Breaking Down the Hottest Patio Trends This Summer

Summer patio season is ramping up. The experts at Infratec say that outdoor design trends for 2018 are all about incorporating affordable luxury into your own backyard by turning your patio into a peaceful, lush oasis through low-maintenance water fixtures, a color refresh and vintage materials.

The company sees many homeowners gravitating toward easy-maintenance exterior garden designs that enhance physical and mental wellbeing with spa-inspired touches, like meditation benches, fountains, reflecting pools, rock waterfalls and zen gardens.

According to Infratec, low-maintenance water features can add visual interest and soothing sounds to a yard—even in drought-prone climates—because they actually require little water (and recycle the water they do use).

Kate Simmons at Decoist.com says cabana stripes can be found in this year’s collections, and this trend shows no sign of fading. She says that linen, teak and rope are a few of the materials designers are incorporating into exterior furnishings and accessories to give this year’s easy-breezy trend pizazz.

When it comes to outdoor style this year, Simmons says pink is the accent color of choice, especially if a hint of blush is introduced into your furniture vignettes.

Meanwhile, at FamilyHandyman.com, trend watchers are seeing patio furniture that mixes materials, such as metal and wood, instead of a single material, such as wicker.

If you have a covered deck or patio, the site says you can bring it up-to-date by adding a ceiling fan. If you haven’t installed a ceiling fan before, rest easy—you can do it yourself in less than a day, and you’ll be comfortable even on the hottest summer days.

FamilyHandyman.com also says that the days of small, bistro-style dining tables on the deck and patio are over, and that large-scale square and rectangular tables are hot.

As far as accessories are concerned, think bright and bold when it comes to fabrics for your patio furniture cushions in 2018. Go with yellows, reds and pinks that will pop against all that natural greenery, and your guests will be raving about your impeccable sense of style all summer long.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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Breaking Down the Hottest Patio Trends This Summer

Summer patio season is ramping up. The experts at Infratec say that outdoor design trends for 2018 are all about incorporating affordable luxury into your own backyard by turning your patio into a peaceful, lush oasis through low-maintenance water fixtures, a color refresh and vintage materials.

The company sees many homeowners gravitating toward easy-maintenance exterior garden designs that enhance physical and mental wellbeing with spa-inspired touches, like meditation benches, fountains, reflecting pools, rock waterfalls and zen gardens.

According to Infratec, low-maintenance water features can add visual interest and soothing sounds to a yard—even in drought-prone climates—because they actually require little water (and recycle the water they do use).

Kate Simmons at Decoist.com says cabana stripes can be found in this year’s collections, and this trend shows no sign of fading. She says that linen, teak and rope are a few of the materials designers are incorporating into exterior furnishings and accessories to give this year’s easy-breezy trend pizazz.

When it comes to outdoor style this year, Simmons says pink is the accent color of choice, especially if a hint of blush is introduced into your furniture vignettes.

Meanwhile, at FamilyHandyman.com, trend watchers are seeing patio furniture that mixes materials, such as metal and wood, instead of a single material, such as wicker.

If you have a covered deck or patio, the site says you can bring it up-to-date by adding a ceiling fan. If you haven’t installed a ceiling fan before, rest easy—you can do it yourself in less than a day, and you’ll be comfortable even on the hottest summer days.

FamilyHandyman.com also says that the days of small, bistro-style dining tables on the deck and patio are over, and that large-scale square and rectangular tables are hot.

As far as accessories are concerned, think bright and bold when it comes to fabrics for your patio furniture cushions in 2018. Go with yellows, reds and pinks that will pop against all that natural greenery, and your guests will be raving about your impeccable sense of style all summer long.

For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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Is Amazon Embarking on Home Insurance?

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July 16 is Prime Day, and this year’s deals feature double discounts on Alexa-enabled smart home devices, including Echo, Fire TV and Fire tablets, Amazon reports. As the marketplace giant gets more and more involved in the lives of homeowners, could consumers start to see offshoots into other home-related services?

