-painted on the wall across the street.

For the rest of us, here are five ways to resolve these eyesore neighbor homes so that would-be buyers won’t be scared off. And who knows? Maybe if you tackle these unsavory sights, you’ll decide not to sell your home after all.

1. Ask your neighbor to fix the problem

This solution can be tricky. There’s really no easy way to tell someone that his or her house is the neighborhood eyesore. But there are some methods that might help.

“Just writing a friendly note (dropped off with a bottle of wine or another small gift) can sometimes do the trick,” says Ross Anthony, a San Diego real estate agent.

It also can’t hurt to mention to your neighbor that the more your home sells for, the more his or her home will be worth.

2. Be neighborly

You know how people can become desensitized to certain smells? (“How did you know I had a cat?”) Well, people can become so accustomed to the condition of their house that they don’t notice when it looks run-down.

This sometimes happens with elderly homeowners: either they haven’t realized the condition of their home or they simply can’t manage the upkeep. You might think a condo or townhouse situation might better suit your overwhelmed neighbor, but steer clear of that suggestion.

Instead, offer to spruce up the house yourself. “If it is an elderly person, I offer to help,” says Sarah Bentley Pearson, an Atlanta real estate agent.

But it’s not just elderly neighbors with houses that could benefit from a little TLC — just think of all the work you did to get your house in selling shape!

Alexander Ruggie of 911 Restoration in Los Angeles says that if the next-door neighbor has a poor paint job, a wobbly fence, or a caved-in garage, there’s no reason you can’t offer to help fix the problem. “Most people would be surprised how much they can convince people to do when they offer to help do it.”

3. Notify your HOA

If you live in a community with a homeowners’ association (HOA), let it know about the unkempt house near you. One of the main reasons HOAs exist is to prevent homes in the neighborhood from becoming eyesores that could drive down the value of your home.

Your HOA might send a letter to the offending neighbor warning him or her to fix the problem or face fines. Or the HOA might take care of the problem and then bill the homeowner.

4. Call the city

If your neighbor won’t mow his or her lawn, get rid of the junk outside, or let you help tidy up, you can always call your local government.

“If there is a really bad problem, like the grass is a foot tall and there are junk cars on the front lawn, your neighbors are probably in violation of local codes and can be forced to clean up,” says John Z. Wetmore, producer of the TV show Perils for Pedestrians.

Do this well in advance of putting your house on the market. The city could give your neighbor up to 90 days to meet housing codes.

Wetmore also suggests that you “walk around the block and pick up any litter along the public streets and sidewalks.”

If the house is a bank-owned foreclosure, find out which bank owns the property by checking county title records. Insist the bank maintain the property.

5. Plant view-blocking trees or install a fence

It might be worth the investment to block an unsavory view. If you plant trees, choose ones that are at least 6 feet tall to give you an immediate sense of privacy. Privacy fences should also be 6 feet high.

If your neighbors are noisy, putting in a small waterfall can drown out the racket.

“You only have one first impression,” says Ross Anthony. “You want potential buyers to fall in love with your home before writing it off due to an unkempt neighboring property.”

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MONEY home ownership

Homeownership Hits Another Record Low

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Alamy

Still can't afford a home? You've got company

For millions of young Americans the dream of ownership may be farther away than ever.

A decade after the housing bubble collapsed, America’s home ownership rate is still dropping, according to a new survey by Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Just 63.7% of American households owned their own homes in the first quarter, researchers found. That ratio is the result of 10 consecutive years of declines since nearly 70% of Americans called themselves homeowners in 2004.

What gives? Despite a bull market and improving jobs picture, many of America’s would-be home buyers—Gen Xers in their 30s and 40s and twenty-something millennials—are still trying to get out from under the financial burdens imposed by the recession.

Most Gen Xers were just buying their first homes or getting ready to trade up when housing prices peaked in 2006. As a result, they had the smallest financial cushion when the recession hit. Unable to make mortgage payments, many were forced to rent again. Today homeownership rates for this age group has fallen to a level “not seen since the 1960s,” the study found.

While Millennials didn’t fall into that trap, they’ve faced their own hurdles. The influx of older renters has pushed up what landlords can charge, making it harder for would-be first time home buyers to scrape together money for a down payment. Over the past decade, the percentage of young renters age 25 to 34 facing a “cost burden”—meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing—has jumped to 46% from 40%.

What can improve the situation? On a policy level the researchers call for loosening lending standards, such as offering loans to borrowers with smaller down payments or lower credit scores. Of course, given that was a big part of what got us into the housing mess in the first place, that seems like a ticklish proposition.

