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AOL Real Estate - Blog
AOL Real Estate - Blog

Pharrell Williams Should Be Quite Happy in $7 Million LA Home

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ZillowThe architecturally significant contemporary home sits on 1.5 acres overlooking the lights of Los Angeles.

By Melissa Allison

Pharrell Williams and his big hat are headed west.

The "Happy" singer recently dropped $7.14 million on a contemporary estate high in the hills above Los Angeles, according to a report from Variety. Its Jetsons-style living room, complete with a floating fireplace, is surrounded by walls of glass with views of an infinity-edge pool and an expanse of city lights below.

The compound on 1.5 acres includes five bedrooms in the main home, a sixth bedroom in a detached guest house, and an outdoor theater. The listing agent was Justin Mandile of The Agency.

Pharrell also owns homes in Miami and Virginia Beach. He has listed the Miami condo off and on for the past few years.


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Nicole Richie and Joel Madden Put Home on the Market in LA

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ZillowOriginally built in 1914, the home has been remodeled to include skylights and elements of midcentury modern style.

By Melissa Allison

The upheaval in Nicole Richie and Joel Madden's life -- which includes rumors they're splitting up, the filming of her new reality show, "Candidly Nicole," and the purchase of a new home in Beverly Hills, according to Variety -- now includes a house on the market.

Third Annual Baby2Baby Gala Honoring Kate Hudson - Red Carpet
Matt Sayles/Invision/APRichie and Madden in 2014

Richie and Madden, who paid $1.912 million for the place in 2009, are asking $3.495 million for the home in the Laurel Canyon enclave of Los Angeles.

Built in 1914, the home looks more like a cross between midcentury modern and California bohemian. Soaring ceilings plus lots of windows and skylights bring sunshine into the five-bedroom, five-bath home, which also features courtyard-style open spaces and dark, exposed beams. An attached guesthouse offers access to a backyard with eating and play areas alongside a lagoon-style pool, spa and waterfall.

The listing belongs to Thomas Atamian of Dilbeck Real Estate, who sold the home of Madden's brother, rocker Benji Madden, last year.


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Mortgage Rates Edge Up to 3.79%, Remain Well Below 4%

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ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans rose this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.79 percent, up 2 basis points from the same time last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate fell Thursday, then hovered around 3.78 percent before rising to the current rate Tuesday.

"Despite some volatility early on as markets parsed typically unimportant data for signals of the Fed's first rate hike, mortgage rates remained flat with lenders focused on the Memorial Day holiday," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "We expect these ups and downs to continue this week."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.96 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.91 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for mortgage rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.


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Add a Dash of Style and Curb Appeal With Just a Little Cash

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Grey small house with porch and white railings with summer landscape.
Shutterstock / Artazum

By Abby Hayes

Looking to sell your home? Or maybe you just want to feel proud of the place as you swing into the driveway each evening?

Either way, you can add some serious curb appeal without making a huge financial investment. For less than $50, you can make your home more attractive with these eight DIY projects.

1. Paint the front door.

If your front door is a boring gray or brown -- or blends into the facade of your home -- it's time to glam it up. Bright blue and red are both great options for a front door. Keep it classy, but choose a color that will coordinate with -- and still stand out against -- your home's facade.

Cost: $25 for a gallon of paint, plus a few hours of your time.

2. Upgrade your house numbers.

House numbers are a practical necessity, but they can also be a statement. You can pick up large metal house numbers for around $5 each. Or you can buy wooden numbers from a craft store and stain or paint them yourself. (Maybe paint them to match that newly painted front door?)

Cost: $20 or less.

3. Jazz up the mailbox.

If you have a mailbox attached to the front of your house, it's another great place to add some color. Those who lean more traditional may prefer to simply replace the mailbox with a new one. But if you'd like to add even more color to the front of your home, you can spray paint the mounted mailbox a fun color. Add your new house numbers to it in a contrasting color for eye-catching appeal.

Cost: Around $20 to $30 for a new mailbox and $5 for a can of spray paint.

4. Add porch furniture.

Does your home have a nice front porch? Adding a porch swing or rocking chairs can make your home more appealing and more functional. Contrary to what you might think it will cost, this can be done for less than $50. You just have to thrift shop for the furniture, and you might have to do a bit of upcycling.

Cost: $20 to $40 for furniture, and $10 to $20 for a can of paint to touch it up.

5. Paint the porch rails and ceiling.

This is the last painting project on the list, but it's an important one. Peeling, worn out porch rails are not good for curb appeal. Stripping and repainting them can be an extensive project, but it will be worth your time. While you're at it, you can repaint any peeling wooden trim around your front door and windows.