Amazon-run home insurance could be the company’s next endeavor, according to The Information, a technology website. Although Amazon has not yet provided concrete evidence for insurance plans, it would make sense due to the company’s most recent partnerships. From plans to create a line of robots to be used as homeowners’ personal assistants, to the latest collaboration with Lennar showrooms to promote its line of smart home products, Amazon is already deeply entrenched in the lives of homeowners.

The alleged reason for this possible next phase in Amazon’s services? The company’s various tech products could help monitor for dangers such as burglaries and fires, resulting in more affordable premiums, reports The Information. Amazon has already made moves into the healthcare industry to build out its medical supply business, so an insurance division isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

If Amazon did form its own insurance division, what would it look like? In order to beat out the competition, there may have to be a sizable price difference in premiums and an added catch for consumer convenience. A traditional financial model may not be feasible for a company that needs to juggle its Prime audience base, along with several other technological innovations, to stay relevant.

However, this could be more of a partnership than a foray into its own segment of home insurance. Since regulations vary by state, it would be difficult for Amazon to establish a national presence under its own umbrella without investing an abundance of time and money to maintain a legally intricate service. Another concern? Amazon would need to have the necessary funds available to create a pool of reserves for any upfront claims payments.

In order to cut costs, Amazon may be able to sell consumer information it gathers from its smart home devices—in December alone, the installed base of Amazon Echo devices in the U.S. amounted to 31 million units, according to Statista. This way, the company would be able to barter data in order to profit from already-established insurance institutions and further negotiate consumer discounts, similar to the way insurance companies currently provide credits to homeowners who have security systems installed at their properties.

According to Statista, the global smart home market will reach an estimated value of over $53 billion in the U.S. by 2022. Will future homes be run by Amazon? It’s starting to look that way.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com. For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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How These Midwest Organizations Are Giving Back In Unexpected Ways

If the Upper Midwest is known for anything, it’s hospitality. Whether you’re taking a stroll down a small-town street or Continue Reading →

Staged to Sell: A Country Estate in Gaithersburg, Md.

Home stager: Libby Paulson with Preferred Staging

The home: Paulson staged this remodeled, single-family country estate in Gaithersburg, Md., which featured cathedral ceilings, a two-story stone fireplace, gourmet kitchen, formal living and dining room, two staircases, and a walkout basement with full kitchen and bath. The home is listed at $709,500.

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Photo credit: Libby Paulson, Preferred Staging

Paulson’s tips:

1. Greenery is a Must:Greenery is considered natures neutral. It provides a space harmony, freshness and energy. Greenery can be incorporated into a staging as an accent color or as a way to soften and welcome someone into a room. Some great examples are fiddle fig plants or ferns of all types as well as large leaves arranged in a vase.

2. Pillows are required: If you are looking for an easy, affordable way to make your home ready to sell try adding some throw pillows. Using some trendy pillows you can transform any space. They also help large furniture stand out and complement and highlight the home’s structural features. So choose pillows that complement the home’s aesthetic and style, and don’t be afraid of adding color as long as it adds style. A quick tip is use solid color pillows if furniture has a busy print or patterned pillows when working with solid color furniture. For an upscale look use pillows with subtle texture such as linen or tweed.

3. Bookshelves are not just for books:The first thing to remember is you don’t need to fill each self. When staging bookshelves try to add items to make the eyes look across, around and down. Limit the amount of books and use pairs of items.

Have a home you recently staged that you’d like to show off here at Styled Staged & Sold? Submit your staging photos for consideration, along with three to five of your best spruce-up tips. Contact Melissa Dittmann Tracey at mtracey@realtors.org.

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Buyers: Challenged by Student Debt? Consider Down Payment Programs

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Student loan debt is one of the biggest factors impacting millennials’ ability to purchase a home. According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), 80 percent of millennials do not own a home, and, of that, 83 percent say student loan debt is impacting their ability to buy. Millennials expect to be delayed from home-buying for a median of seven years, the NAR research shows.

