What Does a Closing Cost? What are Closing Costs? What?

Boston Brownstone & Dogwood - Photo by Annie Bergen
Boston Brownstone & Dogwood – Photo by Annie Bergen

You did it!  You finally bought your very own home.  Well, almost.  The closing is just a week away and all is going well.  All you need to do is make sure you have everything everyone is asking for on closing day.  But you’re a little confused because your attorney and the agents and your lender keep tossing terms about as casually as breathing, all the while expecting you to understand exactly what is going on and how it affects you.  You’re going to sign things that say this is so after all!

So what, exactly, are “closing costs” anyway?  Is that the price of a closing?  Well, kind of.  But it’s not like you say, “Hey that looks like a nice closing, I’ll take one of those please.”  Closing costs for each buyer and each transaction will always be unique based on their particular financial circumstances and the agreed-upon terms of the deal as negotiated and declared in the signed Purchase & Sale Agreement.  Sound a little overwhelming?  Not to worry, that’s what this blog is here for.

Follow me.

First, it is indeed true and accurate to say that “closing costs” are particular amounts of money that you (the buyer) will be expected to pay on “closing day” -the day the place you are buying officially transfers ownership (by way of recording in the registry of deeds) to you from the seller.

These mysterious “costs” often include one or more of the following: attorney’s fees, title insurance, recording fees, loan origination fees and/or discount points, prepayments of real estate taxes and insurance premiums, appraisal fee, credit report cost, and underwriting fees.  All in all, closing costs typically end up ranging from about 2% to 6% of the loan amount depending on the area.

There is no set list of items nor are there fixed dollar amounts, but here is one typical collection of closing costs to use as a general guideline:

  • Attorney Fees (for closing, title exam, and document preparation): $500-$1000 +/-
  • Premium for title insurance, if needed
  • Discount Points (1 point=1% of loan, etc.)
  • Appraisal fee, credit report fee
  • Property Tax Reserves
  • Prepaid interest
  • Recording Fee
  • Tax Stamps ($4.59 per $1000)

Sometimes the seller will contribute to these costs as part of the deal.  Always check with your lender for final closing cost numbers and details -they will give you an estimate early on (called a Good Faith Estimate and now required by law) and then the actual numbers usually a day or two before your closing.

So there you have it.  Closing costs are not quite as scary as one might think!  The important thing to remember is to ask questions early and often.  Between your attorney, your lender, and your real estate agent, you should have a team of experienced professionals who can make sure you’re prepared and knowledgeable at every turn.  Don’t hesitate to ask about each and every term mentioned in this blog and anything else you come across on the way to closing.  There is no question too small!  The closing officer will also walk you through the Settlement Statement on closing day –this form itemizes all the costs being paid by the sellers and the buyers, so take your time reading through it and ask questions about anything that you don’t recognize or understand.  Finally, the closing officer will ask for a check for your down payment and closing costs.  This is it!

You are now not only a homeowner, but one who understands closing cost lingo like it’s nobody’s business.

Once again, thank you for tuning into the Marston Beacon Hill real estate blog.  Do not hesitate to get in touch with any questions!

Until next time,

Annie Bergen and the Marston Beacon Hill Team

Dude, What Car?

Boston's Beloved MBTA - Photo by Annie Bergen

Boston's Beloved MBTA - Photo by Annie Bergen

Do you spend a large majority of your waking hours looking for parking, talking about parking, worrying about parking -or one of my best friend’s all-time favorites -telling really great stories about parking?

Well then maybe it’s time to lose your car!

Owning a car in downtown Boston can be time consuming and expensive.  It can be wonderfully liberating to live without a car.

Let me tell you why.

Four Reasons to Live without a Car in Boston

Reason Number One: No More Parking Tickets!

How happy would it make you to never have to pay a parking ticket again? Oh the things you might do, the places you might go –you’ve got extra spending money!

Reason Number Two: Say Goodbye to the Street-Cleaning Sweats

You know what I’m talking about.  Did you read that sign correctly?  Or did you read the wrong sign altogether?  Did a city ordinance have all the signs changed in the middle of the night?  Imagine not having to care one way or the other.