Cost: $30 and a weekend's worth of time.

6. Install an outdoor light.

If you have a bit of electrical knowledge, you can easily replace a light fixture on your porch ceiling or add a sconce beside the front door. Don't feel comfortable with electrical projects? Try adding some late-night curb appeal with wire-free solar fixtures.

Cost: $20 to $50 depending on the fixtures you use.

7. Decorate with potted plants.

Green plants and healthy flowers are one of the easiest ways to make your home more appealing. If you don't have much of a green thumb, you might hesitate to landscape in the front. But you can just as easily add appeal with potted plants. Place large pots near the steps or front door, or hang plants from the roof of the porch to draw the eye up.

Ask your local nursery which plants are easiest to grow in your local area. Make this project even more affordable by spray-painting cheap terra cotta pots or buying nicer pots secondhand.

Cost: $20 to $50, plus time devoted to watering and upkeep of the plants.

8. Plant flower beds.

Ready to really go green on the curb? Dig a new flower bed or two in front of your home. You can make this project super affordable if you know friends or family members with perennials ready to be divided. Most perennials, including irises, bulbs, astilbe, day lilies and easy-care hostas, need to be divided. This is a great way to get free plants!

Keep in mind, most plants divide best in early spring or late fall. And remember, it takes perennial beds a couple years to come into their full glory. Be patient, and fill in with cheap by-the-flat annuals while you wait.

Cost: Possibly free, or a few dollars for compost or other organic soil amendments.

There are plenty of other things you can do to improve curb appeal -- consider a new fence or gate, for example. But these eight ideas will give you plenty of bang for your buck.


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Found a Job? Next, New Grads Must Find an Affordable Home

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portrait of a group of young graduates standing holding their degrees
Getty ImagesIn the 25 largest rental markets, fewer than 19% of listings are affordable for recent college graduates.

By Ralph McLaughlin

School is (nearly) out for the summer. That means millions of newly minted college graduates will strike out on their own to find a job and a place to live. Here is a guide from Trulia, an expert source for information on rentals and real estate, to help new grads find areas where they can afford the rent and still have some money left to pay back their student loans.

Trulia measured graduate affordability as the share of rental homes on Trulia on May 7 that were within reach of an employed college graduate who was 22-25 years old. The standard was whether the total monthly payment, including rental payment and insurance, was less than 31 percent of the metro area's median income for recent grads. Trulia calculated affordability based on the local median graduate income and rents for the 25 largest U.S. rental markets. For that reason, what was considered "affordable" for a recent graduate varied from market to market.

For instance, in metro Atlanta, the median salary for a new grad is $25,571 a year. Making that much (or that little) money, you could only afford to rent a place that cost less than $661 a month, based on the 31% guideline. Sadly, that meant just 8.7 percent of the homes for rent in Atlanta (those listed for less than $661) were within reach.

Affordability is even worse for new grads looking to rent in large coastal cities.

TruliaThe gap between median earnings and the income required to afford the median rent is highest in San Francisco.

Want To Pay Less In Rent? Move Inland

Generally, the picture isn't pretty for recent grads who want to find an affordable place on their own. Those who head to the Midwest and the South can save the most on rent. But even in St. Louis, which topped the list of most affordable metros for new grads, just 18.6 percent of rental units were affordable. And it's all downhill from there: In the next most affordable areas, less than 15 percent of units rated as affordable. The good news is, you would need no more than one roommate to make the median rental unit affordable in each of five least expensive metros for grads.

Top 5 Most Affordable Rental Markets for Recent Grads

U.S. Metro

Affordable Rentals

Maximum Affordable Rent

Roommates Needed for Median Rental

Median Bedrooms

St Louis

























Note: Statistics are for the 25 largest rental markets. Trulia counted any fraction of a roommate needed to make rent affordable as a whole person. For example, to not break the 31% affordability criteria, a recent grad in St. Louis would need at least one roommate to make the median rent affordable. Income estimates are inflation-adjusted to 2015 dollars and originate from the 2013 American Community Survey for college educated graduates ages 22-25. Download the full dataset for the 25 largest U.S. rental markets here.

Go West Young Grad? Only If You Can Pay More

If you plan to head to the West Coast after graduation, then you might want to take a crash course in sticker shock. Less than one percent of all rental units in the bottom five are affordable, and almost all are in expensive California markets. Portland (Ore.) ranks the least affordable with 0.1% of units affordable, followed by Riverside-San Bernardino (Calif.) at 0.2%, Orange County (Calif.) at (0.2%), Miami at 0.4% and San Diego at 0.4%.

