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​How the Election Season Might Help Serious Buyers Become Homeowners

Nichole Story

The housing market can be fickle, and many potential buyers might avoid it during an election year. An overwhelming trend is to avoid buying until the future political landscape has settled. Unfortunately, future trend predictions are leaning toward higher mortgage interest rates and increased buyer competition for houses on the market. The fall of 2016 might be shaping up to be the best time to buy a home, and I would recommend looking into homes now if you can.

Many Potential Buyers Aren’t Focused

If others are focused on the election and the political climate, those who are really invested in the real estate market can take advantage and negotiate with sellers who are receiving fewer offers than anticipated. Politics and commentary in the news might convince others that the uncertain political climate is enough reason to shy away from large purchases. Election pessimism might keep others from buying homes and other large purchases, but I would point out that this is actually a good time for spending and borrowing, due to the overall strong economy and low interest rates.

Buying in the Fall Is Strategic

I tend to see the fall as a great time to look into buying a home. There is less competition because families looking to move in the spring and summer are settled or off the market until next year. Other homes that may not have sold in the summer will go for lower prices, since sellers will be more serious about making the sale. Buyers can take advantage of the low inventory and zero in on their perfect home without being overwhelmed by too many choices on the market. If other potential buyers stay on the fence, this can be a great opportunity for serious buyers to lock in low rates and find their perfect home.

Low Interest Rates Might Not Last

While current trends have shown low mortgage interest rates through 2016, they might not stay that way for much longer. Housing prices and interest rates may see a spike after the November election. Elections can make us think about a shift in the economy, and a change in market cycles can spill over into rising mortgage rates. Wage growth can bring with it inflation, causing higher spending and a raising the overall market on home values. If buyers start to feel more comfortable taking steep loans, rates will go up over time.

If you have been thinking about buying a new home, there are plenty of reasons why now might be the time to act. A combination of the current economy, future uncertainties, and locking in low rates while you can all can make this a smart time to buy. I know that the home buying process is a big step, but it can move swiftly once initiated. If you are in a place to buy, it’s a good time to give some serious thought about putting in offers this fall.  Call us today to discuss the best strategy for you.  (949) 375-9981

The Election Year Housing Market: Why 2016 Might Show a New Trend in Consumer Confidence

Nichole Story

Historically, the housing market has shown to fall during an election year, but this year the housing market is on track to stay strong. Election years can bring on stress and put Americans in an uneasy state, but there are a few factors that could be shifting the correlation of this presidential election year and the real estate market. Here are three housing market trends to keep an eye on during 2016 that are making this election year have less of an effect on the housing economy than it has in the past.

1. A Seller’s Market can Increase Competition

While there might be a shortage of homes for sale in some local markets, this doesn’t necessarily make the market stagnant. If anything, this increases competition and isn’t something that an election year would necessarily deter. There is a new surge in demand for homes on top of a long-term inventory shortage, which shifts the dynamic in the real estate market. With the prior economic freeze, many individuals have been delaying marriage, living with their parents, or taking on roommates. With the new economic turnaround, employment rates are up and new families are now on the market for new homes, even during the 2016 election year.

2. The Benefits of Technology-Based Real Estate Tools

Searching for, viewing, and closing on properties is a rapid-paced process these days. Individuals who are in the market to buy homes can make rather quick decisions and might not be focusing on politics or market shifts. When it comes to buying a house, the process from beginning to end has been streamlined with online resources, smartphone apps, and multiple ways to be in constant communication with real estate agents. This fast-paced process is a structural change in what used to be a slower moving real estate market. Technology frees buyers, especially in a seller’s market, from other factors in the world such as the political economy that can stall decisions.

3. Factoring in a Robust Economy

With so much up in the air pending the 2016 election, it might make people freeze up and not want to make any big purchases. Real estate investments have historically been put on the back burner until a new president takes office. The thing is, consumer confidence is at an all time high. With low unemployment rates, individuals have more incentive to buy. Home prices are still increasing, but not at a rapid rate. Excellent financing and low-interest mortgage rates are keeping the housing market steady and can drive the market just as much as competitive selling.