Reason Number Three: No More Snow Emergencies

You’re bundled by the fire after a day on the slopes, far from the city, only to realize your car is parked on a major artery back in Boston, and a snow emergency requires it to be removed.  Imagine not having to worry about where your car is, ever.

Reason Number Four: No More Registration, No More Insurance, No More Parking Stickers.

Enough said.

So, are you thinking the car-less life doesn’t sound too bad after all and want to learn more?

Well then read my list of . . .

Four Ways to get around Boston without a Car

Way Number One: You Can Walk Places.  Cardio is good for you and Grrrreat for the environment too!

Walking is liberating and fun.  You will see things you’ve never noticed before.   You can work on your waistline.  You experience Zen moments with the morning birds and squirrels before you get to the office.  And that’s all great for your health –but it doesn’t stop with just your well-being alone, it’s great for the planet, too.

~ MBTA Red Sox Art ~ Photo by Annie Bergen

~ MBTA Red Sox Art ~ Photo by Annie Bergen

Way Number Two: Tired of Walking?  Ride the T!

The T is still better for the environment than your car.  If your commute is too long to walk, you can combine walking with riding the T.  If you need to, you can drive to a T parking lot and then ride the rest of the way into Boston. Some things you can do on the T:

            1. You Can Meet New People.  You have at least one full stop to get them to like you and they are a conveniently captive audience.
            2. You Can Read That Book you started twenty times, but don’t have time to read at home.
            3. You Can Just Relax.
            4. You Can People Watch.
            5. You Can Check Out the Art!  (See picture to right.  That’s a wall painting at the Fenway T stop).

Way Number 3: Maybe the T’s not for you?  Ride a Bike.

Don’t have your own bike?  Don’t despair.  The Hub’s got a wicked new bike sharing program.  Check it out here: www.hubway.com.  PS: Don’t forget your helmet -it’s a matter of safety as well as a fashion statement.  Now get on your bikes and ride!

Way Number Four:  I Really Need a Car.  OK then, Just Zip It!

If you really just can’t live without the wheels, maybe you can at least live with –sharing the wheels!  Zipcar is a fantastic company that exists solely to get you from place to place in a car.  Just sign up for a membership then jump in a car wherever they’re parked. It’s that simple and cars are available all over town.

See how simple life can be?

Until next time,

Annie Bergen and the Marston Beacon Hill Team

If I Knew More About My Condo Fee, What a Wonderful World it Would Be.

~~~ The Charles River and the Brownstones of Boston ~~~ Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

~~~ The Charles River and the Brownstones of Boston ~~~ Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

Don’t know much about history.  Don’t know much biology.  But I do know that I love condominiums.  And if I knew more about their fee, what a wonderful world it would be.  What a wonderful world it would be.  All together now!

Do you like the idea of sharing the joys and responsibilities of home-ownership with others instead of going it alone?  And is it agreeable to think of sharing costs and decision-making regarding the upkeep of your building’s common areas?  Then condominium living might be for you!

But, you might be thinking, what exactly is a condominium?  What are condo fees?  And how does it all work?  The terms are so familiar, yet also mysterious at the same time.

Well these are all great questions and you’re not alone in asking them.  So we at Marston Beacon Hill have gone ahead and compiled some of the most frequently asked questions about condominiums, condo fees (aka association fees), and the major points you need to know in order to keep it all straight.  So come along and explore these questions with us –here we go!

1. I always hear about the “budget,” but am not quite sure what that means . . .

Condominium associations elect a board of trustees to oversee the planning and execution of running the condominium.  In order to make and implement decisions efficiently and effectively, the trustees need to create a budget for the condominium to run on just like any family or individual needs to do.  In order to do this the trustees first look at all necessary expenses (discussed below) and then add in any special projects (also discussed below).  Then they use that number as the total budget for the year.  Each unit owner’s condo fee is then based on their respective percentage of the total budget needed for the year.  For example, if it takes $50,000 per year to operate a building and you own 5% then you would owe a total of $2500 for the year, making your monthly association fee $208.33.  So, the next time you think you might like your association to oh, let’s say, “just go ahead and build a gym,” don’t forget that this will also mean a corresponding increase to your monthly fee!  So which do you think will make you sweat more?  The gym or the fee?

