Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) are taking the world by storm and changing industries across the board, including that of real estate and mortgage lending. AI is an ever-evolving field that uses deep learning algorithms and neural networks to follow human-generated prompts. Here’s how AI might affect how you buy a home in the future.

Virtual Home Staging

Staging is a crucial part of the home selling process, but what if you could stage your home without a single piece of furniture? Virtual staging involves uploading photos of empty rooms of a home and digitally adding photorealistic furniture and decor to enhance it. Some virtual staging companies use human designers to select items and color schemes, but some solely use AI to accelerate the process by generating multiple outputs within minutes. Depending on the software, AI can be used to produce images tailored to the aesthetic of your choice, the style and purpose of the room, create 3D video tours, and even improve natural lighting. Using virtual staging is much more time-saving and cost-effective for home sellers and real estate agents than hiring a staging team. Having attractive listing photos is a huge step up from using poorly staged photos or empty rooms, even if the furnishings are actually nonexistent. Homeowners can also use AI staging as a source of home redecorating inspiration.

Automated Valuation Models 

Home appraisals are a standard part of the home buying and refinancing process to determine the property value. Appraisals consider the characteristics and condition of your home and compare it against recent sales data of similar homes in your area to see how much it could sell for in the current market. Automated valuation models (AVMs) expedite appraisals by using sales data and property records to calculate value to a high level of accuracy. AVMs aren’t new to the mortgage and real estate industries, but advancements in AI have improved their abilities. For example, the current version of Zestimate, Zillow’s AVM, incorporates neural networks to give users a more accurate value. Some emerging AVMs combine computer vision with property data to assess property value from pictures of the home. This can help real estate agents price homes more accurately and give sellers a realistic expectation for how much their home is worth. Additionally, an increasing number of residential (and commercial) property developers use AVMs to pinpoint the best location for new build sites based on local population data. AVMs provide practical figures quickly and efficiently, benefiting homebuyers, sellers, agents, and lenders who need a home value estimate before an in-person appraisal can be done.

Mortgage Lending 

Reviewing mortgage applications and numerous pieces of financial information is an extremely complex task, and AI is quickly becoming an essential tool for mortgage lenders. It enhances the mortgage process for lenders and consumers and is being used for: customer service chatbots, fraud detection, document upload and organization, identifying optimal loan scenarios, underwriting, and cost analysis for buying and refinancing. Automated underwriting systems (AUS) have been around for a while, and they reduce the time it takes to verify and analyze financial information. When an AUS is augmented with AI, it can further reduce human error, improve turnaround time, and use predictive models to indicate lending risk.  

Is AI Good for Homebuyers and Sellers? 

One of the goals of AI development is to facilitate and optimize processes that would normally be time-consuming, difficult, and expensive. Ideally, the time and money saved by using AI will be reflected in the buyer’s closing costs. Real estate and mortgage professionals can also have more energy to put towards creating a more personalized client experience. As AI’s capabilities expand, so do questions about bias and accuracy. Critics worry about a lack of nuance and bias for AI AUS and AVMs. These sophisticated learning models may have a lot of data to draw from, but they can’t always create a comprehensive picture of someone’s financial situation. It is essential that AI developers continually monitor outputs for traces of algorithmic discrimination and use a wide range of data to train the system. The housing and mortgage industries will need to set standards and best practices to promote equity and accuracy. We can also expect more federal and state regulations to protect consumers in the near future. 

The AI landscape is still a new frontier, but it’s clear that it has and will continue to revolutionize how society operates. But even the best-trained AI models cannot replace the creative thinking, knowledge, empathy, and dedication from real-life real estate and lending professionals. 

If you have any questions about buying a home, contact one of our licensed Mortgage Loan Originators. If you are ready to begin t­­he home buying process, click here to get started!

In many ways, the home buying and selling process isn’t too different from dating. There’s back-and-forth discussions, compromises, trial and error, and the all-important profile pics (listing photos). In today’s digital world, using online multi-listing sites (MLS) is the most common way buyers shop for homes. Use these simple staging tips to get buyers to “swipe right” on your home. 

