Ready to sell or buy a new residence? You'll likely seek the expertise of a realtor to get you through the process from beginning to end, so choosing the right agent for the job is part of a successful outcome. Money will be exchanged, time will be spent, and your ultimate real estate satisfaction is on the line. These tips for picking the right realtor will guide you towards making a smart selection for your specific needs in the real estate game. Follow this advice for the best fit for you, your property of interest, and your means when it's time to open or close the door to the next chapter in your life.



Experience/Credentials

While a fresh, green realtor may have lots of energy and go-getter pep to his or her step, it's a gamble to bet on a newbie unless there's a partner involved. Experience generally beats out the "eager beaver" when it comes to a good deal of money and valuable property on the line.

As per WikiHow, the ideal realtor has several years of experience under their belt. "Veteran real estate agents often have more contacts to help sell your home and more experience to help overcome obstacles."

Rick Harris, regional VP for the National Association of Realtors and owner of a Coldwell Banker's office told U.S. News & World Report Money, "For me, the first thing I want to know is how long have they been in the marketplace. Not just how many years, but how many buyers do they work with that have similar needs."

And Robert Irwin, author of "Tips & Traps When Buying a Home" was quoted on Bankrate alerting readers, "If they haven't been in business 5 years, they're learning on you and that's not good." Your time and money should not be taken for granted for someone else to further their career.

In addition to experience, be sure your realtor is up-to-date with their credentials for their area of specialty and is certified legally. When it comes time to close the deal, you wouldn't want fraudulence or any other legal roadblocks coming between you and your sale or purchase.

Bankrate suggests, "Check with your state's regulatory body to find out if a prospective agent is licensed and if there have been any disciplinary actions or complaints. The information may be posted online."
Better to be safe than sorry!




Location

While the "best in the biz" may be the realtor of your dreams, if he or she is on top of the world in Beverly Hills, your South Dakota home that's on the market may not be this realtor's gem.

Money notes, "Real estate is a local game, and to win you need someone who plays in the areas where you're looking to buy. Not only will they be up on market trends, they'll know about local schools, commute times, and under-the-radar red flags, like the solid-waste transfer station that's been proposed for the neighborhood."

Even with someone local, strive for a reputable and/or nationally-franchised real estate agency, as per WikiHow. "Bigger real estate offices generally have more resources for selling and marketing homes. When multiple agents work from one location, a greater number of people can spread the word about your home. And franchises tend to have bigger advertising budgets than independently-owned firms."

You'll need to rely on your realtor to make the most of their budget, so be sure the person or team you choose has the capability to stretch every dollar in your market. As per NerdWallet, "Having an agent with experience in the neighborhoods you're most interested in can save a lot of time and effort." Cotty Lowry of Keller Williams concurs, as per Kiplinger, "You want an agent who is 'intimately and passionately' familiar with your neighborhood."

Consumer Credit Counseling Service even suggests to, "Drive through the neighborhoods where you are interested in buying. Look for "for sale" signs to identify which agents are listing the most homes in the area."




Reviews/References

Anyone who's had success with a realtor is sure to give solid feedback and would highly recommend this person to work with you. Friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues are all good sources to help you land the right realtor.

Asking for references from the realtor is recommended as well. Any confident and professional agent will be happy to supply you with a few. WikiHow recommends to, "Ask your potential agent for a list of satisfied home sellers who completed real estate transactions with the agent and call 2 or 3 former customers to verify that the agent handled their home sale to their satisfaction."


Money adds, "Ask what portion of business comes from referrals or repeat business. If an agent mainly works on referrals or repeat business, that can be a positive indicator that prior clients were satisfied."

And Credit.com notes, "You are leaving a lot to chance if you don't check out the past behavior of real estate agents. You should get references from an agent's three most recent clients and call them to verify that the agent is being truthful about his or her accomplishments."

With the reassurance that your realtor is on the ball, you won't sweat the small stuff as they work with and for you. Sure, it may take a little time to go through this process, but the wrong choice will cost you a lot more than a few hours of investigation.



What's the Plan?

A knowledgeable and resourceful agent will have a plan of attack to do the job the most efficiently. No dilly dallying, no secrets, and no time wasted.

WikiHow recommends asking for a marketing plan, for example. "A good Realtor will know how to price your house correctly to attract buyers. Your potential agent should know who your target audience is, have a recommended strategy for giving your home curb appeal and present a plan to market your house using multiple media outlets."

HGTV adds, "Running a few classified ads in the local paper, listing it on the Internet and holding an open house shouldn't be the only answers. The practitioner should be able to talk about what kinds of people are likely buyers and how he will reach out to those specific people."

The realtor should also make you aware of what you can do to. For instance, "A good salesperson will have expectations. He may want you to leave and take the dog when the house is shown, paint the garage, move some furniture around and scrub the tile in the bathroom. It shows that he can think like a buyer and that's a good thing," as per HGTV.

Additionally, find out how the agent plans to communicate with you and how often. As Money notes, "A communication lapse of a few hours can mean the difference between an accepted offer and a missed opportunity. With that in mind, choose an agent who responds quickly in the mode of communication that works for you, whether it's email, text, phone or fax."

With a plan you both agree on, your sale or purchase goals will be harmonious and tension-free. You will work together best with common strategy and little need for back and forth points of contention that can waste time, and in turn, money.

Now it's time to select a realtor who's the "real" deal! Good luck with your real estate sale or purchase!

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Home garden and porch

As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.

Extensive Plants and Greenery

A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.

Lawn Care

As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.

Paved Pathways

There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.

Usable Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.

A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.

Unfortunately, giving back can sometimes go haywire. If you're ready to make a donation, first consider common mistakes made when giving back.

Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.

Acting Quickly Out of Emotion

Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.

Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.

Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation

Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.

If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.

Donating Unusable Materials

Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.

Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.

Strictly Giving at Year's End

As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.

With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.

Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.

The Age of Your House

Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.

The One-Percent Rule

An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.

The Square-Foot Rule

Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.

The Mix and Match Method

Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.

Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.