2. Let’s Talk about “Condo Fee,” Let’s Talk about You and We

The term “condo fee” stands for condominium fee and it refers to a monthly dollar amount that a condominium unit owner must pay to their condominium association.  It is also, by the way, actually an “association fee,” rather than a “condominium fee” even though it is commonly referred to as the latter — A condominium is a type of ownership entity. An association is the organization of condominiums. The fee that is paid is an association fee rather than a condominium fee –are you loving this yet?  The fees are split between all owners in the condominium and cover costs that vary from building to building, generally going towards common area maintenance, utilities, and other costs of running the condominium.  Some associations include very little in the fee –perhaps just maintenance, heat, and hot water.  Other larger associations can include salaries of maintenance or concierge staff and the upkeep of common amenities like roof decks, pools, and gyms.  There is also generally a portion that goes to building up a healthy reserve in case the association has to make an emergency or planned repair.

3. Why do condo fees change (often go up) and can I do anything about this?

One thing that generally confuses people is why their condo fees often change –and unfortunately usually go up!  Well, this can be for many reasons.  Sometimes the association chooses to increase the monthly fee to raise money for increased routine costs, or to make a repair to the building that was unanticipated like getting a new roof.  These expenses would often be too much for people to handle in one go, so it helps to roll them into the condo fee and spread them out over time.  Since the raw underlying costs involved change, the fees that are passed onto owners have to change as well. For example, fuel costs have been going up as much as 25% this year, so condo fees are going up to reflect this added cost.  In order to be fiscally responsible, associations plan for upcoming capital needs, and a good way to do this is to put aside money in a reserve account. Part of the condominium fees often include a portion for funding this contingency account. In the case of an unplanned event, or a cosmetic or non-capital expense, calling for a supplementary assessment may be done.

And there you have it!

The secrets of condominium living 101 have been unlocked and are yours forever.

We hope this information has been helpful.  If you find yourself still brimming with unanswered questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch anytime and we would be glad to help.

Until next time,

Annie Liza Bergen and the Marston Beacon Hill Team

City Living Got You Feeling Under-Nourished? Try Container Gardening!

Feeling Blue?  Grow Some Green! - Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

Feeling Blue? Grow Some Green! - Photo by Annie Liza Bergen

Are you getting your greens?  Or are you green with envy?  If it’s the latter, then you better get your grow on!

City living is exciting and vibrant.  Still, some of the things that give it its allure are the same things that also make us itch (just on occasion) for the suburban life.  Do I have a yard?  Probably not.  A garden to stroll in?  Wouldn’t that be nice.  Luckily in Boston we are blessed with some lovely public outdoor spaces.  But unless you are also one of the fortunate ones who have snagged a community gardening patch to call your own, you can’t just wander down to the Public Garden, drop some watermelon seeds, and rest on your green thumb laurels.  The Parks Department is understanding, but not that understanding.

So what to do?  You’d love a little more green in your life.  A little more zest.  You’d like to grab a handful of your homegrown basil and drop it in your pasta salad on a steamy July afternoon.  Who wouldn’t?  Not to fear.  Container gardening to the rescue!

Container gardening is a way of life.  It’s a philosophy.  It’s a secret club.  Ok, it’s not actually all that serious.  But if you do join the club, you can feel good about yourself.  It’s low-cost, healthy, and simple as pie.  Come to think of it, it’s simpler than pie, both the food and the number.  No baking involved and no discouraging decimal places.

Here are five quick and easy steps to get your green thumb thriving in the city:

FIRST: Upcycle!

I’d like to say just for the record that I don’t actually advocate killing birds in any way shape or form, but in this strictly metaphorical case, killing two birds with one stone is a good thing. you can use old household items to start your gardening adventure instead of buying new containers. This way, you’re de-cluttering, recycling, AND saving money all in the name of your new green thumb.  Go ahead, pat yourself on the back.  According to simple and concise diytogether.com, you can use old watering cans, old mixing bowls, cooking pots & pans, old metal or plastic bins, waste paper baskets, wooden boxes –in short, just about anything you have on hand to start your container garden.  Just remember to make drainage holes in the bottoms of things!