A better bet may be that the economy will bail us out, with a slowly improving employment situation boosting incomes. One thing that hasn’t changed: Young Americans still want to own homes. Among renters in their 20s and 30s, more than 90% hope to buy a home eventually, according to a Fannie Mae survey cited by the authors.

 

 

 

 

 

TIME Australia

The Largest Private Tract of Land on Earth Is For Sale in Australia

Workers from the Anna Creek cattle station take a
William West—AFP/Getty Images Workers from the Anna Creek cattle station take a break on the Oodnadatta Track in outback South Australia as they start the mustering of cattle by motorbike and plane on June 20, 2000

The area is nearly the size of New Hampshire

Fancy a backyard so big it takes an entire week flying around in a plane to see the whole thing? Yes, you could be the owner of the largest private tract of land on earth after the Australian Kidman family decided to sell their 11 million hectare (8,800 square mile) cattle kingdom in the Australian outback.

S. Kidman and Co, the eighth-largest landholder in the world, has shortlisted 30 bidders from around Australia, as well as from the U.S., Switzerland, the U.K., China and Indonesia, for the sale, the Independent reports.

The Kidman family, which owns 98% of its namesake company, are the fifth generation descendants of Sidney Kidman, who despite running away from home at a young age managed to start a business that today produces 1.3% of all Australia’s beef. (The family is unrelated to Australian actress Nicole Kidman.)

The value of the various cattle stations that make up the Kidman empire, as well as the property itself, is estimated at $325 million. The sale, which is expected to net more than that, will be finalized after each bidder completes the requisite week-long property inspection.

[Independent]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Is the Caffeine Capital of America

Here are the places in the U.S. with the most coffee lovers

Everyone knows that America doesn’t run on patriotism and hard work—it runs on caffeine. When Starbucks baristas spell your name wrong, it’s a harbinger of bad luck for the rest of your day; if your hands and mouth don’t suffer from spilled-coffee burns on a weekly basis, you’re not doing it right.

It seems like wherever you go around the country, one thing is for certain: you’ll undoubtedly be able to get your fix and be on your way. In fact, according to the National Coffee Association’s 2013 online survey, 83% of U.S. adults drink coffee, averaging three cups a day per person.

But, of course, some cities are much more wired than others. Out of many buzzing contenders, FindTheHome collaborated with FindTheCompany, to identify the cities in California with the most coffee shops per capita. The competition was intense, but only one city was crowned the beating heart that keeps the American dream…awake.

28. Boulder, CO

Cafés per 10K people: 10.86
Population: 100,363

27. Pasadena, CA

Cafés per 10K people: 10.87
Population: 138,004

26. Bend, OR

Cafés per 10K people: 10.88
Population: 78,128

25. West Palm Beach, FL

Cafés per 10K people: 10.91
Population: 100,778

24. San Rafael, CA

Cafés per 10K people: 11
Population: 58,162

23. Jupiter, FL

Cafés per 10K people: 11.03
Population: 56,219

22. Redmond, WA

Cafés per 10K people: 11.17
Population: 55,505

21. Palo Alto, CA

Cafés per 10K people: 11.19
Population: 65,234

20. Hoboken, NJ

Cafés per 10K people: 11.19
Population: 50,929

19. Fort Lauderdale, FL

Cafés per 10K people: 11.21
Population: 168,603

18. Miami, FL

Cafés per 10K people: 11.61
Population: 407,526

17. Berkeley, CA

Cafés per 10K people: 11.75
Population: 114,037

16. Portland, OR

Cafés per 10K people: 11.80
Population: 594,687

15. Asheville, NC

Cafés per 10K people: 11.89
Population: 84,883

14. Brookline, MA

Cafés per 10K people: 11.92
Population: 58,738

13. Hialeah, FL

Cafés per 10K people: 12.45
Population: 228,943

12. Portland, ME

Cafés per 10K people: 12.53
Population: 66,227

11. Cambridge, MA

Cafés per 10K people: 12.58
Population: 105,737

10. Kendall, FL

Cafés per 10K people: 13.37
Population: 77,018

9. Santa Fe, NM

Cafés per 10K people: 13.95
Population: 68,800

8. Newport Beach, CA

Cafés per 10K people: 14.07
Population: 86,001

7. Delray Beach, FL

Cafés per 10K people: 14.22
Population: 61,875

6. San Francisco, CA

Cafés per 10K people: 14.69
Population: 817,501

5. Sarasota, FL

Cafés per 10K people: 14.83
Population: 52,588

4. Seattle, WA

Cafés per 10K people: 15.01
Population: 624,681

3. Santa Monica, CA

Cafés per 10K people: 15.87
Population: 90,752

2. Boca Raton, FL

Cafés per 10K people: 16.15
Population: 86,671

1. Miami Beach, FL

Cafés per 10K people: 21.70
Population: 89,412

This article originally appeared on FindTheBest

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TIME World

This Is How You Can Own an Italian Vacation Home for Free

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Tiziana Fabi—AFP/Getty Images A man walks in the center of the village of Gangi, 120 kms from Palermo, on August 14, 2014