Factors stemming from the economy, low interest rates, and changes in technology all have a hand in increased consumer confidence. This election year, people seem less concerned about the political climate around them, and more concerned with moving ahead in their own personal choices. This new trend seems to be coming from the market itself and is giving individuals more power and less apprehension from the political economy around them.

Please contact me if you would like to know why now would be a strategic time to buy or sell your home.  (949) 375-9981

Why Purchasing a Property with an HOA Might be a Good Move for You

Nichole Story

Many people who are looking for Orange County real estate shy away from properties that have homeowner associations (HOA). However, HOAs are actually beneficial for a lot of buyers who are looking to spend less time managing their home's maintenance or are looking for lifestyle amenities right outside their front door.

What Is an HOA?

A homeowners association is an organization made up of a group of residents within that community that is voted upon by the home owners in that community. Their responsibility is to govern the neighborhood or condominium complex by addressing any issues that may arise and keeping an eye on the established rules of the association. There are typically bylaws that outline standards for property care and maintenance, and residents pay monthly or quarterly dues to cover certain shared expenses within the community. Generally, the more you pay, the more benefits you receive.

Maintenance and Amenities

Depending on the development, particularly if it’s a condo, your HOA may cover exterior building maintenance, such as roof repairs, plumbing and piping, windows, and paint. These types of expenses can add up quickly. As a result, it may be worth your while to pay a smaller fee monthly to avoid large costs at one time.

Many HOAs will paint the exterior of the homes or condos in the neighborhood every 7-10 years, making the neighborhood look clean and extremely updated. This keeps property values up! Recently, many Orange County HOAs have decided to completely replace all pipes and plumbing in the homes, at no additional cost to the residents. The plan is to avoid or fix pinhole leaks which can be somewhat common in the South County area. If you undertook that project on your own, it would likely cost you thousands of dollars - maybe even more.

Most neighborhoods with HOAs offer amenities and other services for residents. Pools are particularly common in Orange County, and some even look and make you feel like you’re at the St. Regis. Many communities offer clubhouses and tennis courts and pay for landscaping and pest control. Some HOAs also offer gated communities, which is a huge selling feature that will continually build equity in your home.

If you want a low-maintenance lifestyle while enjoying high-end amenities and a sure way to keep your surroundings and property values up, a home with an HOA could be an excellent choice.

Other Benefits

At first glance, you may be put off by an HOA that hands you a list of rules for your property. These rules can include anything from limits on the color that you can paint your home to how often you need to mow your lawn. But here’s the thing you need to remember about these rules: They also apply to your neighbors. That means you will never have to worry about the guy next door parking his rusty old car on the lawn or the eccentric lady down the street painting her house lime green. HOA rules minimize eye sores and, more importantly, ensure that your property value continues to go up.

Homes with an HOA benefit any type of lifestyle, whether you’re a busy professional or a retiree. While the monthly fee may seem like a lot of money at first, it can actually wind up being a smart investment.

If you’re ready to talk to a real estate agent and buy now, call me to start your property search. Today’s low interest rates make it a perfect time to buy in Orange County. Nichole Story (949) 375-9981

The Cost of Waiting to Buy

Nichole Story

The real estate market in California keeps getting stronger, making it a smart time to buy a new home. In fact, many economists agree that property values in Orange County will increase anywhere from 6 to 10 percent in 2016. This is great news for homeowners because their equity will continue to increase, but what does it mean for buyers? It’s simple: The longer you wait to buy, the more money it will cost you.

Interest Rate Cost Comparisons

Homebuyers in California and the rest of the country have benefitted from low interest rates over the last few years. And while rates are still close to their all-time lows, we are beginning to see slight increases as we get closer to prime home-buying season. Many prospective buyers can currently lock in an interest rate around 3.5 percent, but what if the rate creeps up to 4.5 percent? Compared to historic rates, this might still seem low, but you’d be surprised at what an interest rate increase means for your monthly mortgage payment. Let’s take a look at a few different scenarios, which have been run through an online mortgage calculator:

Scenario 1 – $500,000 mortgage

  • If you have a 30-year fixed mortgage in the amount of $500,000, and the interest rate is 3.5%, your monthly mortgage payment would be $2,245. 
  • But if the interest rate goes up to 4.5%, then the monthly payment would be $2,533. 
  • The extra annual cost to you at the 4.5% interest rate: $3,456 ($2,533 - $2,245 = $288 per month x 12 months = $3,456).