Clean Up

A clean home is a basic, yet crucial part of prepping your home to sell. When your home is clean and organized, it conveys to buyers that you take care of your property and that the home is pleasant to live in. Start decluttering your belongings to make organizing easier.  If you have something that you hardly use or has lived past its usefulness, donate, sell, or toss it. Then, give your home a deep clean. Carpeted areas may benefit from professional cleaning if they still look dingy after vacuuming. In addition to the areas you usually clean, pay attention to baseboards, walls, shelving, and ceiling fans. These areas may not get cleaned often, but the dirt and dust can be apparent in photos. Next, polish up your home by organizing it. Make sure all the beds are made (no laundry piles allowed!) and that closet doors are closed. Clear the countertops in your kitchen and bathrooms from excessive appliances and personal care products. You want to show off all the counter space in your home, not hide it under a bunch of clutter! Store away piles of papers or organize them properly in a file sorter. Look at your bookcases—are the books stacked upright or laying wherever? Stand books up correctly and neatly. Never leave piles of clothes or knickknacks on the floor, as this looks sloppy and reduces visual floor space. 

Decorate Strategically 

Showcasing your personality is a key goal when creating a dating profile, but not so much when you’re staging your home. Buyers want to picture themselves living in your home, and it can be difficult to do that when you have family photos plastered everywhere. Go around your home and remove personal items from being displayed, including personal photos, your child’s drawings from the fridge or walls, and religious and political decor. Depersonalizing doesn’t mean your house needs to look boring and sterile—a few well-placed decor pieces can enhance your staging. Try using some cute, affordable throw pillows to jazz up seating. Natural elements are always a good staging accessory, and you can incorporate subtle seasonal elements into your home. A few real or faux houseplants on floors or tables adds a touch of greenery to your home, and it looks attractive no matter the season. Place vases of real or artificial flowers or bowls of fruit on tables to give a look of freshness. If you’re trying to make a room seem larger, hang a large mirror to give the illusion of increased space. Make sure your TV is turned off during staging photo sessions so as not to be a distraction.

Shed Some Light

Everyone knows the key to a great profile picture is good lighting, and the same goes for staging. Luckily, you don’t need fancy lighting equipment! Open your blinds to let the sun in, and leave the lights on for photos. If your existing lights aren’t brightening the room enough, consider replacing the bulb, as older bulbs dim over time. Pay attention to the warmth or coolness of the bulb, too. Warm light is yellow-tinged and less intense, while cool light is blue-toned and more intense. 

Curb Appeal

Does your house look welcoming from the outside? A home that appears well-kept from the street draws buyers in and is one of the first pictures buyers see when browsing MLS sites. Your front porch is a prime area to add curb appeal. Try repainting your door, placing potted flowers near the stoop, and hanging  a wreath on the door. It’s a good idea to clean the grime from your siding; check if the material is safe for power washing. Cleaning windows from the inside and outside will give your home extra sparkle; don’t forget the screens! For the surrounding land, trim overgrown grass, bushes, and tree branches. If you have fencing along your property, ensure there are no missing or damaged slats, and repaint panels if needed.

Red door with wreath of lavender flowers

Don’t let poor or nonexistent staging hurt your home’s sale potential—show that your house is “forever home” material! Effective staging should make your home look like someone could live there, but doesn’t look lived in. You don’t have to spend a fortune—cleanliness and a little creativity can go a long way when selling your home.

If you want to know more about how to pay off your mortgage faster, contact one of our licensed Mortgage Loan Originators. If you are ready to begin the home buying process, click here to get started!

Credit: Featured image created with Image by rawpixel.com on Freepik

You don’t have to wait for spring to put your home on the market! Winter can be a great time to sell, as buyers are more serious, and you’ll probably have less competition from other sellers. Still, it’s crucial to give your home an aesthetic advantage with staging and curb appeal. These staging tips will help you banish the cold weather blues of winter selling. 

Inside

Clean Sweep

Before you even get listing photos taken or start holding open houses, give your whole home a deep clean. A visibly dirty home will turn off buyers and make it seem like the house isn’t being maintained. Get rid of clutter that takes up space and distracts the eye. Store sentimental items like family photos or your child’s art out of sight, too. These steps are needed so that buyers can imagine living in your house. A clean and neat home is the first step to making a good impression.

