Oct. 27, 2020

Halloween Fun This Weekend

Trick or Treat at Ironstone Farm in Andover - Saturday from 4-7 pm.  There will be pony rides and photos and of course, candy!  Wear your costumes and you may win a prize. Sign Up Here

 

In a Murderous mood?  Murder By Moonlight at the Stevens Estate in North Andover is a murder mystery dinner (in a heated tent, with dining restrictions/Covid spacing) with a vintage theme.  Both children and adults are welcome, adults only at the second seating.  There will also be haunted gardens and a spooky mansion. Limited tickets, limited seating.   Get Tickets Here

 

The ACE Scarecrow Festival in Downtown Andover.  Take a walk through town and check out all the unique scarecrows, take part in a fun scavenger hunt and patronize our local small businesses while supporting the Andover Coalition for Education.  Through Saturday. For More Info Click Here

 

Boston Lights - A Lantern Experience at the Franklin Park Zoo through Nov 1, advance are tickets required with limited admissions.  Additional Information

 

Cookies, free cookies!  Celebrate with the Cookie Monstah food truck.  Kids who go in costume get a free cookie.  The trucks will be parked at 75 Newbury Street (Rte. 1 North) in Danvers from 12-6 and from 12-10 pm at the Burlington Mall, 76 Mall Road.

 

Halloween Story Walk, Lexington.  A COVID-conscious and stroller-friendly Halloween Story Walk! This free walk requires no tickets and takes place every day through 10/31 from 12 – 5 pm.  Pages of "Room on the Broom" will be set up on a 0.4 mile loop. Enter from Worthen Road, across from Lexington High.

 

Bubble's Mobile Halloween Parade in Andover at The Learning Experience, 161 River Road.  Get your Halloween costumes on and stop by for a special Halloween treat from the safety of your own vehicle. From 10-12 on Saturday.

 

Sunday from 5-6 pm take part in the All Saints Lantern Walk around West Parish Cemetery.  Bring your own lantern or will be provided.  All ages are welcome to enjoy the beautiful cemetery in the dark of the spooky season!  Register Here

 

Take a ride to see several houses lit up like crazy on Old Coach Road in Salem NH.  Enjoy some scary and not-so-scary decorations from the safety of your car!

 

Trick or Treating in Andover and North Andover on Saturday from 5-7 pm

 

Posted in Weekend Fun
Oct. 21, 2020

Fall Home Maintenance Tips

Take Some Time to Be Sure Your Home is Ready for the Coming Months

 

Schedule an HVAC call

Don’t wait until the first bitterly cold day to finally turn on your furnace. If you have any issues, you’ll want to know before the bitter cold weather appears.  Pay attention to any strange odors or unusual noises coming from your furnace, so you can let the service technician know.  And be sure to replace your furnace filter every 3 months.

Check for air leaks

Lower temperatures mean higher thermostat settings, and we all have felt the pain of opening a heating bill in the dead of winter!  Check all of your windows and doors for air leaks.  It’s pretty easy to fix leaky doors and windows by caulking around gaps, adding or updating the weather-stripping, and using foam sealant.  Local utility companies also offer free energy audits and provide free or low cost materials and installation.

Have the chimney cleaned

If you have a fireplace, fall is a great time to give it a thorough cleaning and inspection – before you start using it frequently throughout the cold weather and holidays.  A professional chimney sweep will remove creosote (which contains tar and toxins) and will reduce the risk of a fire.

Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

We’ve all seen the news stories each winter about a tragic death due to carbon monoxide detectors not working.  It’s easy to forget about smoke and carbon monoxide detectors with everything else going on in your life - but they will save your life!  Be sure to test all of your detectors, and replace any that are more than 10 years old. 

Run ceiling fans in reverse

Did you know you can reverse the direction of ceiling fans?  Reversing the direction of your ceiling fans helps circulate warm air near the ceiling back into your living space, helping to reduce heating costs.

Clean gutters and downspouts

Remove leaves, sticks and other debris from your gutters and downspouts (or call in a pro to do it).  If gutters aren’t clear it can result in rain and melting snow not being able to drain easily, which can cause seepage and leaks into your home. 

Disconnect and empty garden hoses

Disconnect hoses and let them drain on an angle.  Once the hose is empty, coil it up and pack it away for the season.  A frozen hose can cause the water inside the wall to freeze and burst, or cause ice to build on a garage floor, causing a slipping hazard.

Put away summer garden equipment

If you won’t use it until spring, then don’t leave equipment outside.  Not only might items rust or rot, they might also become buried in snow and become an unseen hazard.  While you’re at it, be sure your snow blower is ready to work.  The snow could start flying at any time!

