Choosing a place to live AND play (or run, bike and hike)

Runner’s World magazine is out with its list of the 50 best cities for running, and unsurprisingly, Boston is #3 on this list. The scorers cited Beantown’s large number of races, running stores and healthy food options as reasons for topping the list, while climate (it IS New England) and safety are counted against it.

It might seem crazy to choose your city or neighborhood based on factors like these, but for athletes and outdoor adventurers (both serious and recreational) it’s not. Many elite endurance athletes are attracted to cities like Boulder, Colorado or Flagstaff, Arizona so that they can train in a high-altitude setting. For recreational athletes, homes near streets with sidewalks or nearby trails can be super important.

I love to run. Before I moved to my current home, I lived in places where I didn’t necessarily feel safe running alone and I had to drive somewhere to get to a trail or area with sidewalks where I could safely run and bike. No fun. When it came time to buy a house, I knew I wanted a location where I could walk out my front door and hit the streets, without having to worry too much and without a lot of hassle. The city I moved to has great sidewalks, lots of quiet streets, and some amazing trails that are perfect for walking, running or hiking.

There are lots of factors to potentially consider when choosing a place to live, including the quality of the school system, the commuting distance to your job and the tax rate. While accessibility of places to play might seem low on the list or frivolous, it’s important to your quality of life. And you’re definitely not alone if you feel that way. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, 140 million Americans view outdoor recreation as an essential part of their daily lives.

So don’t be afraid to tell your real estate agent that recreational opportunities are essential to your home search. And if you’re doing your own research, I’ve found that cities and towns are usually happy to brag about their outdoor offerings (some obvious, some hidden jewels!) on their official websites.

Have you ever chosen a place to live based on the availability of recreational opportunities? Is that something that would figure into your home search? Let us know in the comments below.

Real estate can be tough on pets. Here are a few tips to make things less “ruff.”

The process of buying or selling a home can be stressful for us humans, but it can be especially hard on pets. Routines get knocked out of whack, strange people (including potential buyers, agents and home inspectors) are entering the property, and a general feeling of upheaval can be palpable.

When we start working with a new buyer or seller, we always try to find out as much as possible about their pets so we can help them make solid decisions for everyone who might be part of their household, two- and four-legged creatures alike.

When you’re selling your home

On the seller side, our top concern is how to handle showings with potential buyers. Our policy is to attend all showings, rather than slap a lockbox on the door so that buyers and their agents can stroll through on their own. Being there in-person allows us to keep an eye on pets and try to keep them from slipping out the door or getting into any restricted spaces (such as a particular bedroom or a closet) when buyers enter the house and start exploring and throwing doors open. If you’d like this type of service, make sure you ask agents if they provide “accompanied showings” before you hire them to sell your home.

It’s also good to let your agent know if visitors shouldn’t pet animals they see, or if a certain animal is aggressive toward strangers. This helps to prevent bad results.

If you’re super nervous about your pet during showings, we always recommend that you take them with you when you leave the house before people come over. Although this may not always be possible (and may not work for say, a gerbil or your goldfish), this is the best way to ensure your pet’s comfort and safety (and give you peace of mind).

When you’re looking to move to a new home

If you’re looking to buy or rent a home yourself, it’s especially important to inform your real estate agent about your pet, including breed and size. One of the biggest challenges pet owners run into is something called “pet restrictions.” This usually comes up with rentals and condo complexes.

Sometimes, pet restrictions are a creature of local ordinances, such as a ban on aggressive dog breeds. More frequently, however, they come up as the result of limitations placed on a property by an owner, developer, or association. The restrictions themselves vary, but some of the more common ones we’ve seen involve limitations on the type of animal (for example, “no dogs”), or on the size of pet allowed (for example, “dogs under 25 lbs. allowed”).

Whatever the case, they’re usually binding upon you unless you can somehow obtain an exemption (as in the case of a landlord who breaks their own rule to allow you to have a bigger pet.) It might be worth your while to investigate the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen designation. This is a program where dogs complete a 10-step “good citizen” test to earn a special certificate you could present to potential landlords who might be wary about accepting your pet. Items on the test include “accepting a friendly stranger” and “walking through a crowd.” Having the certificate might not guarantee entry for your dog, but it could definitely help your case.

As you begin your home search, you should also consider telling your agent to keep an eye out for certain pet-friendly features, such as a fenced backyard for pets to roam free, a nearby dog park or non-porous floors suitable for four-legged occupants. Don’t feel silly putting a strong emphasis on these types of features—pets are part of the family and deserve to be comfortable, too!

Have you ever moved or sold your house while you had a pet? What challenges did you face? Share your story in the comment section below.

What does your dream home look like?

When you envision your dream home is it a Brady Bunch-style “contemporary” or a quaint clapboard Cape? Where I live, north of Boston, there are TONS of American Foursquares. I happen to live in one, and I love the symmetrical, square rooms and the old-style feel. It reminds me of my grandmother’s house, and I just don’t think I’d feel as comfortable and at-home in a one-level ranch.

Style is a personal preference, and for some people, certain home types are absolutely out of the question. Maybe you hate the idea of stairs, and would be happiest in a one-story home.  Or maybe anything conventional bores you to tears and the idea of living in an octagonally-shaped house lights you up. (Yup, that’s a thing--ask my brother, who calls one home.)

