A Real Estate Scam that’s Sweeping the Country

I wanted to share with you important information that can protect you from falling victim to a real estate scam. It’s happening to home buyers here in Austin and around the country. In 2016, this type of real estate fraud held 16th place in terms of the number of reported complaints (12,005) but held first place in dollar losses (over $360 million).

Imagine this: After months of searching for a home and doing all the necessary paperwork to secure a loan, your closing date is just days away. You and your family can hardly wait move in. In the middle of last-minute packing, you don’t think twice about an email that appears to be from your Realtor®, lender or title company. The email instructs you to wire the closing fees to a different bank account from the one you were scheduled to use.

You stop what you’re doing to get it done. Inexplicably, you later find out that the title company didn’t receive the funds. Unbeknownst to you, offshore hackers diverted your money into their account. You are shocked. Moreover, if you can’t come up with additional funds, you’re apt to lose the home. Tragically, many buyers don’t know their money is gone until the day of closing.

How the Hackers Work

Hackers typically break into one of the real estate parties’ email accounts. Then they hack into as many of the parties’ email accounts as possible. One by one, they learn the identities of the parties by monitoring the email. Skilled hackers will go undetected because they mimic the conversational styles between the parties. They find out details about your closing and time their requests accordingly.

How to Tell Real from Fake

If you get a request to wire funds from your lender, Realtor®, or title company, regardless of how official the email looks, call to confirm the account number and the name on the receiving end. Sometimes it’s smart to look up the phone number yourself. Don’t call a phone number you don’t recognize. Additionally, after you send money, confirm that the title company received it.

I always tell my buyers to call the title company to verify the exact wiring instructions and never to believe any last minute email instructions on where to send their money.

What to Do if You Get Scammed

You may be able to get back your money if you act quickly. Call your bank immediately. Emphasize that you are a victim of fraud. Tell them to contact the recipient bank to reject the wire transfer as fraudulent.

  1. Report the scam to your regional FBI office. Explain that you’re a home buyer and a target of “email account compromise” in which a hacker instructed you to wire money to a fraudulent account. According to the FBI, the bureau might be able to help return or freeze the money.
  2. File an online complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
  3. File a complaint with the FTC by selecting Scams and Rip-offs, then Impostor Scams.

In conclusion:  It pays to be vigilant at all times.  I make sure that all my clients know about this scam. When working with me in the buying or selling process, you can expect very close monitoring of all email correspondence and the highest level of security.

 

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Should Home Sellers Decorate for the Holidays?

If you’re selling your home during the holidays you may wonder if you should decorate your home, and if so, how. Putting up a few decorations cam help your home feel warm and inviting. If you tend to cover every surface with decorations, you might go for a lighter touch when your home is for sale. Still, it’s worth the time and effort to decorate your home because:

  • People looking at houses during the cold-weather months are serious buyers.
  • The weekends before Christmas and New Year’s tend to have some of the highest traffic of the year. In fact, December 28th is one of the busiest selling days in the entire year according to Realtor.com.
  • There are fewer homes on the market to compete with. Many sellers will wait until after the holidays to list their homes, creating a flooded market and increased competition. (Read more here http://www.goodwin-goodwin.com/winter-home-sales/

My Top Ten tips for Holiday Decorating:

Clean your home thoroughly. Before you decorate, clean your home from top to bottom. Regardless of the time of year, one of the first things buyers notice is the cleanliness of your home

Create a cozy feeling. When buyers walk into your home and feel relaxed, they are more likely to take their time in your home which can lead to an offer. Holiday touches like a bowl of pinecones, an evergreen wreath, or a pot of cider simmering on the stove can create a cozy, festive feeling in your home.

Use natural, seasonal greenery. A real evergreen wreath on the door with a big red bow is tasteful. So is a real Christmas tree, pine garland on the porch or across a fireplace mantel

Curb appeal is still important. This is where the excitement starts for a buyer. So avoid the twinkling, musical or colorful animated characters on the lawn, front porch or the roof. No blow-up Santas or things that deflate during the day.

Don’t eat up square footage. Find a Christmas tree that fits the size of your room – don’t go too big. You don’t want it or the presents underneath taking up valuable floor space and making your home look smaller.

Tasteful decorative lights are fine. Lights inside your home can be cozy and festive. It’s best to use white lights or just a couple colors of lighting and to avoid flashing lights. Don’t use a lot of extension cords if you have a lack of outlets. This can be seen as a negative to buyers.

