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The Do’s and Don’ts of Searching for a Home Online

A large majority of home buyers begin use the internet to search for a house long before they even speak with a real estate agent. Starting your house-hunting adventure online is a great way to get started, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to the World Wide Web when looking for a new home. Think of this initial online search as a way to educate yourself about your needs and wants before you really get into your search. Here are a few do’s and don’ts you should consider before conducting your online home search.

Do be sure to search a reputable site. You want to make sure the website you’re browsing keeps its listings and search results up to date. You don’t want to waste your time by falling in love with a listing that’s already off the market. For the most reliable information, we recommend using Realtor.com, which pulls information from MLS regional databases every 15 minutes.

Don’t rely too much on the photos. Many real estate agents hire professional photographers to shoot photos of their listings in order to present them in their best light. Those photos are meant to highlight the house’s very best features. What they won’t show are repairs that need to be made, or what it looks like when it’s not illuminated by the best possible lighting. On the other hand, a listing’s pictures might not be the best (perhaps the owner and agent weren’t willing to pay for professional photos), but it could be a hidden gem in person.

Do realize your real estate agent is a wealth of information. Yes, real estate websites show a lot of information, but that info is really just a snapshot of the house and its neighborhood. You’ll be able to see active and sold listings, home prices, sales history, and other relevant information. But it won’t take into consideration specifics about the home and the surrounding area. They also might be privy to other details about the sale of the home that you wouldn’t see online and wouldn’t get from the seller’s agent if you decided to buy on your own.

Don’t even think about buying sight unseen. Unless the circumstances are dire, you should never buy a house without seeing it in person first. Looking at pictures and information online, or even getting the info from an agent over the phone or email, is never a good substitute for seeing the house in person. You need to be able to get a feel for the house, examine all its faults and features, and talk to the owners and/or neighbors before you move forward with a purchase. Buying a home without really getting to know it in person is a lot like marrying someone you met on a dating website without meeting them face to face first.

Do use your online search as a jumping off point. Searching for a house online is the perfect way to get an idea of what’s out there and narrow down what you do and don’t like. It’s also a great tool for helping you and your agent get on the same page. Send them some examples of listings you like along with your list of needs, likes, and dislikes, and they’ll have a much easier time helping you find a group of homes to check out in person.

Is Your Tiny House Legal?

Tiny houses have become wildly popular over the last few years, and with good reason. There’s been a trend toward spending more time with family and bidding good riddance to heaps of material possessions, living a simpler, happier life. The trouble is that tiny houses occupy a gray area where legality is concerned. There has been some issue with trying to figure out where they fit in. A tiny house is not quite an RV, not really a mobile home, and definitely not a single-family residence.

Why does it matter? you may ask. It matters because there are certain allowances and restrictions for different types of homes. Hence the gray area of the tiny home. So how do you make sure your tiny house is legal?

According to the International Code Council, to be an official tiny house, the dwelling must be smaller than 400 square feet, not including loft space. A tiny house may be built on a foundation or on wheels. The difference here is more than deciding whether or not you want to be able to travel with your tiny home. It actually dictates where you’re allowed to build or park your tiny house. There are also different building codes and ordinances for movable versus stationary dwellings. Additionally, if you don’t already have residential status in the area where you live, it will be harder to obtain it if your tiny home is built to RV code. If you’re building your tiny house on a foundation, you’ll need to check local ordinances for requirements concerning size. Some zoning regulations require buildings to be more than 1,000 square feet, for example. If your house is smaller than the ordinance requires it to be, it won’t be considered a legal dwelling.

When it comes down to deciding where you’re going to park or build your tiny home, there are quite a few conditions to take into consideration. Maybe you’ve dreamed of building a tiny house on wheels and plopping it down next to your favorite lake. It’s not that simple. That land could be privately owned, or it might even be a protected area. Now with that said, there are some areas that are more friendly toward tiny homes. Some have no size restrictions as long as the house is built to code; others have deemed tiny houses fit for areas wherever mobile homes are allowed; still more have allowed them to be considered accessory dwellings on existing residential property.

No matter the size or location of your tiny home, there are a few things it absolutely must have in order to be considered up to code. It must have plumbing, including at least one separate bathroom. It must have a ceiling height of at least 6 feet, 8 inches (or 6 feet, 4 inches for baths and kitchens in some cases). It must have at least one window and must meet the standard for emergency exits. To find additional items required for legal dwellings, check your local building codes.

Friday Five // January 4th, 2019

It’s the first Friday of the year, and there’s no shortage of fun to be had in the Lowcountry. Visit some of Charleston’s amazing museums, enjoy live music as you eat oysters, chili, or barbeque, and more. Whatever you choose to do, the staff and agents at Johnson & Wilson Real Estate Company hope you have a very happy and safe weekend!