But there's a catch (naturally)

In a move straight out of your European daydreams, the Sicilian mountain village of Gangi is giving away for free or at a steep discount many of the houses that line its ancient stone streets.

But there’s a catch, the New York Times reports. Anyone who takes the 13th century village up on its offer of a house has only a few years to restore it, and the buildings are often long abandoned and in advanced states of decay, requiring extremely costly renovations in order to become habitable.

Starting in the 1890s, Gangi experienced mass emigration, with much of its population leaving for the U.S. or Argentina. In the 1950s, the village had 16,000 residents, the town’s Mayor Giuseppe Ferrarello told the Times. Today the population is less than half that.

The result was a glut of empty homes, many of them traditional structures that hosted farm animals on the bottom floors and the family on the top. Their history and charm has lured interest from as close as Palermo and as far as Abu Dhabi.

There’s now a lengthy waiting list, allowing the village to choose applicants that will add something to the town. One Florence-based company, for example, acquired two free houses, and bought seven more. It plans on joining them together to make a hotel with historical character.

It’s all for the love of the town and its future. “We want our children to stay here and not leave,” Ferrarello said.

[NYT]

TIME China

Who Wants a Dream American Home? The Chinese, Of Course

Hongbin Wei
Ted S. Warren—AP Janie Lee, left, a residential specialist with John L. Scott Real Estate, shows a home for sale to her client, Hongbin Wei, of Beijing, China, Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Medina, Wash., near Seattle

The West Coast remains a favorite choice for Chinese investors

China’s President Xi Jinping is peddling the notion of a Chinese Dream. Apparently that vision may include a suburban home in California. For the first time ever in percentage terms, Chinese investors snapped up more American residential real estate than any other group of international buyers.

From March 2014 through March 2015, Chinese investors purchased $28.6 billion worth of single-family houses and condominiums in the U.S., according to the National Association of Realtors. Canadians, who had held top spot in percentage terms since 2008, have now been bumped to second place at $11.2 billion, while Indians rounded out the top three at $7.9 billion. In percentage terms, Chinese purchases made up 16% of foreign U.S. home transactions, Canadians 14% and Indians 8%. (The National Association of Realtors lumps together Hong Kong and Taiwan residents with mainland Chinese.)

Only 4% of American homes were bought by foreigners but it is a lucrative market. Non-Americans typically spend nearly double the average American home price of $255,600. Chinese purchasers lay down even more cash — shelling out an average of $831,800 per home. However, due in part to the strengthening U.S. dollar, the overall transaction rate of foreigners buying U.S. homes contracted by 10%, compared with the year before.

Why are Chinese enamored with American property? For one thing, Chinese real estate is so pricey in certain cities that $831,800 for an American manse may look like a good deal. For another, rich Chinese are increasingly looking to move their money and families out of China, either because of economic and political uncertainties or concerns about the social and health environment back home.

A survey released last year by Barclays bank found that nearly half of the 2,000-plus Chinese millionaires it polled planned to move overseas within five years. Last fiscal year, Chinese applicants snapped up every U.S. EB-5 investor visa on offer to them, prompting the American government to suspend the program for that nationality. (EB-5 visas require at least a $500,000 commitment from immigrants, in exchange for an eventual U.S. green card.) Around 300,000 Chinese students now study in the U.S. Still, proximity to China is valued. The National Association of Realtors noted that California was a favored locale for Chinese looking for their dream American home.

MONEY home improvement

5 Home Upgrades That Just Aren’t Worth It

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Nick David—Getty Images You might be able to recoup the cost of a kitchen backsplash, but the specific type of tile won't matter as much to buyers.

You may love your new pool, sunroom or kitchen tile, but none are likely to drastically increase your home’s overall value.

Myth: All upgrades will add value to your home.

Fact: You may never recoup the full cost of some home upgrades.

If you’re hoping to increase your home’s value (above and beyond the cost of an upgrade itself), you should know that some updates that are valuable to you may not be valuable to potential buyers.

Here are five of the most common upgrades that cause homeowners to lose money.