Don’t display your holiday greeting cards. They can distract buyers and prevents buyers from “seeing” themselves living in your house.

Be wary of displaying presents. The best thing to ensure security is to wrap a few empty boxes, tastefully, and put them under your Christmas tree.

Avoid putting up personalized stockings. You can put up a couple of generic stockings, however, avoid personalized stockings and obscuring your fireplace mantel.

Be an equal-opportunity decorator. Overtly religious decorations may be off-putting to some buyers. Keep neutrality fore-front so you can attract any type of buyer. If you’re not sure what qualifies, ask me!

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My Tips for Buying a Lot and Building a New Home

Are you thinking about building a new home? For many home buyers, building a new home from the ground up is appealing. Understandably so. You’re able to get what you want rather than live with choices the previous owners made. You have control over paint colors, flooring, energy-efficiency and more. In fact, you’ll be able to have a home that completely reflects your lifestyle.

First off, to ensure a great experience building your dream home. take the time to do your homework.  As a Texas REALTOR®, I want to share the following tips to save you time and money.

Determine Your Budget

Before you purchase land, it’s wise to investigate the cost of building on it. Based on my experience, a good rule of thumb is to plan to spend up to 30 percent of your budget on a lot and 70 percent on your actual home. For example, if your budget is:

  • $500K = You should spend up to $150K or less on the land.
  • $1M = You should spend $300K or less on the land.
  • $1.5M = You should spend $450K or less on the land.

The market conditions, the location of the lot and the school district are among the variables that come in to play in deciding whether a lot is right for you. It’s a good time to buy in Austin because of its current and projected growth. You can find out more about Austin here: Austin Stats

Talk to a Realtor®

Find an experienced REALTOR® that knows the area well. A good REALTOR® knows information about the type of soil you’ll find in different areas of the city, the comparable prices of other homes in the neighborhood and the current market conditions. Moreover, they can be a good resource to help you choose a reliable builder.

Vet Your Builder

People frequently get into trouble because they find out too late that the builder they hired is falling short of what was promised. Even though you may pay more, hiring a builder with a strong reputation and references is worth it. Knowing that your builder is responsive to your questions and concerns goes a long way to alleviating stress. There’s nothing more frustrating than having your calls go unanswered when you need information!

Read what happened to a couple who didn’t vet their builder. Home Building Horror Story

Manage your Expectations

Overall, it’s important to have realistic expectations. Custom homes usually take between 6 months to 18 months to build. Why? Because the lot may require additional site work that’s not apparent until the building begins or suppliers run behind or the weather isn’t cooperating. Not to mention easements, zoning laws, property line restrictions and the architecture guidelines and review processes. Moreover, if you’re building a home with your significant other, don’t understand the amount of stress (and joy) this process may create. Keep the end goal forefront in your mind.

In conclusion building a custom home is limited only by your imagination and your budget. With lots of forethought, you’ll make the process an easy one. I’d like to help! Here are my lots for sale My Lots for Sale – and I can show you many more not listed here.

 

 

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The Price Tag for Austin Real Estate with Country Feel and Urban Amenities

Can you picture yourself sipping a glass of wine (or coffee) on your private back deck as you gaze upon natural beauty like big trees, beautiful sunsets and stunning vistas? Would you love to soak in the peace and quiet of country living yet also have easy access to downtown Austin and lots of amenities? A lifestyle in an urban/rural type community can fulfill you on many levels. You can enjoy beautiful surroundings and wildlife with quick access to amenities like restful spas, first-class shopping, new restaurants and fun Austin events.

With this in mind, I’d like to help you with your home search by giving you information about some of the urban-rural type communities in Austin and their current median sales prices.

South Austin Real Estate

The community of Shady Hollow (Zip Codes 78748 & 78739) is surrounded by amenities and is a relatively short drive to downtown Austin. Residents enjoy backyard privacy and a family-friendly community. Moreover, the large oak trees create canopies, giving the community an enchanting feel. The median home prices in Shady Hollow is $384,700. Homes values are predicted to continue rising in 2018.

The town of Buda (78610) is about 15 miles south of Austin. Additionally, it’s one of the fastest growing communities south of Austin. Buda’s proximity to downtown Austin and the Bergstrom International Airport coupled with affordability contribute to its appeal. Home values increased approximately 3.8% over the past year (2017) and are predicted to rise over the next year.  The median price of homes currently listed in Buda is $310,000.