Our Multiple Listing Service (MLS) here in New England (the place where agents and buyers go to list and search houses) just added a bunch of new style categories to their system, which means you can now list your particular home style more specifically and you can then search very specifically for the style of house you desire.

Below is the current menu of styles as offered by our local MLS. (And here’s a link to a great feature on Realtor Magazine that gives a little description, some history and an illustration of a lot the styles listed below.)

  • Colonial
  • Garrison
  • Cape
  • Contemporary
  • Ranch
  • Raised Ranch
  • Split Entry
  • Victorian
  • Tudor
  • Gambrel /Dutch
  • Antique
  • Farmhouse
  • Saltbox
  • Cottage
  • Bungalow
  • Multi-Level
  • Log
  • Front to Back Split
  • Lofted Split
  • Greek Revival
  • Shingle
  • Mid-Century Modern
  • Villa
  • Carriage House
  • Craftsman
  • Georgian
  • Queen Anne
  • Spanish Colonial
  • Italianate
  • Dutch Colonial
  • French Colonial
  • Gothic Revival
  • Second Empire
  • Colonial Revival
  • Neoclassical
  • Prairie
  • Octagon

What does YOUR dream home look like? Let us know in the comments!


Pricing your home, Part Two: how you can use the numbers to reach your goals

OK, so you’ve decided to sell your home, and you or your real estate agent have done your homework to see what price is fair compared to other homes like yours on the market (check out Part One for more details on that.)

Usually what happens is that agent will tell you they’ve looked at other properties that have sold recently in your area, and they’ve come up with a price range your listing price should fall in.

So how do you decide whether to try for the higher end or the lower end?

It all comes down to your personal goals and needs.

Here’s what we mean:

Say you’re getting a job transfer and you need to be in a new city in a month. You want to sell your house FAST. One of the best ways to do that is to choose a price tag that grabs attention. Usually that means to go as low as you can while still making the money you need for your next step.

Maybe you’re an empty-nester, and you’ve decided it’s time to downsize. But you’re in no particular hurry to move on to the next place. Perhaps that says you start off listing your home at the higher end of that price range, with the option to lower the price if you don’t get potential buyers in the door.

Or maybe you still owe $200,000 on your mortgage, and you MUST sell your house for that amount plus your cost of selling (broker fees, closing costs, etc.) in order to break even. That would certainly dictate listing at a specific price.

One more scenario: you own a hot property. Maybe a multi-family in a college neighborhood where investors look to acquire new properties. In this case, you can potentially drive up your profit by generating major excitement around the listing. It sounds counter-intuitive, but choosing to underprice your home almost always guarantees a LOT of attention. Hold an open house and require all offers to be due in immediately after. In our experience, this strategy can result in an ultimate sales price that WAY EXCEEDS your list price.

Bottom line: know YOUR bottom line before setting a price. It has to work for YOU.

Pricing your home, Part One: Choosing a number

One of the most important aspects of putting your home on the market is deciding on a listing price. Too high, and you’ll scare away buyers while your property gathers dust on the multiple listing service. Too low, and well… you might sell quickly, but you might not get what you need financially out of the deal.

While you may not end up selling for the amount you list your house for, the price tag you choose can have a major impact on marketing your home successfully or unsuccessfully.

Getting to the right number

A lot of sellers start off trying to figure out the value of their home by cruising over to Zillow and checking out the “Zestimate” for their address. It’s a fun thing to do… but don’t rely on the number you find too heavily. The number you see is mostly based on what houses around you are selling for, but those other houses might be a totally different style than yours. One might have needed a new roof, while yours is fairly new. Or one is on a busy road while yours is on a quiet street.

The most accurate way to price your home is to compare it to other nearby properties that are the closest to yours in size, style and design. Obviously, if your house has two full bathrooms, it’s not likely to sell for the same as a house with four full bathrooms. But you also have to consider style — it’s best not to compare your ranch to the Colonial down the street.

Checking out the assessed value of your home — the dollar value your city or town values your property at for tax purposes — is another way to compare prices to arrive at your list price, although the usefulness of assessed values for market purposes can vary from community to community.

You could do a lot of this homework on your own using public records online or at your city or town hall. But a MUCH easier way to get to a good price is to grab what’s called a “comparative market analysis” from a real estate agent. Most agents will do these for free and with no obligation from you to sign up to work with them. (That’s how we roll, anyway.)

Here’s what the agent does: they do a deep dive into the multiple listing service (MLS), looking at homes similar to yours in size, style and design that recently sold or are currently on the market. The MLS puts all the info at the agent’s fingertips, so they can quickly cull out houses that are much bigger than yours, that have a garage or not, that have no backyard or a big backyard… whatever is most like your house.

After doing all this detective work, a good agent will share with you what they found and work with you to arrive at a price that seems fair to you and to potential buyers. It’s tempting to think as a seller that your home is super awesome and that you must be able to sell for much more than your neighbor did two months ago. But the truth is, buyers with agents will be doing the same homework you did with your agent. If they know your house is very similar to that home that recently sold, they won’t want to pay a premium just because you said so.

$500,000 or $499,999?

It’s just a dollar difference, but it can mean the WORLD on how many potential buyers will become aware of your listing. Why? Online searching.

When potential buyers are searching for real estate online, they’re often faced with a little search box that allows them to enter a price range for homes they want to look at. Whether your property fits into that range or not will determine whether or not the potential buyer will be exposed to your listing. And, since a lot of buyers find property online these days, that can make all the difference in finding a buyer.