Good News! You’ve finally put your home on the market. Bad News, you’ll have to spend more time out of the house, leaving it more exposed to the threat of thieves. Even if you’re still living in it until it closes, a for sale sign and an empty driveway might lure criminals, thinking it will be an easy target. Luckily, there are some precautions you can take to ensure that you and your home stay safe all through the selling process.
- Maintain Your Property. Especially in the wintertime, many people stay indoors and neglect issues such as peeling trim or an overgrown yard. But if the home looks unkempt, thieves may think it’s abandoned. This is especially true for homes that are vacant; while you may not be as concerned with thieves in an empty house, squatters can be an issue as well. Removing holiday decorations in a timely manner, clearing out debris, and keeping your lawn maintained will signal the home is occupied, and keep criminals from stopping in.
- Get Your Neighbors Involved. Many people don’t really know their neighbors; it’s more than just saying hi and being friendly. Invite them over to see your home before it goes on the market, and introduce them to the people they may see regularly stopping by during this time (especially your agent). Then they’ll know who is and isn’t supposed to be at your home and can better assess when there may be a threat while you’re gone. It is important to let them know that there will be other agents showing your property, though. Your agent should absolutely have a lock box that is provided by their local MLS to ensure that only bona fide agents can get in. Tell your neighbors that anyone who isn’t using the lock box or seems to be having difficulty with it may be suspicious.
- Assess your home’s vulnerability. Walk to the curb and face your house. Ask yourself, “How would I get in if I were locked out?” The first thing you think of, whether it’s the window with a broken lock or the door that won’t shut all the way, is exactly how a thief will get in. Think like a burglar, and then address the issues that come to mind. Also important to remember is that while a hide-a-key can be a great saver when you’re locked out, make sure it’s not in a place burglars would look. I’ve seen tons of cool diy key storage, but if you’ve got a pill case glued to the bottom of the only pine cone in the yard, there’s a good chance criminals will be able to find it.
- Respect the power of lighting. Criminals are cowards, and they don’t want to be seen. The house that is well-lit at night provides a deterrent because thieves don’t want the attention and the potential to be caught by witnesses. It’s wise to invest in tools that make nighttime light automation easy. That includes dusk-to-dawn adapters that go into existing light fixtures and motion detectors. But beware of leaving your exterior lights on at all times, which signifies the occupant is gone for an extended period of time.
- Use technology to make your home look occupied. In addition to lighting, smart-home technology has made it easier to make it appear like people are home, even when they’re not. Systems that remotely control lighting, music, and appliances such as a thermostat can help you achieve this. Though not considered smart-home tech, lamp timing devices available at hardware stores, or simply playing the radio while you’re away, are also good for this purpose.
- Yes, it has to be said: Lock your doors. It’s amazing how many people think they live in a safe-enough neighborhood not to have to lock their doors when they leave. Some facts sellers should know: In 30 percent of burglaries, the criminals access the home through an unlocked door or window; 34 percent of burglars use the front door to get inside; and 22 percent use the back door, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.
- Reinforce your locks. A good door lock is nothing without a solid frame. Invest in a solid door jam and strike plate first, and then invest in good locks. Know the difference between a single-cylinder and a double-cylinder deadbolt. Double-cylinder deadbolts are recommended because they require a key to get in and out. For safety and emergency escape purposes, you must leave the key in when you are home. But double-cylinder locks are against regulations in some places, so check with your local police department’s crime prevention office. Another great idea is to replace the screws on your lock with thicker, longer screws. Most locks come with short screws that are easy to kick out of place. By using bigger screws, your lock is more secure and harder to kick or ram open.
- Blare the sirens. Burglars are usually in and out in less than five minutes, and they know police can’t respond to an alarm that quickly. Their bigger concern is witnesses to their crime. For that reason, an external siren is invaluable, whether as part of a monitored security system or a DIY alarm. Even if you don’t have an alarm, it’s not a bad idea to invest in fake security signs and post them near doors.
- Consider surveillance cameras. The Los Angeles Police Department started a program encouraging homeowners to install a device called Ring, a doorbell with video surveillance capability that allows homeowners to view what’s outside their door on their smartphone, in a neighborhood that was a target for burglaries. After Ring was installed in hundreds of homes, the burglary rate dropped by 55 percent, according to reports. Most state and local regulations require posting a warning that people are being recorded. (But again, this can be effective even if you don’t actually have the cameras installed!)
- Mark your valuables and record details. Use invisible-ink pens or engravers to mark identifying information (driver’s license or state ID numbers) on items. Log serial numbers and take photos of your belongings. Check to see if your police department participates in the Operation Identification program. They will have stickers for you to place on doors or windows warning would-be thieves that your items are marked. These steps may prevent them from pawning or selling stolen items and can help you reclaim recovered belongings.
Oh, and these tricks can be used even if you’re not planning on selling anytime soon! Keeping your home and belongings safe is always a good idea. How do you keep your home safe from intruders? Let us know in the comments.
Here’s one that I know my friends in the mortgage industry can get behind. There’s no more important time to work on your credit score than when you’re about to apply for a mortgage. There was once a time when if you could fog a mirror, you could get a loan (hello 2006!) but those days are long behind us. Now if you want to apply for a home loan, there are lots of qualifications. Having good credit is right at the top of that list. The higher your credit score, the lower the down payment you need to qualify, and likely the lower your interest rate. Improving your credit can save you a ton of money—we’re talking about thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. Here are the actions you can take that will have a notable impact on your score:
Pay down your credit card balances
Credit utilization is one of the biggest factors in determining your credit score. Your credit utilization should at least be less than 30 percent of your limit, and it’s even better if you can get it below 15 percent. This rule applies to both individual cards and your overall credit limit.
