Ask Marilyn Berger

Whether you’re buying a home or selling one, you probably have lots of questions. Here are some of the most often asked real estate questions, along with answers from our real estate professionals who have been serving home buyers and sellers in Lancaster County, PA since 1979.

Selling Your Home

Making a great first impression on potential buyers can go a long way to selling your home quickly. With that in mind, you'll want to evaluate your home for any potential issues that might turn buyers off. In many cases, you can correct problem areas with a little effort and a minimum budget.

The most important things to consider are:

Natural Light - Open the blinds and draperies to bring in natural light to showcase your home's best features and make the home feel airy and open.

Clutter - remove as much non-essential furniture, clothing and decorative items as you can. A clutter-free home is easy to move through and often feels more spacious.

Personal Items - remove any personal items such as family photos, knick knacks, or anything else that might take away from the true beauty of your home.

Fresh Paint - one of the best ways to revitalize a room is by adding a fresh coat of paint. Choose neutral shades that dress up the room, yet still appeal to a large number of potential buyers.

Carpeting / Flooring - installing new flooring or carpeting can give a room a fresh new look, while also eliminating potential odors.

The short answer here is NO. While internet websites can be a great guide to compare ballpark housing prices, they are not a definitive way to determine the real value of your home. Why? Sites like Trulia, Zillow and others use databases of information and computer-based calculations and formulas to determine home value. Much of the information is often out of date or inaccurate. In addition, many of these sites do not accurately represent pricing trends and home values in particular geographic areas. This can distort the values that they report.

The best way to determine the value of your home is to talk with a licensed realtor who is familiar with the geographic area where your home resides. An experienced realtor can accurately assess your home's value based on a number of factors and help you set a realistic asking price.

No. In fact pricing a home too high is one of the biggest mistakes sellers make. Today's home buyers are savvy and have access to more information than ever before, thanks to the internet. When a home is priced above market value, potential buyers take note and often won't even look at the home. This puts the seller in a very weak negotiating position. Without potential buyers vying to buy the home, there won't be any potential offers or negotiations. To sell your home quickly, you'll want to work with an experienced real estate agent who understands the local market. Your agent will be able to help you price your home to maximize value and minimize the time your home will spend on the market.

Low ball offers can be unsettling for many sellers because they have so much emotion invested in their homes. This is one of the reasons it's so important to work with an experienced real estate agent, who can be more objective. Realizing that selling a home is a business negotiation is the first step to keeping your cool when you receive an offer well below your asking price. Many sellers will be tempted to ignore such offers, but it is often best to respond with a counteroffer to keep negotiations open.

If a potential buyer's bank appraises your home at a lower value than your asking price, you may need to make concessions to keep the deal alive. This usually means lowering your asking price to meet the appraised value. Of course, there are rare instances where the buyer will agree to pay the asking price, despite the bank's lower appraised value. If neither the seller or the buyer agree to make concessions, the transaction can be cancelled.

Choosing to include appliances in the sale of your home is entirely up to you. In most cases, appliances end up staying with the home because they don't easily fit into the floor plan of another home. In general, appliances are considered personal property and don't add much value to a particular home. Make the decision you feel is best for your situation.

There is no simple answer for this question. Your home's value will depend on a number of factors including its size, its location and the amount of care that has been put into it over the years.

Recently updated guidelines for appraisals have made the process more difficult. For example, a granite countertop may not be the equivalent of adding “x” value to the home as it has in year's past. Deciding on the right price for your home is absolutely crucial! In order to assist you with this, realtors will complete a comparative market analysis taking into account many features of the house, local area, as well as the neighborhood.

Yes! Having an open house is one thing we always suggest our sellers to do. Many people who are just starting to look at homes may not have a realtor yet but want to see what homes are available as they begin their search. A common misconception of open houses are that no one goes to open houses anymore which could not be further from the truth!

Although every market is different, most homes sell best during the spring. There are many factors that affect this timing that should be discussed with your realtor.