SECOND: Get Crafty

Finding it hard to contain your excitement whilst container gardening?  You’re not alone.  And the answer is don’t be afraid to let your creativity rule.  Go ahead and throw the traditional planter out the window (although be careful not to hurt anyone or get arrested).  Diytogether.com has the fantastic idea of making hanging baskets out of sieves, colanders, and lampshades …imagine that!  So don’t limit yourself to standard planting protocol, go ahead and hang some things over your head.  One day you’ll be walking across the room and when your hair gets caught in your over-exuberant spider plant, you’ll know you’ve really made it.

THIRD: Claim your new Hobby Spot …or better yet, Many Spots!

Why contain the beauty?  Spread your container gardening around!  If you have a coveted patch of green, a deck, or a patio, you can fill these spaces to your heart’s content.  But if you aren’t lucky enough to have these outdoor spaces, or as I like to advocate, you want to “spread the green,” you can install a window box, hang things from above as in tip number two, or even put a few containers on your front steps.  I once had an herb garden in a window box right outside my kitchen window.  It was SO easy and I could just go give Clive the Chive plant a haircut and toss the trimmings in my dinner whenever the spirit moved me.  Lots of local hardware stores and trusty Target sell little ready-to-go herb garden kits so you’ll be up and running in no time.

FOURTH: Think this is all well and good, but worried you just don’t have the time?

Set up your plants to water themselves!  Seriously.  Check it out here on diytogether.com.   And if you’ve read this far and feel the excitement, but just can’t imagine getting started, then go ahead and hire some help!  You can find gardening pros in any city, but if you’re right here in Beantown with me, give Boston City Gardens a call (www.bostoncitygardens.com) and they’ll sign you up for a free consultation to get up and running with your container gardening.  Once they’ve done all the hard work, you can just roll on maintenance mode.

FIFTH: Enjoy Year-round Nourishment AND Make Your Containers Double as Art!

No matter what kind of space you have for your containers –a balcony, a patio, even just a doorstep or window box –you can grow your edibles and florals outside when it’s nice and then whisk them inside when it turns chilly out there.  That’s a plus one for the portability of container gardening.  And while you’re moving your containers around, why not use them as conversation pieces too?  The fantastic Etsy arts & crafts site has beautiful gardening accessories from artists all over the world.  Check out this pretty Etsy planter.  Oh and while you’re there, how can you resist these adorable herb garden kitchen towels!?

And there you have it.

See how simple it is?  And inspiring?  Go ahead, take care of your City Self.  If you’re having trouble getting closer to nature, bring nature closer to you.

I will leave you with a handy list of some great edible container gardening instructions from About.com’s Container Gardening Guide, Kerry Michaels.  Click below if you want to know more about . . .

Think the blog links are nice, but you’re secretly a bookworm like me and prefer to have a good study before diving in?  Check out The City Gardeners Handbook by Linda Yang.

And you know where I work, so please don’t be bashful about dropping off some of your prize-winning container vegetation.  I will ooh and ahh and my mother will be so happy I’m eating your greens!

Until next time,

Annie Liza Bergen and the Marston Beacon Hill Green Team

Time to Sell? Make Sure Your Home is Ready for the Limelight

Sell Your Bathroom with a Spa-like Feel

Sell Your Bathroom with a Spa-like Feel

Have you already signed the listing contract and are getting ready for the first open house?  Or are you just thinking you might like to sell sometime next year?  It is never to early to think about the tricks and tips you’ll need to get your home sold in a timely and top-dollar fashion. You only get one chance to make a great first impression, so it is a smart idea to give it your best possible shot right out of the gate.

So how do you get ready for the big day?  It’s called staging.

The term staging might bring up all sorts of intimidating ideas in your head –not excluding the idea that you might need to pay a professional a lot of money to get the job done.  Not to fear.  Staging professionals can be great –and well worth the cost.  But not everyone needs (or wants) one.  Definitely talk to your listing agent and friends to get their opinions on what your home needs –and if a professional is called for, the best route for that is a referral from people you trust who have had a positive experience with a particular person or company.