So what's a grad to do? Although it's an exciting prospect to get a place of your own right out of college, the cost of doing so may be too high. For those not wanting to live with Mom and Dad, there are two options: You can spend time searching for the few affordable units that are out there (Trulia can help with that) or find roommates.

To help with the latter, we've crunched the numbers to find out how many roommates a recent grad would need to afford rent, and whether that means sharing a bedroom. In the five least affordable rental markets, a recent grad would need at least two roommates to make the median rental unit affordable, and in Riverside-San Bernardino, that number jumps to three. Think about it: In some cities, two individuals would need to share a room -- just like freshman year.

Top 5 Least Affordable Rental Markets for Recent Grads

U.S. Metro‚Äč

Affordable Rentals

Affordable Rent

Roommates Needed for Median Rental


Portland (Ore.)





San Bernardino





Orange County










San Diego





Note: Statistics are for the 25 largest rental markets. Trulia counted any fraction of a roommate needed to make rent affordable as a whole person. For example, to not break the 31% affordability criteria, a recent grad in Portland (Ore.) would need at least two roommates to make the median rent affordable. Income estimates are inflation-adjusted to 2015 dollars and originate from the 2013 American Community Survey for college educated graduate ages 22-25. Download the full dataset for the 25 largest U.S. rental markets here.

San Francisco, Washington and NYC: The Big Challenge

Want to live like a young professional and not like a fresh-faced graduate? You might want to think twice about moving to a high-wage metro. For recent college graduates looking to live comfortably, moving to a metro where the young and educated earn the most might be tempting. After all, in San Francisco, Washington and New York, the starting salaries for recent graduates aren't too far from the salaries of more experienced workers in other metros. These areas also have high rates of employment. So why not pack up and move to the City by the Bay, the District, or the Big Apple? Two words: high rents.

Many of the metros that pay the highest salaries also come with hefty rental price tags. Here's a look at how new grads' salaries stack up to the salaries needed to afford median rents. So take notice, grads, bigger isn't always better -- 'cause that big salary may not seem so big after you start writing that monthly rent check.

Where Grads Need to Earn the Most to Afford Median Rents

U.S. Metro

Median Income for Recent College Grads

Income Needed to Afford Median Rent

Median Rent

San Francisco




New York












Los Angeles




Cambridge (Mass.)








Oakland (Calif.)




Orange County (Calif.)








Download the full dataset for the 25 largest U.S. rental markets here.

The Cliffs Notes on Rental Affordability

The lesson here for recent grads is that although it may be tempting to seek out metros with the highest wages, doing so may not necessarily lead to a better quality of life because these metros also have high rents.

Recent grads need to balance both wages and rents, so such places as St. Louis, Dallas and Houston fit the bill for affordability. Although the percentage of units in these areas that are affordable is under 19%, finding just one roommate is enough to make the median-priced rental unit affordable. However, in such places as Portland and Southern California, not only are affordable units few and far between, it also takes living in dorm-like quarters to make the median priced rental unit affordable.

Ralph McLaughlin is a Housing Economist at Trulia and conducts research on housing market trends and real estate search patterns. His academic background includes a degree in Regional Development from the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. in Planning, Policy, and Design from the University of California, Irvine with a specialization in Urban Development).


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Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Selling Home in New Orleans

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Angelina Jolie Joins The Children's Health Fund To Raise Awareness For 55,000 Children Still in Crisis in the Gulf
WireImage/GettyAngelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, shown here with local children in 2007, bought their New Orleans home in 2006.

By Melissa Allison

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have listed their prime French Quarter mansion for $6.5 million, but a rep tells US Weekly the couple remain committed to New Orleans and will look for "something off the beaten path down the road."

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie Are Selling Their New Orleans Mansion

Pitt and Jolie became involved in philanthropic efforts in the city after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and bought the renovated 1830s home in late 2006 for Pitt's filming of "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." In 2007, Pitt cofounded Make It Right, a non-profit organization based in New Orleans that builds environmentally friendly homes and other buildings for people in need.

The home the Jolie-Pitts put on the market has five bedrooms, five baths and all the grandness you'd expect from a Big Easy mansion: Venetian plastered walls, marble mantles and fireplaces, crown moldings, a grand spiral staircase and -- bringing it into the modern era -- an elevator. There's also a two-story guesthouse.