 

Posted in General Info
Oct. 8, 2020

Getting Rid of Cigarette Odors in a Home

“Eeeeew, it smells like smoke in here!”  Or maybe, “Why is there such a strong air freshener smell, what are they trying to cover up?”  

Those are NOT the words you want to say when you are looking for a house, or the words you want to hear when you’re selling your house!  So what can you do to rid a house of lingering tobacco odors?  It won’t necessarily be easy, depending upon how badly the odors have seeped into HVAC systems, fabrics, walls and ceilings.  But you CAN eliminate the odors, much of them by yourself.

Wash walls and ceilings.  Use a 3:1 vinegar-water mixture or trisodium phosphate (TSP).  Ceilings are often the place that gets the worst smoke smell, since cigarette smoke travels upward and collects on the surface of the ceiling.  TSP is a strong general purpose cleaning product that is good at removing smoke smells and stains.

Paint.  If washing doesn't eliminate the smell from walls and ceilings, then your next best bet is to repaint them.  Use a product like Kilz, which is an odor-neutralizing primer that seals in the smell.  Without such a primer, the smell will eventually seep back through the paint.

Change lightbulbs.  Sometimes we don’t think to dust lightbulbs!   Odor-laden dust can stick to lightbulbs as they get hot, resulting in dispersal of odor.  

Clean windows and blinds. Windows and blinds can retain a smoky film that emits odor when they're warmed by sun, so give them a thorough washing.  Blinds can also be washed with vinegar or TSP.  Consider replacing blinds if they are not custom made.

Wash curtains and drapes.  Fabric tends to hold onto the smoke smell, so you'll probably need to clean all the window treatments. Depending on the fabric, some can be washed in the washing machine, while others have to be steam cleaned or dry-cleaned.  You can also hire a professional cleaner. 

Clean floors and carpets.  Deodorizing carpet cleaning products with baking soda will often get rid of odors. If that doesn't work, hire a professional to steam clean them.  For wood or tile, a normal cleaning with the recommended cleaner should do the trick.

HVAC system. Have a professional air duct and evaporator coil cleaning, as the odor can permeate the coil and then send the smell through the ductwork.   Change the filter on your HVAC unit every 30-45 days (normally you would change the filter every 6 months).  You may also want to consider getting an indoor air filter with a HEPA filter and charcoal odor pre-filter. A dehumidifier can reduce smoke smell in humid weather.  A bonus if your heating system is in a basement – a dehumidifier reduces humidity levels and reduces chances of mold growth.

 

Posted in General Info
Sept. 23, 2020

Advice for Seniors Thinking About Selling Their Home

Whatever the reason for selling a home, and whatever phase of life a seller is in, it can be stressful.    When you’re a senior citizen, particularly one who has lived in a home for many years, the thought of selling can be daunting.  Your home may need some upgrades and updates to compete in the current market and offer the amenities that buyers are insisting upon.  There may be repairs that should be done prior to listing the home.  Here are some tips to keep in mind to help get your home sold quickly, at a great price, while avoiding as many bumps in the road as possible!

Top on the List - Work with a Real Estate Agent!

Work with a local real estate agent who comes highly recommended by friends, family or neighbors.  If you’ve lived in the same place for many years, you likely have seen For Sale and Sold signs for the same agent or two over and over again.  That’s because they have the pulse of the market and the knowledge of the area to get your house sold.  There are many agents who come and go or who sell only a couple properties a year.  You want someone who can show you market trends and current home values, and negotiate strongly on your behalf.  Don’t trust your most important transaction to someone who isn’t top notch in the business.  You don’t want to be left sweating the details; that’s our job!

The Carroll Group is well prepared with an extensive team of professionals who can help get your home in tip-top shape before it hits the market! 

1.  Determine Your Goals

Emotions are always heightened when you are selling a home, particularly one that has been your home for many years.  Saying goodbye to all those memories can be difficult.   Be sure you looking at the long term benefits of moving, and are ready to sell your home with no regrets.   Work with your agent to establish your end goal.  Do you want to downsize to a condo?  Are you looking into Senior Housing options such as 55+ developments or Assisted Living complexes?  Are you going to move in with family?  Do you want to stay local or move to another state?  We can help you explore your options and determine the best course of action.  

