Nearly every agent agrees it's a bad idea for sellers to hang around when their home is shown to prospective buyers.
Q. We listed our home with a real estate agent a few weeks ago, and our first open house is scheduled for next weekend. We were planning to help with the open house and serve refreshments to the visitors, but our agent says we shouldn't even be present because it could hurt our chances of making a quick sale. What do you think?
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A. I think you should let your agent host the open house by herself.
The key to holding a successful open house is to make prospective buyers comfortable enough to slowly ramble through the property and to ask the hosting agent lots of questions. But if the sellers are present, many prospects will cut their visit short because they feel like they're intruding or that their questions make them seem "nosy." The less time a prospect tours a home, the less chance he or she will make an offer to buy it.
Another reason why sellers shouldn't attend their own open house is that, as agents will attest, they usually don't exercise much caution when they talk about why they want to move. Even a simple comment like, "I love this old place, but it's time to get something better," or "We need to move because our daughter wants to go to a different school" might be misconstrued by the buyer as a sign that they could do better by looking elsewhere.
You wouldn't have hired your particular real estate agent a few weeks ago if you didn't trust her judgment, so you should follow her advice by doing something else when she holds your first open house next weekend.
Q. We live in a condominium development that has four tennis courts. I guess that only 20 percent of the residents use the courts, but the directors of our homeowners association recently placed a $285 special assessment on every owner to pay for resurfacing the courts and make other improvements to them. Can the board do this, considering that only a small number of the residents play tennis?
A. The board probably acted within its power when it levied the assessment, because the tennis courts are part of the development's common areas, as are the walkways, pool and other recreational amenities. Every homeowner has an undivided interest in the common property and is responsible for helping to pay for the upkeep, regardless of whether he or she actually uses the courts or swims in the pool.
The process the board must follow to make a special assessment probably is explained in the association's covenants, codes and restrictions. You likely were given a copy of the CC&Rs when you first purchased the condo, or you can view one at the development's management office. If you check the document and determine that the board acted improperly, you can submit your findings to the directors and improve your chances of having them reverse the new fee.
Frankly, I wouldn't bother taking this matter to court, even if the board refuses to repeal the assessment. Spending lots of time and money to pursue a lawsuit over a $285 fee just doesn't make sense. And even though you don't personally use your development's tennis facilities, paying such a relatively small amount to help give them a facelift will add to the project's overall appeal and thus increase the resale value of your particular unit.
Q. We took out a 30-year, $155,000 mortgage last year at 6.5 percent and monthly payments of $980. Now we have just refinanced that same amount at 5.3 percent, and our scheduled payment will be $861. If we instead continue to pay $980 each month, how much interest would we save, and how many years would we cut off our new 30-year schedule?
A. Refinancing at today's low rates but continuing to make the same payment you grew accustomed to under the older, higher-rate mortgage would be an excellent idea.
You would pay $154,856 in interest over the next 30 years if you keep the $861-a-month repayment schedule the bank provided for your new 5.3 percent mortgage. If you instead pay the $980 you are accustomed to paying, an extra $119 each month will be applied directly toward the outstanding balance of your new loan. As a result, you would retire the debt in only 22 years and nine months instead of 30 years and simultaneously save more than $43,000 in interest!
• Our booklet "Free and Clear: Getting the Mortgage Monkey off Your Back" provides several other strategies to pay a home loan off early and save thousands of dollars. For a copy, send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers, P.O. Box 2960, Culver City, CA 90231-2960. Send questions to that same address, and we'll try to respond in a future column.
© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.