But I bet you’re thinking, that’s great, but can’t I just do some fixing up myself?  And the good news is, yes you can!  Elbow grease can go a long way in making up for dollars.  We at Marston Beacon Hill have put together a handy list of some of the easiest and least expensive ways to get your home market-ready.  Having helped many homeowners through the process ourselves, we know first-hand what works and what doesn’t.  Here are some tips for a quick, easy, and rewarding selling experience!

Quick & Easy Tips to Get Your Home Ready to Sell

1. Scrub ’til it Shines (With a Little Extra Love to the Kitchen & Baths)

As much as we’d all like it not to be true, there’s just nothing better than elbow grease to get top results for bottom dollar.  Get out your rubber gloves!  And get scrubbing.  Here’s the rub: you want to make sure you get every nook & cranny.  Believe it or not, it’s the nooks & crannies that will count the most.  Buyers walk in and they’re either wowed or dismayed –and most of the wowing/dismaying comes from the kitchen and the bathrooms.  These are the make or break rooms.  They need to gleam and sparkle.  Buyers need to feel that they could just drop everything right there and start calling it home (AND that if they lived there, they would obviously start a new life of spotless living).  When they peer behind the toaster oven, let them see shining tiles.  When they pull back the shower curtain, let them see stars.  There are no magic tricks to number 1 –just get everyone on board and scrub like you’ve never scrubbed before.  It works!

2. Cull the Clutter . . . and Paint!

Are your stairs a mini-museum for your kids’ toys?  Or perhaps the front hallway resembles a shoe sale extravaganza?  Time to get packing!  Put it ALL away.  No excuses.  As much as you might think it adds a feeling of “home” and fills you with warm and fuzzy ideas of family and fun, buyers want to imagine themselves with their beloved clutter surrounding them, not yours.  As is the case with #3 (next), you can look at this as a jump-start on the packing job that will come faster than you might like once your home sells.  Don’t forget Fido’s bones and Mr. Whiskerson’s cat bed.  Now that you can see your home, don’t forget to execute the quickest, easiest, and biggest impact to do: PAINT.  Talk to your local Home Depot or similar shop to get the scoop on neutral colors and accent walls that appeal to the masses.

3. A Little Less Personality Please

We know you’re proud of your twelve hard-won bowling trophies and collection of hats from around the world, but the hard truth is that buyers won’t be as thrilled.  As much as it might hurt to acknowledge, buyers don’t want to know about your life in the house, they want to wander about fancying themselves living there and making it their own.  If trinkets and tchotchkes are the hallmark of your home, wave the magic wand and make them be gone, post-haste.  You can look at it as getting a jump-start on packing!

4. Minimize and Accessorize

The idea of “staging” a home for sale is really about minimizing and accessorizing wisely.  You might even like to think Pottery Barn catalog or Restoration Hardware if that helps you get in the mood.  Open up the space in your home by having only the bare minimum of well-chosen furniture and accessories on display.  Consult the aforementioned authorities for current trends if you need some inspiration.  You can go to places like The Christmas Tree Shoppe and Target to get inexpensive “dressings” for the bathroom and living areas.  Think “spa” for the bathroom accessories –soothing and refreshing is what you want to keep in mind –think ocean.

5. Call in the Odor Patrol

Ooh that smell!  This is a sensitive subject.  Especially for your nose –well actually more for other people’s noses, in fact.  This is one you just can’t go it alone for.  Ask for help.  When you’ve been living in your home for so long, you become too well acquainted with the various scents of your dwelling and tend not to notice them much at all.  Bad news for buyers!  They will notice Fido immediately.  And also the fish that you cook every Tuesday night and reheat again on Thursdays.  Clean it all up and maybe even change your routine for the time being if you need to tone some of these scents down a bit.  Have your listing agent and friends check it out for you.

Well That About Does It!

This handy list should be enough to get your home in tip-top selling order.  Again, rely on your listing agent’s wisdom and experience for assessing which of these items might be top priority for you –they’ve seen it all too many times before and you can take advantage of that insider knowledge.  If elbow grease just isn’t your thing, home stagers can get the job done quickly and efficiently.  Your listing agent and friends are the best resources for finding a stager who matches your budget and style.

Until Next Time, Happy Home Selling from Annie Liza Bergen and Your Friends at Marston Beacon Hill!