Scenario 2 – $1,000,000 mortgage

  • If you have a 30-year fixed mortgage in the amount of $1,000,000, and the interest rate is 3.5%, your monthly mortgage payment would be $4,490.
  • If the interest rate goes up to 4.5%, your mortgage payment would go up to $5,067 a month.
  • The extra annual cost to you at the 4.5% interest rate: $6,924 ($5,067 - $4,490 = $577 per month x 12 months = $6,924).

Scenario 3 – $1,500,000 mortgage

  • If you have a 30-year fixed mortgage in the amount of $1,500,000, and the interest rate is 3.5%, your monthly mortgage payment would be $6,736. 
  • If the interest rate goes up to 4.5%, your mortgage payment would go up to $7,600 a month.
  • The extra annual cost to you at the 4.5% interest rate: $10,368 ($7,600 - $6,736 = $864 per month x 12 months = $10,368).

When was the last time you gave away $10,000 for no reason? Hopefully you never have, and there’s no reason to start giving it to the bank each year either. Plus, the longer you wait as property values go up, the less house you’ll be able to afford. That is, you’ll get less square footage and fewer amenities for the same price tag.

Dramatic Increases in Rental Costs

Orange County’s skyrocketing rental prices are also enticing people to choose purchasing a home over entering into a lease. The average monthly rent is $1,848, which is nearly a 7 percent increase over last year, making O.C. one of the most expensive markets in the nation. Compounded with typical required deposits and fees, you could potentially pay an amount close to a down payment without gaining any of the equity or other benefits of owning a home.

The Perks of Home Ownership

Not only is home ownership a smart investment due to property values and low interest rates, it’s also a savvy move for tax reasons. Home mortgage interest rates are tax deductible, which can really benefit your bottom line come April 15th. Need even more reasons to look into purchasing a home? Check out my post on why you should buy now to win big. [insert link to last blog post] 

There are many variables when it comes to real estate, but one thing is for certain: It will cost you if you wait to buy Orange County real estate. Contact my today and lets talk about the best strategy to help you jump into the OC market so you can begin to watch your equity grow.

Nichole Story is an Orange County Real Estate expert. She can be reached at (949)375-9981 

Nichole Story will be featured on HGTV's House Hunters on Tuesday, March 15th at 10pm

Nichole Story

Above is a photo of the home buyers' Josh and Meg with Nichole Story and the production crew during the filming of House Hunters. 

Tune in to HGTV on Tuesday, March 15th at 10pm to watch "The Million Dollar House Hunt on the Southern California Coast!" 

 Will they choose the Mediterranean style home in Laguna Niguel, Ca? 

Will they choose the Mediterranean style home in Laguna Niguel, Ca? 

    The Cape Cod Style home in Newport Beach, Ca? 


The Cape Cod Style home in Newport Beach, Ca? 

    Or the Contemporary Home in Dana Point, Ca? 


Or the Contemporary Home in Dana Point, Ca? 

Tune in to find out Tuesday evening on HGTV! 

Call Nichole Story at (949)375-9981 with questions on buying or selling real estate in Orange County, Ca. 

Buy Now, Win Big; Our Top Five Reasons This Is Not A Housing Bubble

Nichole Story

For those who've been considering purchasing Orange County real estate, now is the time to buy. A combination of property values going up and interest rates staying low make this an exciting market for buyers. With jumbo loan rates as low as 3.12% and conventional loans at just 3.75%, both on a 30-year term with a fixed rate, real estate experts agree that it’s time to buy. There is a sense of urgency, however, since these rates will not last forever. While some cynics have voiced concern over another potential housing bubble, the mortgage industry’s stringent lending standards and real estate market trajectories indicate otherwise. Here are my top five reasons why buying now can help you win big.

People Must be Able to Afford Their Home

Lenders now require homebuyers to meet certain eligibility requirements for both income and cash reserves. This means that potential buyers must make enough money and have enough cash in their bank account to qualify for a mortgage. In fact, federal guidelines state that people can only spend 43% of their after-tax earnings on a mortgage. These parameters will help prevent an influx of subprime home loans like the ones that contributed to the 2008 housing crisis.