The couple let actor Jonah Hill crash at the home when he was filming "21 Jump Street."
Hill, a months-long guest, called Pitt "the nicest guy" for letting him stay there but said it came with some fan baggage.

"I would go home every day from work, and there'd be a tour outside and they'd be freaking out," he told Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show." "I'd get out of the car, and you could hear a collective audible sigh of annoyance when it wasn't Brad Pitt."

The listing photos, alas, include only exterior shots.


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Live Like F. Scott and Zelda: 'Great Gatsby' House for Sale

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F Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby Home on Sale for $3.8m

By Melissa Allison

If F. Scott Fitzgerald was right that we're "borne back ceaselessly into the past," then it's fortunate when there are photographs to go with those backward glances.

And there are photos to accompany the $3,888,888 listing of the Long Island estate where Fitzgerald began writing "The Great Gatsby," as first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, rented the seven-bedroom, 6.5-bath home for two years in the early 1920s. It has since been remodeled.

Zelda called it "our nifty little Babbit-home at Great Neck," and it became their base for parties and visits to even more luxurious homes in the vicinity, which eventually became the class-conscious West Egg and East Egg of "Gatsby."

The Fitzgeralds' raucous parties here spurred the writing of half-facetious house rules such as, "Visitors are requested not to break down doors in search of liquor, even when authorized to do so by the host and hostess," according to Andrew Turnbull's biography of Scott Fitzgerald.

Scott and Zelda left this home in Great Neck for France, where he finished "The Great Gatsby."

The listing agent is Nurit Weiss of Coldwell Banker.


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Robin Thicke Singing a New Tune, Buys a New Spread in Malibu

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De Grisogono Party - The 68th Annual Cannes Film Festival
Getty Images

By Megan Johnson

Looks like someone's got a new bachelor pad.

"Blurred Lines" singer and legendary lothario Robin Thicke has dropped $2.395 million on a four-bedroom California spread in tony Malibu. The R&B star, the son of one of the 1980s' best sitcom fathers, Alan Thicke, has moved in with his 20-year-old girlfriend, April Love Geary. (Alan, by the way, just confessed that he and his wife like to get it on to his son's music. Yeah, we're a little disturbed too.)

Chopard - Annabel's In Cannes
David M. Benett/Getty Images for Annabel's/ChopardRobin Thicke and girlfriend April Love Geary at a party during the Cannes Film Festival in France.

The 2,359-square-foot home may be just the place that Thicke needs after his tempestuous split from ex-wife Paula Patton. A single-story, midcentury-style house, it's the picture of relaxation with ocean and mountain views, a 7,000-square-foot lawn, and 60 fruit trees. The property is also a fully-functioning equestrian compound, with almost two acres of gated land plus a four-stall corral, tack room, and full-size arena.

The house boasts some other interesting aspects: It has a recent "seismic retrofit," which means it's prepped to be sturdy in case of earthquakes. And then there's the eight-line phone system with an intercom, which really isn't all that surprising if you think about all the girls Robin probably needs to keep in touch with. A beautiful chef's kitchen with bird's-eye maple cabinets and quartz countertops complements ash and granite floors.

It hasn't been all smooth sailing since moving to this chill location at the beach, however. Turns out, Robin's pet dog likes to party almost as much as he does: The pup apparently got into Robin's weed stash multiple times and had to be brought to the vet for treatment, Page Six reported.


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The True Costs of Owning a Pool

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ZillowThis California home on a hillside in Laguna Beach has a swimming pool as well as views of the Pacific Ocean.

By Susan Johnston

As summer approaches, perhaps you're daydreaming about putting in a swimming pool or buying a property with a backyard pool. That way you can take a dip and cool off in your own pool whenever the mood strikes, never mind piling the kids in the car on a hot summer day or jockeying for space at a community pool. (Plus, a beautiful pool can make you feel like you live the glamorous life.)

But before you dive in (pun intended), consider these financial implications of a swimming pool.

Upfront Cost

If you're planning to install a pool, be prepared to open your wallet. PK Data reports that the average cost of a residential in-ground swimming pool was $39,084 last year. Don't expect to recoup all of that money when you sell your house in the future, cautions Sabine H. Schoenberg, a home improvement expert and founder of "It's not something that's value-enhancing to a lot of people," she says. "Just as there are people with positive feelings towards pools, there are those with negative feelings. I would never put a pool in as a speculative builder." Whether to buy an investment property with a pool is another decision to consider carefully.