It may even be worthwhile to use some of the cash funds you were planning to use for a down payment to pay off credit card balances. Speak to your mortgage lender about the best avenues to take to ensure you’re getting the best loan possible!
Do no harm
Possibly the most important item on this list! While you certainly want to improve your score if possible, at the very least you’ll want to keep it steady. Avoid opening new lines of credit if you’re applying for a mortgage in the very near future. This will cause a hard inquiry to show up on your credit report. Whatever you do, don’t go car shopping or start furnishing your new home before the closing date! Otherwise your lender and Realtor® will be none too happy with you!
Take care of negative items
It’s good practice to check your credit report for negative items a few times a year—you can get one free report from each of the three major bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) per year. Sites like Creditkarma.com are great for keeping track of your credit scores for free as well.
If you find any negative items (collections, late payments, etc.), write a letter to the original creditor. Explain the circumstances that led to the negative item, and request that it be removed from your report. It can be surprisingly effective, and removing a negative item will improve your credit score in a hurry. You can find some good templates for a request letter online.
Once your credit is in order, your lender will be able to get you pre-approved for a loan amount. Make sure you get pre-approved before you start house hunting, or else you might fall in love with a home outside your budget!
Got any other credit tips? Leave them in the comments!
Unless you’ve been living off the grid for a while, you’ve probably heard about this great influx of people moving to Oregon–Portland specifically. For those of us that live here, it’s definitely been an adjustment to the increases in traffic, general cost of living, and the changes in housing availability and affordability. And of course there’s the great debate that comes with these changes: whether Portland was better off before all these newcomers, or if the influx has forced improvements that make the city better. Walk 5 feet down any street and you’ll hear 10 different opinions. This migration has got me thinking about something a little different, though: how people decide to move to a new city in the first place.
Moving to a new city can be a fun, but scary experience. I’ve done it a couple times now, and each time I feel the same way: excited but nervous, hopeful but hesitant, adventurous but like an outsider. It’s a mixture of good and bad feelings that forces me to take a good look at the move I’m about to make and ensure I have made a good decision. Now, I do have to say that there’s always unknowns, and no matter how much research you do, there are some things you can’t learn about a place until you move there. You can minimize the uncertainty, however. Answer these questions to figure out if this move is the right one for you.
1. Can I afford to move?
This is the biggest question you need to ask, so might as well get it out of the way first! Moving is expensive. If you’re just moving a town or two over, it’s less so, but there are still a lot of costs to consider. Are you driving to the new city? How much will gas cost along the way? Do you need a moving van? Movers? Boxes and packing materials all cost money, too. If you’re using a U-Haul or Penske truck, do you need a car carrier? When you get there, are you moving straight into your new place? Or are you doing your house hunting when you get there? You’ll have to budget for hotels or rentals while you’re looking at homes if it’s the latter.
You’ll also need to find out what the costs are for transferring utilities and updating your information at the DMV (if you’re moving out of state, find out how long you have to get this done! In Oregon, it’s 30 days after you’ve moved).
So, now that you’ve deducted the costs of the move itself, ask yourself:
2. Can I afford to move there?
3. Do I know anyone in the area?
Picking up and moving away from it all sounds great in theory, but the first few months after you’re in a new place can be very lonely. You can absolutely make it out on your own in a new place and thrive; many people do it every day. I will say, however, that having a point of contact somewhere in the vicinity is such a comforting feeling, even if you’re moving with another person. I live 1000 miles away from my parents, but I’m only 50 miles away from my stepdad’s family. I don’t see them all that often, but when I make it down to visit, I feel welcomed, eat more food than I ever should (plus leftovers!), and get to have that sense of family that I don’t get every day. It also eases my mind that if there is an emergency for whatever reason, family can get to me fairly easily.
Chances are, you know SOMEONE that lives near where you’re going. Between high school and college, I think I have acquaintances in most major cities across the US. Reach out to them before making your move, and you can at the very least pick their brain about the city. If you’re comfortable, try to plan a meet up when you get to town. It will help you feel like you’re not so alone.
4. What is the Cultural Climate?
Most people have a sense of this before they move, but it’s important to think about nonetheless. Different regions have wildly different attitudes, and you don’t want to end up somewhere where your ideals and beliefs make you an outsider before you even get there. Attitudes can change vastly in small areas as well; for instance, Portland is thought of as a very liberal city, but go just a few miles out of town and you’ll find rural, more conservative folk dominate the area. You can even find big differences just within one city. Now, I’ll be the first to say that political attitudes are not the end-all, be-all on what an area is like, but it is important to be aware of how people in general react, as you will be able to make an informed decision.
5. What will I do when I get there?
Obviously, if you’re working, you’ll need to find a job. But it’s just as important to figure out what recreational activities your new home has to offer. Many people move to Portland for the easy access to nature, but that’s far from all the city has to offer. Again, Google will be your friend here, as you can search for any interests you have to find events and communities in the city. If you’ve never heard of Meetup.com, it can be a life-saver for newbies in town to find new people and experiences. There are so many groups to join, and most cities have at least one “New to ____” group specifically for people who have recently moved to the area. I’ve met great people and tried all sorts of things I never thought I would through this website. The human connection can’t be overstated, either.
I hope this has been helpful to you as you think of making your move to a new place. And when you’re ready to buy a home in your new city, be sure to reach out to me!