2.  Start Small for Big Returns

Make small repairs where needed.  We will walk through your home to find the items that should be addressed prior to listing.  One of the biggest obstacles for seniors who are selling homes is that buyers may consider these homes a “fixer upper.”  To head off that impression, do those small deferred maintenance type jobs that you may have put off.  Replace a leaking faucet, patch holes in the drywall where something was once hanging, have the furnace serviced, replace missing screens and install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that are up to current code requirements.  These are small things, but if they aren’t done they can look like big red flags to buyers.  We have professionals on our team who can make these repairs for you. 

3.  Declutter, Depersonalize – and Consider Staging

There is nothing more disappointing for buyers than to walk into a home full of family photos, collectibles and so much furniture that it is overwhelming to the senses and makes it impossible to see the bones of the home. Get rid of that clutter now!  Ask friends and family if there are items they would like to have, then we will get to work!  We can help you with sorting through your “stuff” to determine what to keep, what to donate, what to sell and what to toss.  Our staging team can quickly assess what will make your home look clean, fresh and current.  They do everything from sorting your items to painting, replacing flooring, changing countertops and more!  They will suggest a variety of options and price points so you can decide how much or how little you’d like to have done.

4.  Curb Appeal Makes a First - and Lasting - Impression

Curb appeal has a major impact on buyers’ opinions of your home and its condition.  If your home is appealing from the street, buyers will be more interested in what’s inside!  Outdated and overgrown shrubs and plantings can be an immediate turn off, so make sure everything is neatly trimmed and away from the foundation.  Some new mulch and a freshly painted front door and shutters – and a pot or two of flowers near the entry – will go a long way.

5.  Beware of Those Who Will Take Advantage of You

Seniors are preferred prey for many unscrupulous people.  Be wary of people who randomly contact you with offers to buy your house for cash.  These offers almost always result in sellers receiving much less than their home is worth.  If it sounds too good to be true…well, you know how that goes!

If you decide to advertise items for sale yourself, arrange to meet buyers in a public spot if at all possible.  Many police departments suggest meeting in their parking lot to transact a sale.  For large items such as furniture that you can’t put in your vehicle, you’ll need to provide your address.  Be sure someone else is at the house with you when a buyer comes to pick up the item, and preferably make the appointment during daylight hours.  Don’t offer any unnecessary information to strangers; for instance, that you live alone or the house will be vacant.  Safety should always be a top priority!

6.  Utilize Our Concierge Service

As part of our Concierge Service, if you don’t have free cash available to make repairs or updates, or do staging, we can arrange to cover the cost for you until your home sells.

Posted in Home Seller
Sept. 9, 2020

Mortgage Options

Are you confused over all the mortgage options and lender lingo?  Here's a quick "cheat sheet" to get you started.  Once you're ready to take the mortgage plunge and find your dream home, let us know!  Not only will we happily guide you through your search, we will also happily provide you with contact information for some lenders with whom we often and successfully work.

 

Posted in Homebuyer
Sept. 1, 2020

Is It Really a Bedroom?

I was showing a lovely older home the other day when the prospective buyers asked a common question.  “How can this be called a bedroom, it’s so tiny!”  It turns out the space was large enough to be called a bedroom, along with some other requirements that make a bedroom a bedroom.

How big does a room need to be?  Think of it as hitting lucky 7s on a slot machine (three 7s for those of you who don’t gamble).  The room needs to be a minimum of 70 square feet, with a minimum ceiling height of 7 feet for at least half the room, and a minimum floor dimension of 7 feet.  Since the room we were looking at was 7 ½ feet by 9 ½ feet the minimum square footage was attained as well as the minimum 7 foot floor dimension in each direction. The ceiling was 7 ½ feet throughout the room.

My buyer’s next question is again a common one: “But what about a closet?  I heard that it can’t be called a bedroom if there’s no closet.”  The short answer is no. 

The long answer is that a bedroom needs more than just the minimum square footage and ceiling height.  A bedroom must also have:

-          at least one window (the size of which is determined by the room’s square footage and whether it is the only outside egress).  The window must be able to be opened to provide ventilation

-          at least two exits from the room, and one of them one must exit directly outside (it can be a door or a window)

-          at least two electrical outlets, or an overhead light at a minimum of one outlet

-          a permanent heating source (no plug in electric or other type of movable source)

-          privacy – the bedroom cannot be a “walkthrough” (accessible only through another room) and must have a door

These requirements are in place in all 50 states as part of the International Residential Code.  Each state may also have additional requirements based on the age of a home.  For instance, newer construction in Massachusetts requires outlets every 6 feet, so you’d definitely have more than one or two outlets in a room (a good thing these days with all our technology). 

In the end, my buyers decided not to make an offer on this particular property, but they did learn something about real estate!