There are alternatives, however, that millennials may not know about. In fact, according to a 2016 ATTOM Data Solutions survey, few buyers and real estate agents know about the close to 2,500—mostly local—down payment assistance programs. Across the 513 counties surveyed in the ATTOM Data Solutions report, buyers that used these programs saved, on average, $17,766 over the life of their loan.

From offerings that benefit first-time homebuyers to options for refinancing costly student loan interest rates, it’s important that today’s homebuyer is aware of all the viable options for purchasing a home.

What’s Out There?
For consumers who are having trouble saving for a large enough down payment, there are plenty of options that offer grants or down payment assistance. The National Homebuyers Fund (NHF), for example, has multi-state Down Payment Assistance (DPA) programs that offer closing assistance or down payment grants for up to 5 percent of the loan amount.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also has low- and no-down payment options via its Single Family Housing Guaranteed Loan Program, which assists lenders in offering low- and moderate-income households with purchasing opportunities in rural areas, for which closing costs and other related expenses can be rolled into the loan.

Additionally, there are more localized options available on a state-by-state basis. Here are a few examples:

  • Baltimore, Md./Washington, D.C. – The Maryland Mortgage Program offers a discounted mortgage rate and up to $5,000 in down payment assistance when consumers purchase in a sustainable community.
  • Ohio Grants for Grads offers reduced-rate mortgages for first-time homebuyers who’ve earned their associate, bachelor, master or doctorate degrees within the last four years.
  • Rhode Island – The First Down Program allows first-time homebuyers to purchase a one- to four-family home or condominium with down payment assistance of $7,500, forgivable after five years of owning the home as a primary residence.

More and more companies are introducing homebuyer assistance programs to tackle the student loan debt challenge that many of today’s buyers are facing, as well; however, buyers and agents should first consult a financial expert before participating in or recommending these programs. For example, the student loan cash-out refinance that multiple lenders offer, which allows homebuyers to use their equity to pay off high-interest student loans, may not make as much financial sense with the introduction of the new tax bill. as home equity financing is no longer tax-deductible.

With other incentive programs, such as the Eagle Home Mortgage’s Student Loan Debt Mortgage Program, homeowners can pay off outstanding student loan debt (up to $13,000 for this specific program) by redirecting 3 percent of their purchase price to student debt payoff when buying a new home from the home builder. Buyers should carefully assess whether these programs are financially worthwhile.

These are just a sampling of the available down payment assistance and grant programs that can help consumers with high student loan debt achieve their homeownership dream. It’s imperative that real estate agents research these offerings in order to assist consumers who believe homeownership is still out of reach.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com. For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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Millennial Buyers Face a Tough Housing Market

(TNS)—Yvonne Jimenez Smith and her husband, Brandon Smith, spoke in whispers recently as they visited a white stucco house they planned to buy on a leafy street in San Jose, Calif.

After six months of aggressive hunting, they were on their way to a small suburban home of their own after spending most of their 20s in noisy city centers.

“It was so quiet, it just seemed weird to speak out loud,” Jimenez Smith says. “We lived over a freeway entrance in San Francisco. It was always loud and we were always surrounded by people. It’s a big change.”

Like the couple from San Francisco, who are 28 and 30, other millennials are starting to follow in the footsteps of earlier generations and buy suburban houses after fueling a boom in city apartments. The share of 25- to 35-year-olds who own homes, which had been falling since 2005 as renting grew in popularity, rose slightly in 2017, according to a Stateline analysis of Census microdata from IPUMS-Current Population Survey.

Last year 32.3 percent of young people were homeowners, a slight increase from 2016 when it was 32.2 percent. That’s still well below the 45 percent in 2005 and the peak of 55 percent in 1980.

Millennials are hitting the market at a difficult time, though, with rising prices and few houses to buy as the housing industry has shifted to building more downtown rentals. Some people seeking to buy houses have been discouraged and have postponed the step, just as many have had to put off moving out of parents’ houses, forming couples and having children as they tried to build careers delayed by the recession.

Between 2011 and 2017, home prices grew 48 percent, while income for all age groups rose only 15 percent, according to National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) statistics.