If you decide to move forward with a pool installation, Schoenberg suggests thinking carefully about the placement of the pool in your yard. "If it's in one faraway corner, people aren't going to use the pool," she says. "You need to look at the natural daylight as it travels around the house. I don't think it's a good idea to put a pool into a dark, shadowy place." She also suggests finding an installer who offers a five-year warranty, not just a one-year warranty.

Also investigate your town or municipality's regulations around pools. "Each town will have its own definition of a 'pool,' often based on its size and water depth," says Loretta Worters, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, an industry organization that provides insurance information to the public. "If the pool you are planning to buy meets the definition, then you must comply with local safety standards and building codes. This may include installing a fence of a certain size, locks, decks and pool safety equipment."

Ongoing Maintenance

Before you buy a home with a pool, try to get the pool inspected. "The best way, I find, is to get a pool company to come and look at the pool closely," Schoenberg says. "Sometimes that's a challenge if it's the winter, and the pool is partially drained down, so you may not be able to do a full inspection."

Also, find out if the previous homeowner had a pool company servicing the pool so you can find out if it's been serviced regularly and what that company charges. Peter Wingskam, owner of Crystal Clean Pools of New York, says the quality of a pool's construction matters more than its age. "You might have above-ground pools where you've got ladders pulling on the side and ripping the vinyl," he says. "Some people cut costs, and there's thicker vinyl or better grade vinyl available." In-ground pools can also get cracks, he adds.


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Mortgage Rates Edge Downward to 3.77%

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ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans fell this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.77 percent, down 5 basis points from the same time last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate fell early in the week, then hovered around 3.71 percent before rising to the current rate on Tuesday. Hawaii saw 30-year fixed rates as low as 3.67 percent.

"Rates fell late last week as a string of weak data raised concerns about the underlying strength of the U.S. economy," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "This week markets will look to a few Fed speeches and minutes from April's Federal Open Market Committee meeting for further guidance."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.91 percent, For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.84 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for rate trends and up-to-the-minute rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to check monthly payments at the current rates.


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3 Strategies for a Quick Home Sale

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Sold Home For Sale Real Estate Sign and Beautiful New House.

By Brendon DeSimone

Most sellers have a specific goal when it comes to their transaction: a quick sale and top dollar. But sometimes fast action doesn't align with achieving the highest and best value.

There are multiple schools of thought on this subject and the perspective varies not only with where you are in the country, but also by price point, neighborhood and even down to the block. When it comes to pricing and the search for a quick sale, it's always best to get help from a local agent.

Here are some strategies you can use to get offers fast.

1. The Theory of Under-Pricing

Under-pricing means that you go to market with a list price that is just below what the comparable sales in your area support.

You can't pinpoint the exact market value of a home until it sells. But before you list, there's always a range. If you price your house at or below the bottom of the value range, you are under-pricing the home.

In many West Coast markets this strategy will work effectively. Take this San Francisco home, for example: priced at $1.1 million, it received 10 offers and sold for $1.425 million in less than a week.

Risk alert: If you price your home low, this plan could backfire -- big time. If you don't know your market and this strategy doesn't work, you'd better be ready to accept that list price.

2. Staging and Market Presentation

Well-priced homes that also show well sell quickly. If you want a quick sale, you need to invest some serious time in getting the house ready.

Prepping the home means taking out large pieces of furniture and personal items, painting, replacing carpets, finishing floors and even doing some minor renovations.

Enlist the help of a home stager and take their advice, and you can be assured a quicker sale. The investment of time and money will pay itself back.

Risk alert: If you go overboard on staging or you don't spend the time and money in the right places, it could be a waste. Don't make staging decisions in a vacuum. Focus on kitchens and bathrooms, de-cluttering and cleaning. When in doubt, ask for help.

3. Disclose and Inspect Upfront

In most of the country, sellers complete real estate transfer disclosures and present them to the buyer, and the buyer simultaneously inspects the home -- all once they are in escrow.

What often happens is that buyers discover things they don't like, or uncover issues. When this happens, they may lose confidence in the home or the deal.

By presenting disclosures upfront, and even providing buyers with a copy of a recent inspection report, you can help them get more comfortable with the home. If you price the home to account for whatever work needs to be completed or for disclosure red flags, buyers will feel more confident, and may make an offer much more quickly.

Risk alert: There is little risk in disclosing and inspecting. If you try to hide something and the buyer discovers it later, you can expect the deal to fall apart -- or maybe even face a lawsuit down the road.

Selling your home is a major undertaking. Spend time strategizing and preparing the home for the market. Pricing, staging, presentation and disclosure go hand in hand. If you want a quick sale, price it right, present it in its best possible light, and go out of your way to make buyers feel comfortable with all aspects of the home.