Loans Require Sizable Down Payments

In most cases, lenders require 20% down, which is a sizable amount of money anywhere in Orange County. Not only does that leave homeowners with massive skin in the game and discourage them from walking away from their home, it also provides a great buffer on the off chance that housing market values temporarily dip a bit.

Borrowers Must Have Reserves in the Bank

Another lending standard preventing a housing crash is borrowers must show that they have six months of mortgage and living expenses in the bank. The actual amount varies depending on the lender and loan type, of course, but the reserves must be liquid, so they can be accessed easily in the event of a financial emergency.

Homeowners Must Have a Solid Job and a Solid Employment History

Potential homebuyers now face additional scrutiny when it comes to their employment history. They must have at least two years of continuous employment and the documentation to prove it. This is quite a change from the lax lending standards of the mid-2000s.

Foreclosures are Practically Non-Existent

The fact that the number of foreclosures and short sales continues to dwindle is a positive sign for all homeowners. Due to new federal rules, banks must work with homeowners as much as possible to avoid foreclosures. Since most people who were given loans that they couldn’t afford in the mid-2000s have already walked away, those foreclosed homes have already been sold to homeowners who can afford them. Minimal foreclosures also help keep neighborhood home values up.

Now is the perfect time to invest in the Orange County real estate market – before interest rates and housing prices begin to rise. If you've had your eye on a home and you’re ready to sit down with a real estate agent, I’m here to help you make a savvy move.

Preparing to List Your Home? 5 Tips to Sell It Fast

Nichole Story

You might be ready to sell your home, but is your home ready to be sold? It's no secret that the Orange County real estate market is competitive, so that means you have to put a little effort into getting top dollar for your home. Before you list, follow these five steps to get your house ready for buyers.

Tip #1: Clean, clean, clean

Nothing turns off buyers more than a dirty home. If a homeowner can't keep up with basic cleaning, what significant issues have been neglected? Don't list your home until you've hired a professional cleaning crew to deep clean every room. After that, either keep up a regimented cleaning routine or hire someone for weekly upkeep. Then, prepare for each showing by sweeping floors, polishing surfaces in the kitchen and bathrooms, and fluffing pillows. Your entire home should look tidy and well kept.

Tip #2: Small updates can lead to a big return

Your home doesn’t have to undergo a major renovation to be sold, but a few strategic updates can help you get top dollar fast. Does it need a fresh coat of paint? Updated appliances? Some new sod or a tweak to the landscaping? If so, this is the time to think about making small investments to reap big returns. Overlooking these items may lead the buyer to believe there is more work needed on the home. Talk to an Orange County real estate expert to find out the best investments for your neighborhood.

Tip #3: Less is always more

I know you love your stuff, but buyers want to envision their own treasured belongings in their new potential home. Give them a blank canvas by clearing out bulky furniture, family photos, and other personal effects. Not only will this enable them to picture themselves living in your house, this tactic also allows you to showcase your home's unique features. Rather than gawking at your wedding pictures hanging on the wall, the buyer's eye will instead go to that charming archway or brand-new gas fireplace.

Tip #4: Staging your property is vital in today’s market

With everyone watching HGTV these days, expectations are higher than ever in the real estate market. Consequently, it's not only vital to show your home in the best possible light, it's important that it looks better than the competition. A fresh interior design scheme can help you win big in today's market. Bringing in the right furniture shows viewers how to make full use of each room, and pops of color make your home memorable. 

Tip #5 Creating a positive experience for buyers is necessary

Sights, noises, and smells can make or break the sale of your home. While I personally love dogs, not every potential buyer wants to be welcomed into a home by a barking pet. Take Fido with you when you leave during a showing or hire a dog walker. Strong scents of spices and oils in the kitchen might also turn off buyers, so try not to do major cooking before people come over. As an alternative, consider baking fresh cookies for a sweet aroma and a tasty treat to entice buyers. By brainstorming potential turnoffs and neutralizing those issues, you automatically widen your pool of interest.  

Nichole Story is a Real Estate Expert located in Orange County, California. She has seen thousands of homes and helps her client's purchase and sell homes everyday. Call her for personalized advice for your home. 