“It just feels irresponsible right now,” says Jayme Fraser, a 28-year-old freelance journalist who considered buying a house in Missoula, Mont., three years ago but found prices too high. She and her husband, who is in graduate school, are now looking for a more rural home in Montana they can afford to buy while paying off student debt.

Student debt is a big obstacle to buying a home for many millennials, says Jessica Lautz, director of Demographics at NAR. The median student debt for millennials is $41,000, and they typically put off buying their first home for seven years after they wanted to buy, Lautz says.

Young people with college debt typically spend close to half of their income on loan payments, according to a 2017 study in The Journal of Consumer Affairs. This makes it almost impossible to qualify for a home mortgage with a small down payment.

“Contrary to popular opinion, millennials are not buying avocado toast instead of saving for a down payment; they’re paying their student debt,” Lautz says. “Somebody with $41,000 in student debt is going to be buying something far away with a long commute, or in a bad school district, or something too small. They’re not going to be able to stay there for long.”

Thirty-two is the median age for first-time homebuyers, according to a survey by NAR. That means many first-time buyers are squarely in the millennial generation, the oldest of whom reached their mid-30s in 2017.

The apparent increase in ownership in 2017, the first since 2005, was so tiny that it’s hard to say if the trend toward less buying and more renting is really over, says Chris Porter, chief demographer for California-based John Burns Real Estate Consulting.

Ownership is still “considerably lower than 10 years ago,” Porter says. “We may need another year or two of data to understand whether this is truly a reversal.”

Some young people who could buy houses are still on the sidelines, like Connor Coyle and his fiancée, Amy Branchini, both in their late 20s. Coyle, who works in wealth management, moved a few years ago from Manhattan to suburban Westchester County, N.Y., where he rents an apartment.

“Both of us were at the point where we wanted to get out of the city and live a more relaxed lifestyle,” Coyle says. The couple is ready to stop renting and own a house, but they just haven’t seen a house they love in their $500,000 price range.

“If we end up renting for another three years, that’s OK,” Coyle says. “What you’re getting for your money right now, to my mind, is subpar. Maybe in a few more years we can get something in the $600,000 to $700,000 range, and it will make more sense—we won’t have to put in $100,000 in renovations.”

In some expensive states, such as Hawaii, California and New York, and the District of Columbia, fewer than one in five millennials is a homeowner, according to the Stateline analysis. But in Iowa, the Dakotas and Minnesota, it’s close to half.

Today’s first-time buyers are increasingly living in ad hoc situations while they save, Lautz says, citing a survey from NAR. Twenty-one percent lived with parents, relatives or friends before buying in 2017, up from 12 percent in 1993.

Stateline’s analysis showed that the share of 25- to 35-year-olds in ad hoc situations, neither renting nor owning, has grown steadily from 21.2 percent in 2012 to 24.2 percent in 2017. Most in those situations are living with parents or other relatives.

A shortage of housing for sale is also driving prices up in some booming areas such as the San Francisco metropolitan area, where Jimenez Smith and her husband work and live. The area has added 189,000 jobs in the past three years, but only 14,000 housing units—the largest discrepancy in the nation, says Lawrence Yun, economist for NAR.

Other areas facing similar crunches are Boston, Washington, Orlando, Fla., Phoenix and Chicago, he says.

Even so, 25- to 34-year-olds are likely to insist they want to own a home in the future, according to the NAR survey.

The San Francisco couple felt the pressure to buy because their rent was rising and they were afraid that the price of a house would soon outstrip their income, even though they already could afford a $4,000 monthly mortgage and had saved about $150,000 for a down payment. Smith is a video graphics programmer for Apple, and Jimenez Smith is a policy aide for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

But in six months of shopping, they lost bidding wars again and again. Once they bid $350,000 for an empty lot with the facade and rubble of a burned-down home, figuring they could build a new home there for another $250,000. But someone else offered $480,000 for the same lot and is now trying to sell it for even more.

The couple feels lucky to have bought a modest two-bedroom house with 1,000 square feet of living space from a seller who turned out to be an acquaintance and helped them by accepting an offer matching the highest bid, not exceeding it.