Create Coziness

Creating a cozy atmosphere through staging is important year-round, but it’s essential when selling in the winter. The last thing you want is for buyers to think your home is drafty and cold—turn up the heat (literally) when staging it. For open house events, raise your thermostat thirty minutes before starting. Does your home have a fireplace? Light it up for extra warmth and a glowing ambience. Letting lots of natural light into your home is a no-brainer, but there’s less sunlight during the winter months. Illuminate your home by turning on all the lights. Adding a few throw pillows and a knit blanket over a sofa or bed will make your living areas feel more snug. Consider lighting a candle or scent diffuser to gently perfume your home during showings.

Seasonal Decor 

Incorporating seasonality into your staging can make your home feel more attractive and festive! Adding nature-inspired elements like pine boughs, pinecones, or an amaryllis plant will give your home wintery vibes. Remember that decor should be used in moderation to enhance your home rather than detract from it. Skip putting out religious holiday decorations or very sentimental items, as you don’t want your home to feel too personalized.

Outside 

Curb Appeal 

Maybe you don’t have to worry about mowing your lawn in the winter, but that doesn’t mean you should forget about creating curb appeal! Consider repainting your front door for a cheery pop of color, then hang a welcoming wreath on it. Plant some winter hardy plants (such as pansies, violas, and hellebores) in a container and place by your front door or mailbox to brighten the winter landscape. Tidy up your property by removing yard waste, trimming overgrown branches, and cleaning out the gutter. Dirt and grime may have built up on your windows during fall; take time to clean them. During open houses, provide photos of what your yard looks like in the warmer months. 

Decorations

If you’re showing your home during the holiday season, keep any outdoor decorations simple and nonreligious. Having many lighted features on your house and on the lawn can make your yard look cluttered and tacky. Just like indoor staging, outdoor staging should accentuate your home and appeal to a broad range of buyers. If you really want to put up some holiday decorations, stick to using white lights on select areas or some evergreen accents.

Clear the Way

Many people can appreciate how picturesque a snow-covered home looks, but it’s a different story when you’re trying to sell it. Keep your driveway, walkway and front stoop clear of snow and ice. Before an open house, sprinkle ice melt over crucial areas before people show up. Snow-free pathways will also look better in listing photos since nothing will be hidden under a blanket of white. Put a doormat on the inside of the entrance so guests can wipe their shoes when it’s snowing or raining. 

Selling your home in winter comes with a unique set of challenges, just like at any other time of the year. It’s important to make your winter staging preparations work with the season, not against it. By emphasizing a warm atmosphere, buyers will feel like they can enjoy your home even after winter passes.

If you have any questions about the home buying process, contact one of our licensed Mortgage Loan Originators. If you are ready to buy a home, click here to get started!

Much of what real estate agents do gets reduced to putting a home on a listing site and getting a commission when it sells. You might think real estate agents have it easy, but they employ many skills to help people become homeowners. Read on as we shed some light on what real estate agents do and why they’re essential if you’re buying or selling a home.

Before the Sale

For sellers, the real estate agent is responsible for listing your home for sale. To price your home, they’ll conduct a comparative market analysis to see how much similar homes in your area have sold for. In addition to managing the listing, agents and their teams work hard to market your home. Their marketing strategies can include professional photography and staging services, social media posts, and flyers to attract people. Holding an open house is a time-tested, effective way to get interested buyers in the door, literally! Agents frequently spend their weekends showing off properties for a few hours.

For buyers in the initial phases of house hunting, the real estate agent is tasked with getting to know what you’re looking for in your future home. They’ll get to know your needs, likes, dislikes and budget to recommend properties you may like. In a way, real estate agents are like matchmakers for homes. If you find a house you’re interested in, the agent will arrange a time to show it to you. Agents also need to have a strong understanding of their local markets. When you’re exploring various communities, tap into your agent’s knowledge to get an idea of a neighborhood’s characteristics.

A real estate professional who represents the home seller is called a seller’s or listing agent, while agents working for the homebuyer is a buyer’s agent. The main difference between them is that they have a fiduciary obligation to serve your interests as a buyer or seller. Having an agent who has no conflict of interest with the other party will give you peace of mind when it’s time to work out a deal.