A few miles west of Buda you’ll find the subdivision of Hays Country Oaks. You’ll find homesites with 1.5 to over 7 acres. Prices range from the lower 300’s up to over 1M. Some properties include pastures, stalls, and sheds. In other words, Hays County Oaks provides a true country lifestyle.

I’m currently selling two treed lots in South Austin. One lot is in Buda with a little over an acre of land (MLS #8763733). The second lot is closer to downtown Austin with over .8 of land (MLS #8506921). You can find out more about both lots here: My Lots for Sale

Southwest Austin Real Estate

You’ll find a variety of new and older communities as you drive West on Highway 71. The newer master-planned communities tend to have average size lots (less than .5 of an acre.) With that in mind, they frequently compensate for lot size by offering appealing amenities. For example, master-planned community of Sweetwater (78738) boosts a resort-lifestyle. You’ll have access to the Sweetwater Club, a 10-acre complex full of pools and party spaces, yoga classes and special activities. Moreover, you can explore over 700 acres of hiking and biking trails. Families are attracted to Sweetwater because it’s in the highly-rated Lake Travis School District.  The median home price in Sweetwater is currently $539,000. Personally, I think it’s poised to become one of the most desirable neighborhoods in the area.

Lakeway (78734, 78738) was built around the Lakeway Resort and Spa in the 1970’s. It rests among beautiful rolling hills on the shores of Lake Travis. Years ago I thought of Lakeway as “far-away.” Not so today.  It’s easy to get out there due to the addition of more lanes on Highway 71. You’ll find mature oak trees and incredible views of both the lake and countryside here. Additionally, the schools are well-rated and in the Lake Travis Independent School District. The drive from Lakeway to downtown Austin takes about 30 minutes in non-peak hours. The median price of homes currently listed in Lakeway is $577,450.

Northern Austin Real Estate

Cypress Acres (78641). The subdivision of Cypress Acres is a quiet, lakeside community on the northeast end of Lake Travis. It’s built in the city of Leander, which is growing suburb. To me, this part of the lake feels more rural than the Lakeway community. You’ll find a diverse mix of home styles – from 70’s chic to new construction. The median price of homes currently listed here is $316,990.

I currently have a great waterfront home for sale in Cypress Acres.  You can find out more here: My Waterfront Home for Sale

Anderson Mill/Cedar Park (78750, 78613, 78750). Cedar Park is one of the 20 fastest growing cities in Texas. Its proliferation of parks together with walking trails make it both family and dog-friendly. Cedar Park’s location provides ample opportunities to attend concerts, events, and other experience in downtown Austin area. Overall, you’ll find a mixture of homes built in the early 80’s as well as newer, master-planned communities. The median home price is currently $307,990.

Note: Northwest Austin is very attractive because of shopping, restaurants, hotels and proximity to several high-tech companies. It continues to attact new residents which means more traffic. The commute to downtown can take 45 minutes during peak weekday hours.

Central Austin, the closest country-feel to downtown Austin

West Lake Hills and Rollingwood (78746)  are communities widely known for stunning luxury homes to say nothing of the dramatic landscape, wildlife and desirable location. You’ll find small-town charm along with the convenience of easy access to downtown Austin. A friend and former West Lake resident told me she used to hand-feed deer outside her front door, take her dogs for a walk around the lake less than five minutes away and be in downtown Austin in less than 10 minutes.

The neighborhood grew up in the 1970’s and 1980’s on some of Austin’s most exclusive real estate. These communities are centrally located just minutes from downtown Austin and close to many highways that make traveling anywhere in the city a breeze. You can easily access the Barton Creek Wilderness Park, Red Bud Isle, the Barton Creek Greenbelt, Zilker Park, and the Lions Municipal Golf Course. Additionally, the award-winning Eanes ISD is a top draw for families.

Needless to say, the price tags for these coveted homes are some of the highest in Austin.  The median selling price in Westlake and Rollingwood is 1.3M.

In Conclusion

Although this is a relatively small list of neighborhoods, it can give you a lot to think about. Maybe you’re just starting your search or maybe you’re a little further along with. Regardless of where you are in the process, I can help.

If you want more information about:

  • Price per square foot in different areas
  • Future road improvements and development
  • How to find the best deals in the Austin market
  • And more!

I am available anytime to talk with you and help you succeed in finding your dream home!