 

 

Posted in Homebuyer
Aug. 18, 2020

Thinking About Buying A Retirement Property?

Are you nearing retirement age?  Or are you thinking about purchasing a second home with the ultimate aim of it becoming your full-time home when you retire?  Here are some tips to keep in mind when searching for that home.

 

Look for a Single-Story Property

Having everything you need located on one level makes life easier, particularly as you age.  Avoiding stairs can also help you avoid trips and falls and can prove to be quite beneficial in the long run. 

A Location That Will Suit Your Future Needs

Location should play a critical role in deciding where to buy a property. There are factors to consider such as the climate, availability of optional utilities like internet and cable, and conveniences such as healthcare, shopping, outdoor space and entertainment venues.  If you plan to have friends and family visit, you may want to find a home with easy access to transportation or the city, where you can attend cultural events or check out the newest restaurants or fun activities. 

Space for You – And Your Partner

Regardless of age, everyone needs company at times, as well as private, quiet space.  Don’t forget that your partner may not always want to be doing the same thing as you.  Make sure there's room for two so that you and your other half can stay close to each other – but not too close for comfort!  A spare bedroom that can be used as an office or sewing room or sitting room can provide just the space you need to make your house a happy home.

Showers vs. Bathtubs

Consider a walk-in shower or a familiar type of bath style rather than traditional bathtubs or jetted tubs. Having a bathtub/shower combo is much more preferable, as they allow an easy point of entry. Bathtubs can prove to be difficult to get in and out of, particularly soaking tubs or jetted tubs with their higher and wider sides and deeper tubs.

Bigger Hallways and Entryways

Tight hallways have never done anyone any favors. Look for a home that offers hallways and entryways that you can spread your arms in without butting into things or knocking items over unintentionally. Not only will you have more room to welcome guests, but if the need for a wheelchair, walker or cane comes up later, you will have room to navigate with your new assistance equipment.

Home Security

Give some thought to a gated community for an extra measure of security.  Look into emergency alert systems.  Many new construction communities offer the option of alarm buttons or pull cords in various spots throughout the home that will automatically send a call for help.  You can also add these services when you feel the need. 

Don’t Forget Fido and Fluffy

Pets are like our children, we love them and can’t imagine a life without them (even when they’re naughty).   A retirement home without your pet would surely feel empty. So if you have a pet(s) be sure they will be allowed if you purchase a home or condo in a community with a Homeowners Association. 

Ready to Start Your Search? When you’ve decided to start looking for that retirement property, let me know.  My team and I will help you find the perfect spot!

 

Posted in Homebuyer
July 29, 2020

To Rent or to Own. That is the Question!

Are you trying to decide if buying a home is right for you? Are you agonizing over whether this is the time or not to buy?  The answers are a resounding Yes, and Yes!

In some cases renting may be the right choice, but in the long run, there’s no clear-cut benefit to renting versus owning your own home.  You can reap the financial and personal benefits that renters can never match.  To wit:

 

Don’t pay your landlord’s mortgage.  When you pay rent each month, your landlord increases his financial position.  The landlord can use the money to pay down his own mortgage, finance a vacation, build up his retirement account – all sorts of ways that your money can be put to work for someone else!

 

Don’t throw your money away on rent.  Unlike paying monthly rent, when you make a monthly mortgage payment you help strengthen your financial future. As you steadily pay down your mortgage, you are building equity in your home.  When you have 20% or more equity in your home, you can tap into it through a home equity loan and use that money how you wish, whether it’s to improve the home, purchase a car, pay for education – you decide!  Or you may decide to refinance your into one with a lower interest rate or a shorter term.

 

Plan better with fixed housing expenses.  Rent will always go up! And they often go up considerably, as market prices change and the landlord’s property maintenance and tax costs increase.  If you choose a fixed-rate mortgage, your mortgage costs will remain the same over the term of the loan.  Of course, your homeowners insurance and property taxes may increase, but you’ll be better able to plan for those increases by knowing your monthly mortgage payment won’t increase.  

 

Do anything you want with the property.  Yes, when you own your home you can do what you want with it (provided you adhere to local zoning and building codes and neighborhood covenants).  You are free to paint rooms, hang pictures, have pets, renovate rooms and change the landscaping.  Want to put up holiday decorations or hang a flag?  Go ahead! Being a homeowner means you have the freedom to create a home that reflects who you are, not who your landlord dictates you to be.

 

Enjoy tax benefits.  Homeownership is an important part of the economy, and federal and state laws exist to offer unique benefits to homeowners.  You can deduct the interest you pay on your mortgage and property taxes up to a certain amount.  That’s like getting a raise without having to work more hours!