Home Buying Questions

There are advantages to both buying a home and renting, so the option that's best for you will depend on your circumstances, financial situation and desired lifestyle. Buying a home is an attractive option for many people right now due to low interest rate mortgages. If you have good credit, you might find that your monthly mortgage payment could be less than monthly rent rates in your area. Of course, buying a home comes with additional financial concerns and responsibilities. You'll need to factor in typical home repair costs, lawn maintenance and more in order to decide which option will work best for you. Generally speaking, if you're looking to live in a home for more than a few years, buying a home could be advantageous, since you'll be building equity in an asset that should grow in value over time. However, renting allows you to keep your options open and move anywhere you want at any time.

This is a complex question and will depend on your financial situation and other factors. The biggest advantage to buying a home before you sell your current home is that you'll already have a suitable place to live all lined up. This can make it easier to concentrate on finding the perfect home for your needs, without worrying about when you'll need to be out of your current home.

The disadvantage to buying a home before you've sold your current home is that you may end up owning two homes at one time and could potentially end up paying two mortgages at once. If you have the financial means to do this, it can work. Otherwise, you might end up submitting offers on a new home that are contingent on the sale of your previous home, which can lead to disappointment. If your current home doesn't sell in a reasonable period of time, you could lose out on the new property to someone who makes an offer without a similar contingency.

We recommend talking to your real estate agent and having a frank discussion about your expectations, financial situation and the pros and cons of both options before you decide.

You should view as many homes as it takes for you to find a home you'll be happy in. We recommend making a list of the things you want your new home to have. Break your list into must haves, preferred and would be nice categories. If you find a home that you can afford that meets all of your criteria, go for it! On the other hand, if you don't find what you want after looking at 10 homes, re-evaluate your list or continue your search. Unless you have a specific timeline to meet or have other financial concerns, there is no reason to settle for a home you don't want in order to buy a home now.

So you've found a home you like and you're ready to make an offer. How do you know how much to offer? This is going to depend on how competitive the market is and how much you want the house. We recommend discussing your offer with your real estate agent to find a number that gives you the best chance to get the home without overpaying.

In the event that your offer is rejected by the seller, you can submit another offer at a higher price if you're still interested in the home.

Yes! There are many factors that affect whether an original offer will be accepted. Some of these factors may be known such as how long the home has been on the market, while other factors are unknown, for example the financial situation of the seller. We always tell our clients that if they have serious interest in a home to make an offer that they are comfortable with and we will work on it from there. You never know what can happen in this business! There must be something down in writing in order to be able to see where both sides are.

Unless you are planning to pay for your new home in cash, you'll want to talk with a bank before you begin your home search. The bank can help you determine the amount you can afford and give you pre-approval for a loan. This not only helps you stay within a comfortable range that you can afford, but can also speed the process along if you find a home you like. Sellers like knowing that a potential buyer is pre-qualified, since there is less of a chance that the deal will fall through.

After you are pre-approved, start looking for homes in the range you can afford. A seasoned and experienced realtor will be able to help you with this search.

When it comes to real estate, location is often the prime selling point for several reasons. First, the interior of any home can always be modified for changed. If you don't like the paint color or carpets, you can change them. However, you can't move the home to a different school district, make it more convenient for your commute or move it closer to major highways or shopping centers. Likewise, you can't change who lives next door to you or whether there is a trash dump or a prison nearby.

Before you purchase any home, be sure to do your homework regarding the location of the home. Don't make the mistake of falling in love with the amenities without considering the area where you'll live.

There are many financing options available for home buyers, including special options for first-time home buyers. We recommend visiting your local bank and discussing your loan options before you begin looking for homes.

Generally speaking mortgage lenders will determine your ability to pay for a home mortgage based on the 28/36 rule. This is a calculation based on your gross monthly income. Under these guidelines a household should spend no more than 28% of their gross income on total housing expense. A maximum of 36% of household gross income should be spent on total debt service including loans, such as automotive loans or credit cards.