“We were going through disclosures and praying it would appraise right,” Jimenez Smith says. “Fortunately, it did appraise right at $795,000.”

There were other scares. The couple had been counting on a new transit stop in the neighborhood that would have allowed Smith to commute to San Francisco, a doable but grinding hour and 40 minutes each way. The new stop was delayed, but Smith got his new job at Apple, about a half-hour away in Cupertino.

“Sometimes we worry that this is the top, that prices will go down, but our bigger worry was what if it goes up?” Jimenez Smith says. “If it went up to $900,000, we’d never be able to buy a house.”

©2018 Stateline.org
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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5 Tips to Help You Find a Starter Home

(TNS)—First-time homebuyers might well wonder: Where are all the starter houses? They’re right to ask, because starter homes are becoming increasingly scarce in many housing markets. Housing inventory is low and home prices are soaring.

What’s a first-time buyer to do?

Here are five tips for finding a starter home:

Be realistic about today’s market. Sellers clearly have an advantage in the current market. Inventory is low, which keeps pushing home prices to record levels, according to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). Buyer competition is fierce, as homes in the lower price ranges fly off the market.

Unfortunately, that leaves many first-time buyers––especially those with tight budgets––on the sidelines. If you’re searching for your first home, be realistic about what you can afford and what amenities come with that budget. (Hint: You may have to forgo top-of-the-line appliances and shiny quartz countertops.)

A starter home isn’t necessarily your forever home. Be prepared to make some compromises to get your foot in the homeownership door.

Adjust your wish list. Buyers shopping for their first home need to be open-minded about the location, size and condition of the home they want to buy, says Tim Deihl, associate broker with Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty in Boston.

For many buyers, a classic starter home, which traditionally doesn’t have many amenities, is more achievable.

“If your first home is the place you’re going to have your family, maybe build an addition and stay there forever; that’s one set of criteria. If your starter home will be a financial launch pad into a larger, better home, that’s a different approach,” Deihl says.

Another strategy: Look for an older home in a well-established neighborhood. Resales typically cost less than brand-new homes, says Bradley Hunter, chief economist for HomeAdvisor.com, a home improvement matching service based in Golden, Colo.

Older homes typically need more maintenance and repairs, which offset some of the savings; however, Hunter says, buyers who choose a used home might be able to do repairs and renovations over time, pacing themselves to make the cost manageable.

Hire the right real estate agent. When you’re up against stiff competition, working with an experienced real estate agent who knows the local market is key.

Look for an agent who specializes in the neighborhoods you’re interested in. Savvy agents should be able to answer your questions about neighborhood amenities, local schools and nearby home values.

A good agent shines when it comes to negotiating the deal and writing a strong offer letter backed with solid data. Your agent can suggest certain strategies to win in a competitive market, such as limiting contingencies or writing a personal letter.

Ask friends and relatives to recommend agents they have used and were happy with. Also, interview two or three different agents. Find out how they prefer to communicate with clients and how often you’ll get updates. Finally, research the agents you’re considering online to see what past clients have said about their work.

Rethink location. If you’re thinking about starting a family in the future, don’t focus too much on your home’s location, size and school district just yet, Deihl says. Resetting those parameters can make it easier to buy a first home.

“Buyers may be in a position where schools won’t impact them for six or seven years,” Deihl says. “That’s a good opportunity to buy in the city, make some money and roll that into a community where they want to be longer-term with the kids.”

Buyers who sacrifice location for affordability can find themselves in a neighborhood far from major job centers with a long daily commute and expensive transportation costs. Sometimes that trade-off makes sense, but not always, says Cathy Coneway, a broker for Stanberry & Associates REALTORS® in Austin, Texas.

“You have to look at how much you make and how much you can afford to spend for gas,” Coneway says. “You might actually be better off buying a house that’s closer to town so you have more cash flow for property taxes, insurance and living expenses.”

Make a strong offer. When a well-priced starter house comes on the market, the quest to buy it can be “super competitive,” Deihl says.

One way to strengthen an offer is to present a loan preapproval that includes everything but a title search, appraisal and hazard insurance, says Jay Dacey, a mortgage broker at Metropolitan Financial Mortgage Co. in Minneapolis.