 

Put down roots.  Owning your home helps you become more invested in a neighborhood and the surrounding community. You can become involved in local community organizations and schools, participate in town government, take part in whatever local groups and activities you like, while developing fulfilling relationships within the community and putting down lasting roots. 

 

Of course, deciding to buy a home is always a personal decision, based on your particular needs and goals, but if you’re considering buying a home let’s talk!  Together we can discuss the pros and cons, connect you with a mortgage professional, and see if it makes sense to go out and find you a place of your own!

 

 

Posted in Homebuyer
July 14, 2020

What Affects Your Credit Score?

A high credit score can help you qualify for lower mortgage interest rates, so it is important to know what affects your score. Credit scores are calculated based on information from one or more of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Lenders also often use scores from the Fair Isaac Corporation, or FICO.

Credit bureaus don't consider other factors, such as your salary, your bank account balances, and any payments that are fewer than 30 days late. However, your lender will use this data along with your credit score to decide both what mortgage rate and what amount of mortgage you will qualify for.  So what affects your score?  Possibly some things you haven’t thought about other than making late payments.  Your payment history makes up about 35% of your score, so you should avoid paying bills late whenever possible. Missing one payment generally won’t impact your score much, but missing multiple payments could make qualifying for a good mortgage rate difficult.  Establishing a good payment history for loans, utility bills and credit card bills will show creditors that you're reliable and responsible.

The amount of your available credit that you're using accounts for about 30% of your credit score. To achieve the best score, you should use less than 10% of your available credit. If you need to use more, try to keep it under that 30% threshold. For example, if you have no loans (lucky you) and you have a credit card with a $5,000 limit, you should keep your card balance under $500 to make sure your credit utilization stays under 10%.  Applying for another credit card will increase your available credit and make it easier to keep your credit utilization low.  It sounds counterintuitive sometimes to say “you need to open another credit card account” but this is the reason behind the advice.

The average age of your credit accounts makes up about 15% of your total score.  Applying for several new accounts in a short time can temporarily lower your credit score, as the accounts will all be without a payment history. Older people and those who applied for credit at an earlier age usually have higher scores, as they have a longer credit history.  Having a good mix of accounts makes up about 10% of your total credit score.  People with the best credit scores have both credit cards and installment loans, such as a mortgage or a car loan, rather than just credit cards.  Utility bills can also be part of the credit mix.

When you apply for credit, the lender makes an inquiry about your credit report. The number of inquiries on your account makes up about 10% of your credit score, and too many in a short period can lower your score.  While only inquiries from the previous 12 months will impact your credit, several inquiries from various mortgage lenders within a short period of time will be treated as if they were just a single inquiry, and thus will have very little impact on your credit score.  And checking your own credit report won't change your credit score, so check away and keep track of the progress you’re making in raising your score!

If you'd like more information, or would like some recommendations for great lenders, just let us know!

 

Posted in Homebuyer
July 8, 2020

How Much Mortgage Can I Afford?

One of the biggest questions when buying a home is “how much can I afford?”  Once this question is answered, it’s much easier to narrow down your home shopping wish list to fit your budget.  There are several factors that go into determining how much mortgage you can afford.  Here are three of them.

Debt-to-income ratio or DTI:  Your DTI can be calculated by adding up the mortgage payment, taxes, insurance, condo or association fees, credit card debt, auto loans, and any other debt you pay each month.  That total is then divided by your gross monthly income (income before tax).

Loan-to-value ratio or LTV:  Your LTV is calculated by the amount of mortgage you’re looking to borrow compared to the value or purchase price of the house. It is expressed as a percentage, so you will often hear something like “80% loan to value.”  This means you’re borrowing 80% of the purchase price of the home.  LTVs will vary depending on the amount of money you have to put down and will also determine what type of mortgage you will qualify for.

Credit score:  Your credit score will impact the type of mortgage loan you qualify for.  If you don’t know what your current credit score is, you may want to check with your loan officer or at least one of the major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion) before you start calculating what you can afford.  While many credit card companies and other lenders offer “free credit score” information, an accurate “FICO” score needs to be obtained from at least one of the major lenders when applying for a mortgage.

In Summary: There are many factors that go into what you can afford.  The first step should be speaking with a loan officer.  That will allow you to create an affordability plan to give you a pretty good idea of what price range you fit into and what mortgage options are available to you. 

If you’re thinking of buying a new home, let us know.  We are happy to share contact information for lenders we have successfully used over the years.  We can also help you get started on creating a home search plan!

 

Posted in Homebuyer