1. Putting in a pool

Pools can be hit-or-miss when it comes to added value. You may see some return, but often it’s not enough to pay for the pool itself.

In fact, adding a pool to your home could be a major turnoff to some buyers. Buyers with small children may be concerned about safety risks, those looking for a low-maintenance yard won’t want to deal with the hassle and upkeep of cleaning a pool, and buyers who are on a tight budget may not have the extra cash to deal with the added expense.

If you live in a warm-weather climate where people are inclined to use a pool year-round, you’re more likely to get a favorable response from buyers.

If you’re looking to add a pool, don’t forget that you’ll need to operate and maintain the pool yourself, and this comes with a sizable extra cost. Your likelihood of recouping the money you spent on maintenance, in addition to the installation costs, is pretty low.

2. Highly custom design decisions

Your idea of a dream kitchen probably isn’t everyone’s idea of a dream kitchen. Unless you plan to stay in your house for many years to come, think twice about renovations that are too personalized.

If you install a kitchen backsplash, you might recoup the cost, because the difference between “no backsplash” and “backsplash” is noticeable. But the specific type of tile might not matter to buyers. Similarly, choosing a beveled countertop edge that’s complex and ornate, rather than a basic beveled edge, can turn off buyers whose tastes don’t align with yours.

In fact, these custom features may wind up costing you come listing time, as many buyers will factor in the money they’ll need to spend to change the house to suit their own tastes. If you’re going to upgrade your kitchen just for the sake of selling, stick with neutral, builder-grade design decisions.

3. Room conversions

Buyers will be looking for certain basic staples when they tour your home: typically, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a garage. Getting rid of these expected spaces (or altering them into something unusual) may harm your resale value.

Every bedroom, for instance, is coveted space that can bump your listing up into the next bracket. Buyers are looking for a two-bedroom, three-bedroom, or four-or-more-bedroom home.

You might not need that extra room and dream of knocking down a wall to create a giant walk-in closet. Or perhaps you’d prefer to cover the walls with soundproof foam and convert it into a recording studio.

Unfortunately, most buyers likely won’t share your interests. Instead, they prefer an extra bedroom for children or guests.

4. Incremental square footage gains

Sizable square footage gains — like finishing your dingy basement so it becomes an additional livable floor — can be a boon in buyers’ minds. But tiny, incremental changes may not give you much of a return on your investment. (You may love your new sunroom, but it’s not likely to drastically increase your home’s overall value.)

Adding square footage in a way that doesn’t flow well with the floor plan can also backfire. Sure, a half bath on the first floor would be useful, but if buyers have to pass through the kitchen to get to it, the half bath loses some of its appeal.

5. Overimproving

No one wants to buy a megamansion on a block full of split-levels. When your upgrades feel overboard for your neighborhood, you alienate buyers on two fronts: buyers who are drawn to your neighborhood won’t be able to afford your home, and buyers who can afford a home of your caliber will prefer to be in a ritzier area.

Keep the “base level” of your neighborhood in mind. Tour some open houses on your block to see how your neighbors’ kitchens look before you invest a small fortune in granite countertops and high-end fixtures. Being a little nicer than the other houses around you can be a selling point, but being vastly more luxurious is not.

Pursue these upgrades for your own enjoyment — but don’t trick yourself into believing you’ll more than recoup the cost of the improvement in the form of additional home value. You can always opt for the projects that have the best potential to draw in a buyer instead!

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MONEY

America’s Total Net Worth Just Hit a Record High

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PM Images—Getty Images

But that doesn't mean the average American is growing wealthier.

U.S. households saw their total net worth rise to a record level of $84.9 trillion in the first quarter of this year, the Federal Reserve reported Thursday. That’s compared to $80.3 trillion a year ago.

But this raw figure—which includes all assets including homes and stocks, minus debts—doesn’t tell you much about how the average American is doing.

It doesn’t account for inflation, or for the way wealth is distributed among different households.

Other data have been showing that most people in the U.S. have actually seen both their income and net worth decline, in inflation adjusted terms, in recent years. Gains have been concentrated among the wealthiest Americans.

In fact, the wealth gap between the rich and the merely middle-class is at a 30-year high, according to a recent Pew study. And once you account for the fact that most people have their net worth tied up in their homes, it becomes clearer why many Americans don’t have enough money for retirement.

Still, a more meaningful measure in the number released by the Fed today shows that there is promise for the economy. The ratio of household net worth to personal disposable income has risen to 639% from 629% a year ago, signaling that—at least in the aggregate—people might soon be ready to start spending more.

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