A strategic phone call might help, too.

“We call the listing agent and say, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Jones submitted an offer on your property. Not only are they preapproved, but they’ve gone through the underwriting approval process with our bank,’” Dacey says. “That makes the offer stronger.”

Other ways to entice sellers: Offer above asking price (if you can afford to), keep repair requests to a minimum, make a larger down payment or give them more time to move after closing.

© 2018 Bankrate.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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Report: The Buyers and the Design Trending in 2018

Article Submitted by Fixr.com

Whether you’re selling your own home or staging a home for your seller, paying attention to industry trends can go a long way toward ensuring a fast and successful sale.

Each year, Fixr—a company that creates remodeling cost guides–polls industry influencers to find out what the top trends are within the building industry. Following up on our 2018 Home Trends to Guide Your Staging post, we’re bringing you the highlights of the full report that includes the complete results from Fixr’s single-family home trends survey.

By incorporating any of the following trends into the home you are selling, you can help ensure that it will appeal to a wider audience and help increase the chances of a fast sale for maximum ROI.

Gen Xers Lead the Shift Toward the Higher Income Group

When it comes to whom is driving the market right now, most of the influencers responding felt that Gen Xers are leading the way, while Millennials follow with the second largest share at 34 percent. And of those buyers, respondents feel that the most common income brackets will be in the $75,00 to $99,999 range and the $100,000 to $149,999–with both coming in at 27 percent.

Home Size Trends and Location
Current home size trends are falling according to U.S. Census data, and 21 percent of respondents also feel that people may begin downsizing as well. Homes measuring at about 1,100 square feet are beginning to surge in popularity. However, at the same time, 61 percent of respondents agree that the most popular size of home that people are looking for remains in the larger bracket at around 2,150 square feet.

This shift toward downsizing in properties may correlate to a trend in location, as 50 percent of influencers felt that homebuyers are looking at properties in urban areas.

Suburbs also get a moderate percentage of buyers, which lines up with the National Association of REALTORS®’ Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report (the report shows results for purchase and sale of existing homes).

Keep in mind, though, that while more average sizes for homes are the most popular, many influencers feel that there will be an increase in the tiny house movement as well. More than half of respondents report seeing an uptick in homeowners wanting a smaller home. Minimalist lifestyles and a focus on travel were the two most common answers given as to why.

Open Floor Plans Continue to Grow in Popularity
While there isn’t a lot you can change about a house’s location or size to appeal to a wider audience, one thing that you can do to increase appeal is to open up the floor plan. Open floor plans have been trending for the last few years, and they are only continuing to grow in popularity, with 76 percent of influencers responding that they see it as a popular option for the years ahead.

To confirm this, the National Association of Home Builders has reported that more than 80 percent of new home builders are creating at least a partially open floor plan as well. An open floor plan automatically includes wider passageways and turning radiuses, which can open the home up to more potential buyers too.

Green and Energy Efficient Design
Green and energy efficient homes rank very closely to one another at 21 percent and 18 percent of respondents, respectively. Combined, nearly 40 percent of respondents say these are the features more buyers would like to see, coming in just behind more smart home tech.

Green building designs are continuing to increase in popularity, particularly those that can decrease energy bills over the long term. This includes solar energy, which has a current growth rate of nearly 105 percent, increased use of natural light in home design, and the use of recycled materials in any upgrade or design feature added to the house.

Homeowners most want to see Energy Star Rated appliances and home automation to help lower energy bills and increase the sustainability of the home.

The Great Outdoor Design Improves Curb Appeal
Never underestimate the power of good landscaping. Not only does it account for as much as 28 percent of a home’s value, but most influencers say that adding a backyard garden or porch (34 percent and 32 percent, respectively) are what homeowners are looking for most.

Patios also rank highly when it comes to the popular use of existing outdoor space, with 39 percent of respondents answering that they feel this would be a popular addition to most homes. The infographic below shows influencers’ answers to the most popular use of existing outdoor space for single-family homes.