3 Basic Things to Know About the New Mortgage Guidelines and How They Will Effect You.

Nichole Story

1) The TRID Guidelines were created to help you, the consumer. 

Under the new guidelines the loan application process is streamlined and it requires lenders to provide a Loan Estimate which the buyer must approve in order for the lender to really get the process stated.  Once the buyer approves there is very little that can change as far as fees assessed to the buyer which will cut down on surprises when it is time for buyers to sign loan documents.

2) It is more important than ever to stick to the 17 day contingency periods outlined in the Residential Purchase Agreement.

Any and all negotiations, credits to the buyer for repairs, credits for buyer closing costs or any changes to the purchase price should be settled upon within the 17 day contingency period. Any material or monetary changes to the purchase contract have to be reviewed by underwriting and should be submitted to the underwriter in advance. Any last minute changes you make can and most likely will cause a delay in closing

3) 45 is the new 30

Because there is now more required disclosure on the lending side and added review periods, a 45 day escrow will be the new industry standard. Be sure and plan your real estate moves accordingly. 

Overall the TRID Guidelines are in place to better the mortgage and real estate industry.  Though it may take some time for professionals and consumers alike to get used to the new procedures, ultimately this is a good thing for us all. 

If you have any questions regarding the TRID Guidelines or anything else real estate related, please contact me at (949)375-9981. Thank you

The Best Time to Buy?

Nichole Story

According to new research from RealtyTrac analysts, October is the prime time for closing on a home purchase. Since 2000, RealtyTrac has reviewed more than 32 million real estate sales, and October buyers on average get a “2.6% discount below estimated market value.” So what makes October so special? “It’s that middle month between the summer selling season and the holidays [when] people are trying to squeeze in a purchase or a sale,” said RealtyTrac Vice President Daren Blomquist.

While clearly October is a great month to purchase a home, I think anytime between now and the end of the year is a prime time to purchase! Here are my top 3 reasons why! 

 #1 - Motivated Sellers - There are motivated sellers out there and they are willing to negotiate. Sellers realize that the typical “summer selling season” has passed and if they have their home on the market now, it’s likely they are motivated to sell. Even better, if you can find a home that has been on the market for over 60 days, it is likely in this market that the seller would be more motivated to negotiate on their pricing. 

 #2 - Rising Interest Rates - It is not a question of if interest rates will rise, it is a matter of when they will rise. If the interest rate rises just 1 point this will change your buying power and the home that you can afford now may become unaffordable.

 #3 - Tax Perks - End of the year tax perks when purchasing your home are always nice! Enough said!

There are many reasons I believe purchasing a home at the end of the year will get you a nice discount. If you would like to talk more about this or would like more information please so not hesitate to call me. 

 Nichole Story


What 67% means to you and how it can greatly effect you when buying or selling

Nichole Story

Did you know that approximately 67% of the homes sold in Orange County are sold by an agent that only closes about 1-2 transactions per year?! Yes, that is right, per YEAR!!! In my opinion is it almost impossible to understand real estate contracts and how to properly represent anybody who is buying or selling a home if you are not working at it full time and successfully closing many transitions per year. My first broker always said to me that as Realtors, we are practicing law every single day and we need to stay well informed as to what those laws are and when they change how that effects our contracts and our clients. With more and more laws and guidelines coming into play in the Real Estate industry and the contracts changing every year, it is absolutely vital that you are choosing the right agent to represent you. 

Does the agent know how to properly counsel you on everything from properly marketing your home - or how to successfully navigate a transaction and protect you? Here are some core items your agent should know.

1) Contracts - Does your agent know the contract? Do they know when the contract changes? Do they know how to read through the contract with you and really counsel you on what you are signing and what it means both to you and for you? I just recently worked with an agent who did not know the contract therefore he could not properly counsel his clients on the contract. His clients were in breach of contract throughout almost the entire escrow and they didn’t even know it - half the time he didn’t even know it. Fortunately I do know the contract and my clients are good people and we worked out the issues instead of contacting legal counsel, but I can tell you that their agent put them in a highly compromising situation and it could have turned out very badly for them. 