During the Sale

Once you’ve found a house you want to purchase, the buyer’s agent will help you submit a competitive offer. It’s important to craft an offer that appeases the sellers while also complying with state and local real estate laws. Should there be any dispute regarding the offer or other concerns, your agent is there to be an intermediary between you and the seller. With all the duties you have to juggle when buying a home, the last thing you should involve yourself in is direct discussion with the other party. When reviewing the seller’s disclose, your agent can offer insight into what each item means. If you have concerns after conducting a home inspection, your agent can help you renegotiate your offer.

Once your home has an offer on the table, it can be beneficial to review it with your real estate agent, especially if you’ve received multiple bids. Offer letters are full of financial jargon, and you have a limited window to respond to offers (24-72 hours is typical)—using your agent as a resource makes a lot of sense. Though you are ultimately in charge of choosing the offer that’s best for you, your listing agent can translate what the offers entail and negotiate with the homebuyers via their buyer’s agent.

Whether you’re the buyer or the seller, time is of the essence in a real estate transaction. Agents need to be on the clock and ready to act when clients, seller’s/buyer’s agents, lenders, and title companies contact them. In addition to having open availability and timely communication, great real estate agents offer moral support to their clients. The home buying and selling process is often stressful and hectic, but having an encouraging and persistent real estate agent on your side can prevent you from feeling discouraged and lost.

Finalizing the Sale

On or a few days before you close, be sure to do a final walkthrough with your agent to ensure the home is still in working condition. This is your last opportunity to check that no new issues have come up since the home inspection and that the sellers have fixed any items that were stipulated in your offer. Although it’s not required for agents to attend closing, many choose to be present or send a representative from their team to make sure everything goes smoothly. Along with the closing attorney, your agent can clarify terms in the closing documents and answer questions.

When it comes to making one of the most significant purchases in your life, it makes sense to work with a professional who understands the ins and outs of real estate and who is dedicated to your best interests. After you finally walk through the door of your new home, you’ll be glad you hired an amazing real estate agent.

If you have questions about becoming a homeowner, contact one of our licensed Mortgage Loan Originators. If you’re ready to begin the home buying process, click here to get started!

With many people continuing to work remotely, home offices have become an extremely desirable feature for home buyers. Take advantage of this lifestyle change by creating or showing off your own WFH spot! If you’re ready to sell your home, here’s how to highlight a home office.

Office Space

A home office doesn’t have to be grand or elaborate, and it’s easy to incorporate one into your home. It’s best the office be situated away from common areas, like the kitchen or living room, if possible. A smaller, spare room or a basement can be good locations for a workspace. If you don’t have an extra room, you can carve out a smaller section of a larger room to establish a flex space. Just be sure there’s an outlet nearby to plug in a computer or printer. To create a sense of privacy, add a curtain or folding partitions next to the area. Once you’ve chosen your office location, add a desk and chair. If you can, try arranging the desk near a window. The natural light will make the area more attractive and will help achieve a pleasant ambience. 

Staging

You could always plant a desk and a chair in a room and call it a day, but staging your home office can make the difference between lukewarm and enthusiastic buyers. For home offices already in use, clear your desk of papers, personal items, and other clutter. To tidy up the look of multiple electric cords, bundle them together with a zip or twist tie. Keep the walls in your home office a neutral color, as well. When it comes to furniture, minimalism is the way to go. Avoid overcrowding by removing large and unnecessary items. This can make the room feel more spacious and keeps the focus on the desk zone. Much like staging for the rest of your home, a buyer should be able to visualize themselves using the space.

Finishing Touches

Even though your home office shouldn’t appear too personal to buyers, that doesn’t mean it needs to look bland! With the right additions, a buyer will be able to see how they can customize the workspace once they own the home. Place a houseplant to add natural beauty. Whether they’re real or artificial, the greenery will make any area more stylish and create a more tranquil environment. Consider adding an attractive area rug to make the room friendlier and tie the room together. A piece of wall art can also add some flair, just be sure not to choose any pieces that could be distracting or off-putting to buyers.

The high demand for an office space isn’t just a fad—it’s very likely that working from home will continue in some scope, even when the pandemic is less of a threat. Investing the time to showcase a home office can pay off when you’re selling your home.

If you have any questions about staging your home, contact one of our licensed Mortgage Loan Originators. If you are ready to begin the home buying process, click here to get started!