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House Hunting for Two: How to Find Your Happy Home

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hispanic couple outside home...

By Vanessa Nix Anthony

While it can be tough enough to find just the right spot to rest your head at night on your own, it can be even more difficult when searching with a partner. Choosing where you'll live, whether you're renting or buying a home, is one of the most important and personal decisions you'll ever make.

It's the definition of complicated: the extra weight of the long-term commitment that sharing a living space brings. That means good communication is key.

"Moving in together is a huge commitment, perhaps more than a marriage itself, because it's a substantial financial commitment to each other," author and counselor Kerry Cohen says. "Any issues each person has around commitment, both in general and with each other, are surely going to come up."

She advises couples to be prepared when looking for a place together.

"There will likely be arguing or maybe even hurt feelings," Cohen says. "A lot of who a person is comes to the surface when buying a house -- how detail oriented, how controlling, aesthetics, etc."

Just because the potential is there for emotions to run high doesn't mean they have to. Not if you take the time to do a little home-shopping prep. Here are a few do's and don'ts, straight from the experts.

DO: Expect Feelings to Be on the Surface

Every expert we talked to brought up how emotional the home-selection process can be. And that makes sense, especially for buyers. C'mon: we're talking about one of the biggest investments you'll ever make, in both time and money. Things are guaranteed to get heated.

Setting clear expectations and communicating clearly and kindly throughout the process will go a long way toward defusing volatile emotions.

DO: Communicate Openly and Often

Joan Rogers, a principal broker at the Portland agency Windermere Stellar in Oregon, recommends that clients identify their old emotional pulls before starting the home search. "As with most other emotional processes, people carry all kinds of baggage into buying a home." Use collaborative tools such as Trulia's new boards to share properties that you find in real time.

DO: Understand What You Both Want in a Home and Why

Amber Salvador, a clinical psychologist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital in San Diego, suggests both parties make a list of their top three to five must-haves, then compare their lists and prioritize for budget and neighborhood before heading out on the search.

When searching for homes, make sure your list reflects who you are now as well as who you think you'll be in five years, rather than clinging to old ideas of who you once were. The key component to success in agreeing on living arrangements is to make sure you truly understand why you want what you think you want.

DO: Be Willing to Compromise

"Be flexible. It's important to be collaborative and work together versus against one another," offers Salvador.

As Mick Jagger sings, "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes," with a little compromise and understanding, "you might find, you get what you need."

DON'T: Be Impulsive

"Impulsive decisions are typically made based on emotions," says Salvador. "A major financial decision such as buying a home requires thought, preparation, and planning to carefully decide the most appropriate home given the couple's budget, lifestyle, and needs."

DON'T: Spend More Than Your Budget

The heightened emotions during the home search can also persuade you to spend more money than your budget may be able to bear. This can lead to long-term consequences in the partnership. Salvador says it's essential that you choose a new home together based on rational decision making instead of emotional desires.

DON'T: Manipulate Your Partner to Get What You Want

Your home should be a place where you both feel comfortable. Manipulating, lying, or bullying your partner to get more of what you want in a home can lead to resentments down the road when money is needed for repairs or upgrades to features that weren't jointly agreed upon.


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Paula Deen's Savannah Estate for Sale for $12.5 Million

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ZillowIn addition to a main house in the French Caribbean style, there are two guest cottages and an eight-car garage.

By Melissa Allison

Celebrity chef Paula Deen is asking $12.5 million for her Savannah estate in the city where she cooked up her Food Network shows. "When Paula is in Savannah, she wants an easier and simpler life," a source told People magazine of the listing.

The large riverfront estate called "Riverbend" is set up like a private resort with an outdoor kitchen, a pond and a swimming pool with a dive-in theater.

It boasts a main house built in the French Caribbean style, two guest cottages, a dock house and a barn with an eight-car garage. Altogether, the 2009 estate includes eight bedrooms and 8.5 baths across 28,000 square feet of living space.

The doyenne of Southern cooking has been off the Food Network for almost two years and is now hawking her subscription-based Paula Deen Network, a mobile game and a line of food including chocolate butter sticks.

Elaine Seabolt of Seabolt Brokers has the listing.


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Buying a Home When You're Not a U.S. Citizen

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comks82479Comstock Images(Royalty-free)   Couple consulting with a businesswoman in her office, both man and businesswoman are s
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By Kirk Haverkamp

Immigrants are having a significant impact on the U.S. housing market. According to the Research Institute for Housing America, immigrants accounted for nearly 40% of the net increase in U.S. homeowners from 2000 to 2010. Meanwhile, the same group estimates that U.S. homeownership rates among Latino immigrants will hit 50% by the year 2020.