2) Properly Negotiating - Does your agent know how to confidently negotiate on your behalf? Weather you are purchasing a home and want to negotiate the best price or are selling a home and would like the highest offer, have they had enough experience or done enough transactions to understand how to effectively negotiate on your behalf? Even after the contract is negotiated there are multiple times throughout the escrow period that further negotiations are required as well. Do they know how to work with the other parties on your behalf to protect you, keep you on track and make sure you are ending up with the best possible scenario?

3) Roles and Responsibilities - Does your agent know what their responsibilities are and what the roles and responsibilities are of all of the other parties as well so they can keep the escrow on track? Your agent is your quarterback and they need understand the role of the lender, the escrow officer and the title officer. Does the agent know the responsibilities for the team and work with those people often? Your agent should be driving the other parties involved in the transaction to meet deadlines and contingency dates and should be well versed in exactly what that entails. 

4) Contingency Periods and Time Frames - Do they know when the contingency period deadlines are or what the responsibilities are for their client – whether they are representing the buyer or the seller? Does the agent know how to front load the transactions to make sure all contingency deadlines are met on time? 

5) Industry Standards - Does your agent understand industry standards and have a good relationship with other parties throughout the transaction? Are they knowledgable enough to work out simple solutions if necessary? Can they properly counsel you on industry norms if you have questions?

If any agent you interview cannot properly navigate through any of the above topics, my suggestion would be to interview other agents! 

Who you work with matters. The Nichole Story Group is always here to help! Please call us if you have any questions about any topics covered in this article, we would be happy to help. (949)375-9981

5 small but vital pieces of advice for anybody who has their home listed for sale or is thinking about selling their home.

Nichole Story

In this market, homes that show correctly sell VERY quickly.  If some of these rules seem over the top, just remember if you market the property correctly up front it shouldn't be an inconvenience for long, as your home should sell quickly. 

All of my sellers understand and strictly follow the cardinal rules for showings, hence the average listing time for my clients is 6 days and typically they net 8-12% over market value when they sell their homes. I know these rules sound simple, but it is vital to properly prepare your home for showings if you are serious about selling. 

1) Clean EVERYTHING before you list your home and before every showing. A clean house could possibly be the most important part of keeping your house in show-ready condition. 

Tip: Hire a housekeeper to deep clean your home before you list it. 

2) Barking dogs should be boarded. I know it is inconvenient, but if you want the highest price for your home I highly recommend it. Even for buyers that are dog lovers it is hard to think clearly and get emotionally attached to a home when there is a big distraction. 

Tip: Come up with a “showing plan” where you send the dog to doggie day care specific days of the week and let your Realtor know what days those are so he/she can schedule the bulk of your showings on those days.

3) I know rule #1 was clean EVERYTHING but this is also worth mentioning: Clean your carpets before you list your home, it will make your carpets look a lot better if not brand new.

Tip: Your Real Estate Professional should be able to recommend a good carpet cleaner to you. They should also bring booties to your home so that moving forwardall potential buyers wear the booties to preserve your clean carpet. It also elevates the image of your property to the potential buyer. 

4) Choose an agent that will answer phone calls AND text messages. So much of today's real estate business is done over text messaging. If your agent refuses to answer text messages, they are missing out on many potential showings for you. 

Tip: When you are interviewing agents make sure to go with one that is technologically savvy. 

5) Choose an agent that will tell you the TRUTH! Sometimes the reasons a home is selling or not selling are very minor. Choose an agent that doesn't mind telling you,"You will make $10,000 more if you clean the vanity in your bathroom and get rid of that old poster over your bed." Or whatever the case may be that is stopping your home from showing at it's absolute best!

Tip: Your CPA and/or Doctor would never candy coat the truth, nor should your Realtor.  Selling your home is a big financial decision and your Realtor should be able to articulate the best selling strategy for you. 

If any of the items above sound silly, remember, I have seen it all! And you would be surprised at what "seen it all" entails in the life of a Realtor! I have seen thousands of properties and most listings I take, no matter the price point, typically need a little staging or a showing preparation plan before they go onto the market. If you are interested in finding out more about the things you should do to your home specifically before you list it contact me, Nichole Story at (949)375-9981 or