The new year brings a new music and food series to Commonhouse Aleworks with the First Friday BBQ & Bluegrass series. On the first Friday of every month, Commonhouse Aleworks will have a bluegrass hoedown on the Commonground stage. There will be pulled pork, brisket, fixin’s, and more available to eat. This Friday’s event will showcase local band The Bluestone Ramblers starting at 6pm. BBQ will be provided by High to Lowcountry Barbeque starting at 5pm.

Head to Bowen’s Island on Sunday for the Save the Light 2019 Oyster Roast. Your all-inclusive ticket includes all-you-can-eat local oysters, chili from 82 Queen, hot dogs and trimmings from Swig & Swine, chicken bog and desserts, wine from Treasury Wine Estates, beer from Southern Eagle Distributors, and soft drinks and water. There will be live music from Shakin’ Martinis (multi-genre, toe-tapping dance tunes), The Island Duo (Buffett to Belafonte), and Last Resort (Eagles tribute band). Tickets are $45 in advance or $50 at the gate. 100% of the proceeds are used to support restoration and preservation of the Morris Island Lighthouse.

Make this weekend a museum weekend! January is Museum Mile Month in Charleston. Purchase one ticket ($25 for adults, $10 for children) and spend the month learning Charleston’s rich history and culture across 13 different sites. Tickets may be purchased online or at participating museum sites. Come explore, learn, and enjoy all our beautiful city has to offer for one low price all month long.

Take advantage of Pay What You Can Weekend this Saturday and Sunday at Patriot’s Point Naval & Maritime Museum. In place of the standard admission and parking fees, guests are encouraged to pay whatever they can afford. “The holiday season can be tough on the family budget,” says Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette. “We want those who live in the Charleston area and who drive by our ships every day to have a chance to tour the museum without having to worry about their financial situations. This is a great way for us to give back to the community that supports us all year. If circumstances make it where a visitor can’t pay anything at all, that is perfectly fine.” Every ticket includes admission to all three historic vessels, the Medal of Honor Museum, and the Vietnam Experience Exhibit. As always, active duty military members in uniform and children under six get in free.

Home Team BBQ is partnering with local fitness center The Works this Sunday for a fundraiser benefiting Hogs for the Cause, the premier funding source for families affected by pediatric brain cancer. The fundraiser takes place at Home Team’s downtown location. Attendees will experience a dynamic blend of vinyasa yoga, meditation, breathwork, plyometrics, core, and strength work, followed by a choice of mimosa or Bloody Mary along with a menu of healthy bites from Home Team BBQ. Food options include smoked shrimp taco, a local salad, and a frittata. Tickets are limited and are $45 per person. All proceeds benefit Hogs for the Cause.

Perfect New Year’s Resolutions for Homeowners

Happy New Year! It’s that time of year when people make resolutions, goals, and life changes in an effort to better themselves. Why not take the opportunity to better your home and yourself as a homeowner as well? Here are some perfect new year’s resolutions any homeowner can make for 2019. Whether you choose to concentrate on one or two points or try to tackle the whole list, doing any of these will help you feel like an even better homeowner this year.

Make a realistic cleaning plan.

If one of your resolutions is to be better at keeping house, it’s a good idea to sit down with a pen and paper and make a realistic plan that will help you do so. Keeping things neat and clean can be a difficult job, especially if you’ve got a whole family to pick up after. Create a plan that divides up chores among your household, making one person responsible for a certain task on certain days or weeks. If it’s just you, designate a day for each chore. Monday might be laundry day, Tuesday could be the day you scrub down the bathrooms, and so forth.

Learn how to maintain something on your own.

Resolve to learn how to do maintenance and cleaning of a major part of your home. Maybe you’d like to learn more about your HVAC system. Perhaps you’d like to educate yourself on preventive maintenance on your home’s appliances. Whatever it is you’re hoping to learn about, there’s a wealth of information out there for you. Look for educational videos on YouTube, check out books from the library, ask a professional to help you out, or just scour the internet for great informational sources.

Go energy efficient.

There are so many benefits to going green and making your home more energy efficient. Of course there’s the question of doing your part to clean up our environment, but there are also immediate benefits to you. For example, investing in Energy Star appliances, windows, and doors can help you save on energy bills each month. Look into smart home features that help with energy efficiency as well, such as smart thermostats and lights that turn themselves off or down when no one’s home.

Squeeze in extra mortgage payments.

This is one of the best things homeowners can do for themselves. If you your budget supports it, add a little more money to your mortgage payment each month to pay down your principal. If you can’t manage to pay extra every month, just put a little bit toward your principal whenever you find yourself with extra cash. This will help you build equity faster, and your future self will be glad you did it.

Spruce up your landscaping.

Make this year the year you finally bump up your curb appeal. Go all out and turn your back yard into an entertainer’s paradise, or just do something as simple as edging the driveway and walkways with some pretty brick. Make sure the trees, bushes, and plants are nice and tidy, flowerbeds are weed-free, and grass is neatly trimmed at all times. If you feel so inclined, give your porch and front door a fresh coat of paint. It’ll do wonders!

Do a safety audit.