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The Benefits of Winter Home Sales

I’d like to talk to you today about one of the most significant decisions you can make in real estate – when to put your home on the market or, in turn, to look for a new home.  You may have heard the conventional advice – wait until spring to buy or sell your home. However, winter home sales have unique benefits. In light of Austin’s popularity and amenities, its luster doesn’t dull in the winter. The home itself, its location to schools and work and the desirability of the city are important and don’t change. As a broker and sales agent, I’ve helped many clients over the years with winter home sales.

The following are some of the key benefits to winter real estate sales.

For Sellers

1 -Less competition. You’ll find most real estate markets flooded with new listings in the spring.  In the spring you may be one of a sea of listings in your neighborhood while in winter you may be the sole listing. Buyers may be better able to appreciate your home and focus on the positive aspects which can induce an offer sooner than you might think.

2- Great weather. Austin winters are temperate. For buyers seeking to escape icy winters, there’s no better marketing than the experience of mild and sunny days while touring homes.

3- A faster sale. Many buyers want to get moved-in before the holidays so they can enjoy their new home and enjoy the season with friends and family.

4- Unique home appeal. The glow of tasteful holiday lights and colorful decorations can uniquely showcase your home. Because buying a home is a mostly emotional experience, creating sparkle and comfort can attract and motivate buyers.

For Buyers

1- Motivated Sellers. Fewer buyers are out in the winter so sellers are usually more motivated to work with you on price and other details of the sale. If you are looking to put in a contingent offer, this can be a good time for it.  You can read more about contingent contracts here: http://www.goodwin-goodwin.com/contingent-contracts-austin/

2- More time to look. You may have the luxury of paid days off giving you more time to focus on your home search without work distractions.

3- Attention from others.  You’ll enjoy more attention from the people that make the deal come together. Loan officers, home inspectors, moving companies and others can generally give you more attention and are more responsive to your questions.

4- Tax Advantages.  Some owners want to take advantage of selling their homes before the year ends to improve their tax situation. That makes them motivated to sell and willing to negotiate.

In Conclusion

In the final analysis, winter homes sales can be even more satisfying than other times of the year. If you want to find out more about how I can help you (in any season) with your real estate needs, please call or email me. I look forward to exploring the best options for you!

 

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Can Contingent Contracts Work in Austin’s Real Estate Market?

kitchenWhen you are both buying and selling a home, oftentimes you will want to have the proceeds from the sale of your current residence as the down payment for the next home. Making that work requires a Contingency – you will close on the purchase contingent of the closing of the sale. In the hot market we have in Austin, contingent sales are sometimes impossible to negotiate, but not always. It all depends on the agent’s ability to handle these types of transactions as well as the specifics of the homes being bought and sold. For example, a home that is in a highly desirable neighborhood where there is low inventory, priced within the average price range or below, and in excellent condition, is likely to receive multiple offers and a contingent offer is likely to be disregarded, unless the agent does an incredible job negotiating. However, a home that is in a desirable neighborhood but with higher inventory, priced on the high end and maybe not in perfect condition, that seller may not receive multiple offers and therefore might be more likely to accept a contingency. The buyer agent’s job in any of these situations is to provide good written data showing the contingency is low risk for the seller, and therefore should be accepted. Home builders are also often willing to make a home purchase contingent on a sale, but each builder and each community will have different stipulations. Having an experienced agent on your side can make a huge difference when you are moving.

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REALTORS® comment on paint colors for 2017

interior-colors-gray-tones2When selling your home, what color should you use to paint the walls if it’s time for an update? I just read an article about grays going out in 2017, and greens and subtle blues taking over. The original article was posted on a UK blog, and was picked up by Inman News. Sometimes I find the comments after an article just as interesting as the article itself. In this case, most of the Realtors who commented said they are still using grays for walls, with accent colors.  A favorite shade of gray is called “Agreeable Beige” – ironic! Personally, in the Austin real estate market, I am still seeing a lot of gray tones. And when I take buyers into homes with the tans / earth tones, they don’t react favorably. So, at least for now, I’d still advise going with a light gray, possible Agreeable Beige!

Now for something really interesting, one of the Realtors commented that he is working on a paint fillable wall. Ever heard of that? I hadn’t. He says you can change the colors daily with the press of a button. Too much? Well, for those who are undecided, what fun! Maybe it will be the invention that a decade from now we all say, “I should have thought of that.” Or maybe not.

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