Overall, the number of immigrant homeowners is still relatively small, representing only 11.2% of owner-occupied homes in 2014, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies. Even so, that's up from 6.8% 20 years earlier.

So immigrants are clearly buying homes. But what sort of obstacles and challenges do they face that native-born homebuyers do not?

There are no legal barriers to foreign nationals buying property, owning homes or obtaining loans in the U.S.

Foreign investors buy U.S. property and do business with U.S. banks all the time -- getting a mortgage and buying a home is simply more of the same, on a smaller scale.

"Residency of any kind is not a requirement for home ownership in the U.S.," said Jason Madiedo, president of Alterra Home Loans, in Las Vegas. "The challenge for the consumer is to gain financing."

Documenting Foreign Financial Info Can Be a Challenge

For a legal immigrant with an established employment and credit history in this country, the process of buying a home is much the same as it is for a citizen. However, there are still certain challenges that non-citizens may face when seeking to buy a home in the U.S. that native-born borrowers are unlikely to encounter.

"It becomes a little more difficult for a foreign national to buy an owner-occupied property unless they're here with a job in the U.S.," said Bill Ashmore, president of IMPAC Mortgage in Irvine, California. "The longer somebody's here and the more they can document their income through tax returns, the better off they are."

Even if they've established themselves professionally and financially in their home countries, recent arrivals may find it challenging to get a mortgage in the U.S., Ashmore said.

One of the major reasons is because the information needed to document income and credit is coming from abroad. That means the information may need to be translated into English, or may be in a different format or based on different conventions than American bankers are used to -- for example, there will be no W-2s for earnings abroad.

There's also the matter of verifying the validity of information provided by unfamiliar individuals or institutions.

"Are you going to accept the profit and loss statement of the accountant?" he asked.

As a result, many foreign nationals tend to simply pay cash for home purchases, which Ashmore termed the "path of least resistance."

That's not to say that foreign financial information can't ever be used in obtaining a mortgage from a lender in this country. Ashmore said his company is developing a program in cooperation with about 25 foreign banks to enable borrowers to document assets abroad. However, potential borrowers would need to have accounts with a participating bank to benefit.

Alternative Measures of Credit, Income Sometimes Needed

Non-citizen homebuyers tend to fall into two groups, according to Madiedo, who is past president of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. The first group, he said, are affluent foreign nationals with the financial resources to buy property in the U.S. and the ability to come and go as they wish.

The second, he said, are the ones who come here seeking work and opportunity, people he calls "the type that this country was built on."

"These folks have a much harder time obtaining financing," he said.

The way some immigrants handle their finances is part of the issue, Madiedo said, given that some prefer to do their transactions in cash. As a result, they don't build a credit history. (If you want to see if you have a credit history, you can check your free annual credit reports through, and you can check your free credit report summary every month on

"What we run into is, number one, a thin-credit or no-credit situation," he said. "Many immigrants tend to be credit-adverse, which limits their options."

For borrowers who haven't established traditional credit, some lenders will use alternative methods of qualifying them for a loan, such as looking at rent payments, or phone and utility bills. But doing so is more labor-intensive for the lender and the loans carry higher interest rates than those done with conventional underwriting.

Another issue that sometimes arises with immigrant families is that many people may contribute to the household income, rather than the one- or two-earner households that lenders are more accustomed to evaluating.

"One of the challenges we're seeing from an underwriting perspective is the multigenerational family," Madiedo said.

In such a household, you may have grandparents, parents and children all working and contributing to the loan payment. Documenting all that income, and proving that everyone will be an occupant in the home, is a challenge in today's lending environment, Madiedo said.

Not all lenders will be willing to go through the extra steps needed to underwrite such loans, although Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA do have certain loan products that accept both nontraditional credit and varied income sources.

"The key for consumers is to be working with the right lender who understands their cultural nuances and packages the loan into whatever (product) works for them," Madiedo said.

Nonpermanent Residents Can Still Get Loans

Another type of immigrant borrower is one who does not have permanent residency (green card) status, but who has come to the U.S. on a temporary visa because he or she has special professional skills that are in demand.

From a lender's perspective, one concern with such borrowers is how long they will be able to remain in the country. As such, they may need to provide a statement from their employer/sponsor attesting to the expected duration of their employment, Ashmore said.

Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac offer mortgage programs that are available to nonpermanent residents from other countries who are here on a temporary work visa (H1B or H2B). Down payment requirements are higher than the minimums allowed on other Fannie and Freddie loans, however, and other restrictions may apply.

Nonpermanent residents from other countries may also be able to go outside of the Fannie/Freddie structures for what are called non-agency loans, which have fewer restrictions but also have higher interest rates and higher down payment requirements.

What About Undocumented Immigrants?

What about undocumented immigrants? Many are surprised to learn that even in that situation, it's still possible to get a mortgage and buy a home.

A standard loan application will require the borrower to provide a Social Security number and indicate their citizenship or residency status. But those requirements aren't established by law -- those are requirements imposed by the agencies backing those loans, such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac or the FHA. And there are certain types of non-agency loans that don't have those requirements.

For some loans, a borrower may use what is called an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) instead of a Social Security number. This is an alternative form of taxpayer identification that is issued to foreign nationals working in the U.S. who are ineligible for Social Security.

Lenders themselves aren't equipped to check a person's immigration status -- Ashmore said that if a person has their financial and credit information in order, the lender really doesn't have a way of knowing what their immigration status might be.

"If somebody's going to come to me, I'm not going to check that their driver's license is right, I'm going to do a fraud check," he said. "It's more documenting your ability to repay, rather than whether you're illegal or not," he said.

ITIN mortgages aren't widely available, and are generally offered by small community lenders who are willing to put in the extra effort needed to underwrite them, according to Madiedo. Interest rates typically run about two to three percentage points above what someone would pay on a conventional 30-year loan, he said.

Madiedo said that undocumented immigrants who obtain mortgages tend to be dependable borrowers with low default rates. They also tend to keep their loans for a long time, being less likely than other mortgage borrowers to refinance to a lower rate or sell the property before the note is paid off.

"The loans perform extremely well, so it's a good investment opportunity," he said.


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Mortgage Rates Continue Modest Rise to 3.82%

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ZillowThe weekly mortgage rate chart illustrates the average 30-year fixed interest rate in six-hour intervals.

By Lauren Braun

Mortgage rates for 30-year fixed loans rose this week, with the current rate borrowers were quoted on Zillow Mortgages at 3.82 percent, up 9 basis points from the same time last week.

The 30-year fixed mortgage rate fell Friday, then hovered around 3.69 percent before rising and settling at 3.82 percent Tuesday morning.

"Rates surged over the past week due to strong European data," said Erin Lantz, vice president of mortgages at Zillow. "Looking ahead, we expect mortgage rates to continue in their gradual march upward."

Additionally, the 15-year fixed mortgage rate was 2.98 percent. For 5/1 ARMs, the rate was 2.78 percent.

Check Zillow Mortgages for rate trends and up-to-the-minute mortgage rates for your state, or use the mortgage calculator to calculate monthly payments at the current rates.


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Sticker Shock: San Francisco 1-Bedroom Sells for $2.3M

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ZillowThe view from one of the apartments in The Comstock, one of San Francisco's most prestigious residential buildings.


It may have sold for eight percent under the original asking price, but when you're talking about an 1,800-square-foot San Francisco condo playing in the $2.5-million club, who's really counting by the tens of thousands?

When it debuted on the market last month, the Nob Hill apartment at 1333 Jones instantly became San Francisco's most expensive one-bedroom listing -- as in, of all time -- at $2.495 million.

Granted, the apartment is in The Comstock, one of the city's most prestigious residential buildings. But when it comes to San Francisco co-ops, a fancy address only gets you so far.

So what does this elaborate eighth-floor beauty have that (no offense) you probably don't? For starters, the completely remodeled unit features hardwood floors throughout, as well as a modern, open-concept kitchen.

From there, turn your attention to two slab-marble bathrooms and a walk-in closet off the master bathroom. Finally, take in the northwest-facing floor-to-ceiling windows that give way to panoramic views of the Bay -- the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Coit Tower, yada yada yada.

Some might say the ultramodern work-of-art/apartment does slightly resemble a life-sized fishbowl, but its sleek architecture and design are awe-inspiring. And there's a bonus: The open floor plan includes frosted sliding glass doors that can be used to convert the office/den into a makeshift guest room.

Regretting not having put in an offer? Not to worry: another unit in The Comstock just popped up on the market. Measuring in at a cozy 1,200 square feet, but with larger balconies and a smaller price tag ($1.75 million), it's a steal. Gregg Lynn of Sotheby's International Realty - San Francisco Brokerage has the listing.


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