This makes particular sense when you consider that younger buyers–Gen X and Millennials–make up the biggest segment of the market. These buyers are most likely to have families that will need the outdoor space, while Millennials feel strongly that people need to spend time outside.

Home Safety and Automation
In the wake of so many natural disasters, more homeowners are taking safety into account when considering upgrades to their homes. Fifty percent of influencers feel that a backup generator will be a popular addition to most homes, while fire alarms and sprinkler systems come in second place.

When considering making safety upgrades, keep in mind that for every dollar spent, you will save $4 after the fact, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences. This makes safety upgrades a very worthwhile investment in any home.

As voice controlled automation continues to grow—like with devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home–a whopping 82 percent of influencers feel that artificial intelligence will be added to the majority of homes in 2018.

Making the home ready for smart home upgrades, such as including smart plugs, lights, and locks means that buyers can integrate their system right into the home on day one. It’s a growing feature that more buyers are finding attractive.

By paying attention to what most homeowners and home buyers are looking for, you can make more strategic decisions for selling homes in 2018. Use these and other data from Fixr’s 2018 trend report to get more out of every sale.

To learn about the cost of household remodeling projects, visit the Cost Guides.

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Blockchain Lending: Reduced Fraud or Increased Risk?

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Traditional lenders are transforming, adopting cutting-edge technology to stand apart from competitors and introduce an added level of security to financing. From AI-run algorithms to smart contracts, obtaining a mortgage could soon be a vastly different process than buyers experienced just 10 years ago. Industry disruptors, however, are looking to shift from the traditional model completely, threatening to take over the role typically performed by bank intermediaries, which buyers are accustomed to.

One new business claims it is the first company to apply blockchain to mortgages. Block66 is a blockchain-based marketplace for lenders, from which they can access vetted buyers looking to finance their mortgage. Co-founded in 2017 by CEO Joe Markham, CPO James Tuckett and COO Kamil Mieczakowski, the platform is set to launch in early 2019. The most significant benefit the company is advertising? Reduced risk for mortgage fraud.

“We created Block66 to offer new opportunities for borrowers and end the time-consuming and paper-driven processes in the mortgage industry,” said Joe Markham, founder and CEO of Block66, in a statement. “Our platform will make it easier for everyone to find what they need so mortgages can be approved and funded faster. By storing the history of each transaction on the blockchain, we will provide a valuable audit trail for lenders, which will help mitigate mortgage fraud.”

Additionally, Block66 states the addition of blockchain to a real estate transaction will reduce costs for buyers, as they will not have to be vetted via banks; instead, applicants’ information will be made public to any lenders using the platform. Block66’s loans, which will become asset-backed tokens, will reportedly play a role in leveling the lending playing field, allowing all types of investors (not only big banks) to participate, and giving way to increased applications for buyers who would not be considered worthwhile by larger banks.

“The idea behind mortgage tokenization is to bring in smaller lenders,” said Markham. “They are often reluctant to tie themselves to longer repayment plans but are more willing to lend capital to customers who aren’t always favored by traditional banking institutions, even though they are creditworthy.”

The risk? While bank intermediaries are often more costly—resulting from the manpower needed to not only vet candidates for creditworthiness, but to ensure financials are in order and paperwork is completely submitted—they often add another layer of security to the transaction that the new technology cannot be trusted to replicate at this time. Often, these banks become reliable vendors for real estate agents who have partnered with them, providing buyers with vetted mortgage lenders who not only get clients to the closing table, but also prioritize customer service and become community resources.

There are other challenges, as well. Smart contracts are not yet recognized by courts on a global level, an obstacle for Block66 when transacting across borders. Additionally, while applicant and property information is publicly displayed on the blockchain, the technology is still new, adding uncertainty into the equation for smaller banks who do not typically risk lending long-term loans. Applicants may still find ways to bypass this technology-based security and fraudulently represent the assets or financial history necessary to buy.

Liz Dominguez is RISMedia’s associate content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at ldominguez@rismedia.com. For the latest real estate news and trends, bookmark RISMedia.com.

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