Make sure all of your home’s safety features are in good working order. Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, alarms, emergency supplies, first aid kits, and fire extinguishers. If you find yourself lacking any of these, now’s the perfect time to go out and get them. It’s also a good idea to check with your home insurance agent to see if there are any other safety items you might be lacking. Did you put in a pool, for instance? Your insurance policy might require that it be fenced off to prevent any accidents.

Start a no-shoes policy.

This is a small detail that can really help out when it comes to cleaning and preventing damage to floors. Think about all the places you walk every day wearing shoes. Sure, you pick up things you can see like dirt, sand, and leaves; but you can also track in germs and general grime from animal waste and other sources you might not be aware of. Bare or socked feet are also easier on floors than shoes are, which means less wear and an extended life for your flooring of choice.

Start an emergency fund.

Open up a new savings account specifically for a home emergency fund. It’s never a good feeling when you have shallow pockets and a need for expensive emergency repairs. Homeowners insurance won’t always cover everything. You could find yourself stuck with a major bill after a natural disaster or other unforeseen problem. But if you can put a little extra cash into an emergency fund each month, you’ll have a safety net to fall back on just in case.

Review your insurance policy.

Speaking of homeowner’s insurance, now is also a great time to sit down with your insurance agent and review your policy. You might find that you need more coverage, or you might find something obsolete and unnecessary. Things change, and so should your insurance policy.

Refinance your home loan.

It’s always worth checking to see if you can get a lower rate or better terms on your mortgage. Make an appointment with your favorite lender or bank to check up on your home loan and see if there’s anything better out there for you.

5 Outdated Real Estate Tips to Leave Behind in the New Year

The real estate market is an ever-changing, rapidly evolving business. Real estate advice that was relevant five years ago is most likely out the window by now as new—or sometimes recycled—tips and trends make their way around the block. Advice and knowledge that were completely valid and useful just a few years ago can be completely obsolete now. Here are five real estate tips you should leave behind as we close the door on another year and open it up to 2019.

Set Your List Price High

Overpricing your home means you could be missing out on a whole group of buyers. Say your home is worth about $200,000, and that’s what you hope to get for it. Your gut tells you to price it at $250,000 for haggling’s sake. But setting your list price higher than your home’s actual value can do more harm than good. When buyers and their agents conduct their initial searches, they’ll set search parameters that include a certain price range. Using our above example, if their top price is $210,000, your overpriced home—which they could actually afford if it was priced appropriately—won’t even show up in their search results. A smart buyer who’s working with a savvy Realtor might also steer clear of any obviously overpriced homes because they don’t want to deal with the back-and-forth of negotiating with a greedy seller.

Always Go for a 30-Year, Fixed-Rate Mortgage

It used to be that people stayed in one job until they retired. They bought a house and raised their families there and maybe moved once. Life is wildly different these days. The truth now is that people just don’t live in one home for thirty-plus years anymore. Technology has opened the world up for more of the population, and the fact that it’s much simpler to move and/or travel has made it less common to stay in one house for three or more decades. So think about it. If the home you’re buying isn’t going to be your “forever home,” a 30-year loan with a fixed rate isn’t really necessary. If you know for a fact that you won’t be in this home for more than five to ten years, open up your options a little by looking into adjustable-rate mortgages. You could qualify for a lower rate than a traditional 30-year mortgage could give you, and by the time the fixed-rate period is over, you’ll have already moved anyway.

Sell in the Spring and Summer

While it’s true that the real estate market is typically busier during these times thanks to summer vacation and nicer weather, they’re no longer THE end-all, be-all times to sell your home. Modern marketing techniques like social media and other internet outlets make it possible to advertise and sell all year long. And since winters are typically mild here in the Lowcountry, getting buyers out to look at homes during the cooler months isn’t really a problem anyway. People who get big Christmas bonuses or early income tax returns might be looking to use them to boost their down payments. Additionally, putting your home on the market during slower times means you’ll have less competition as a seller.

Truly Interested Parties Will Buy As-Is

Unless you’re in a wildly popular neighborhood where houses get snapped up as soon as they go on the market, “as-is” condition isn’t going to be good enough for most buyers. The typical home buyer wants their new home to be as move-in ready as possible. Now, if your target buyer is a flipper or someone who’s just looking for a fixer-upper project, it’s fine to advertise it that way. But don’t expect the Average Joe buyer to show a ton of interest in your outdated home with its peeling porch paint, stained carpets, and 1980s cabinets. Make an effort to do small updates that just give the house a little facelift. Or if you don’t feel like doing any repairs or cosmetic improvements, you should reflect that in your listing price.

Don’t Forget to Advertise in Print Media

A huge majority of buyers begin their home searches online. There aren’t many people who go to the newspaper or local real estate print guide to see what’s available anymore. Internet marketing is so much more interactive, not to mention faster and easier. Why waste money on a tiny picture and a few words when you can take advantage of free marketing on social media and other websites? Spend that money on hiring a professional photographer or videographer instead. Virtual walkthroughs are a great way to show buyers exactly what they’ll get out of a home without wasting any of their time or yours.

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