Though the world finally seems to be opening up a bit, and the process of buying and selling homes might look a little different than it did pre-coronavirus. It’s probably going to be a while before anyone feels completely comfortable inviting strangers to come in and out of their homes. Thankfully, technology today makes it possible to give potential buyers a better look at a home from a safe distance, eliminating physical showings until they are absolutely necessary.
A video tour won’t always live up to the traditional showing experience, but it can decrease the number of people who aren’t serious about buying at the present time. Everyone is adapting to be respectful, and open house etiquette is adapting too! Here we provide some helpful tips on proper open house etiquette, both in general and in a post-pandemic world.
Easy Open House Etiquette Tips Post-Pandemic
We’ll start with some open-house precautions that many sellers put into place and then move into more general open house etiquette tips meant for buyers.
Open House Precautions
Here are a few precautions for sellers and agents to make an open house run smoothly and safely.
Leave all the lights on in the house for the entire showing. That way, buyers and agents don’t have to touch light switches. In addition, this saves everyone from having to sanitize these areas.
Offer booties at the door so that all visitors can cover their shoes and keep the walkways clear and clean.
Set up cleaning stations in common areas. Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers throughout the house, and keep soap and paper towels on the counter next to sinks.
Keep cleaning wipes and disinfectant cleaners handy so that common surfaces can be wiped down between each showing or buyer. Wipe down doorknobs, cabinet handles, faucet handles, and countertops, and any other areas that you believe visitors might have touched.
Encourage all attendees of an open house to wait to enter a room until other people have left. There should be plenty of areas left to explore in the meantime or consider having staggered visiting so that only one family is in the house at a time.
Do’s & Don’ts For Open House Etiquette
Now that we’ve established precautions let’s get into some basic open house etiquette for potential buyers.
Let The Listing Agent Know If You’re Working With Another Agent
As a buyer, it’s good etiquette to let the agent hosting the open house know if you’re working with someone else. Most realtors will ask you this outright, but it’s a good rule of thumb to have your agent’s business card in hand to pass on to the hosting agent.
Open house etiquette ultimately boils down to respect. Buyers should respect the home and treat it the way they would want their home to be treated. You wouldn’t want people going through your personal items, so keep the seller’s privacy in mind.
Avoid going through medicine cabinets or nightstands or other furniture items that don’t pertain to the house.
It’s important to remember that open houses put the seller in a vulnerable position, so take care when touring the home. Sellers are motivated and want their homes to sell, but their personal possessions should still be respected.
Leave Your Shoes At The Door
We mentioned booties earlier to go over the top of shoes, but it might be good to remove your shoes altogether. It’s a simple courtesy that could go a long way. After all, this could be your potential home, and you want the floors and carpet to be in pristine condition. When in doubt, slip the shoes off at the door.
Don’t Go To The Bathroom
Another tricky situation that comes up in open houses is whether it’s polite to use the bathroom or not. As a rule of thumb, it’s better not to go, but the situation isn’t always so black and white.
It’s hard to set rigid guidelines because sellers don’t want to isolate potential buyers or be insensitive to basic human needs. However, as a buyer, try to go before or after and only ask if it’s a real emergency.
Leave The Inspection Process To The Pros
Though your parents, friends, and random family members have great intentions as they accompany you to the open house, make sure that the role of “home inspector” is left to the professionals.
Though some flaws might be obvious, don’t make any hard and fast decisions until a licensed and insurance inspection company has taken a look. Of course, most buyers mean no disrespect, but there is a checks and balances system in real estate so that a buyer can make a safe and informed decision before buying.
While general snooping around should be avoided, you should definitely check the closets. Open up the doors in the house is entirely acceptable when it comes to open house etiquette.
Sometimes homes have hidden walk-in closets or small closets where you expect a large one. Storage space is an essential factor, so feel free to open those doors to see what’s behind them.
Schedule A Private Showing
It’s important to remember that an open house is different than a private showing. Open houses are to help you add a home to your list of potential buys. Can you envision yourself living there? Do you like the quick walkthrough of the home?
If you can, and you do, then it’s time to schedule a private showing where you can get a closer look at the home and get more information from the agent. A private showing is where you can look a little closer and scrutinize the details, while an open house is to help you get a better sense of what you’re looking for.
Looking For A House in Billings, MT or Surrounding Areas?
If you’re looking for a house in Billings, MT, and are curious about who is still holding open houses, get in touch with us today! All the experts at 41 Realty Group would be happy to help you find your dream home, plus give you the low-down on how the seller feels about holding an open house. We’ll answer your questions, establish your wish list, and give you an idea of how the market is looking right now. So call us today at (406) 969-4141 or contact us online.
You’ve heard real estate agents talk about staging your home; what they mean is ways to prepare a property for sale on your local marketplace. It is a way to showcase a home’s best assets to impress buyers and sell quickly for the highest possible price.
Though not all sellers stage their homes (especially homes in lower price ranges), we think you’ll be at an advantage if you elect to take the extra step to stage your property. Here are a few staging tips for sellers you can utilize to help your home sell faster and hopefully for more money!
Staging Tips For Sellers To Help You Sell
If you’re planning to put your home on the market this summer, we likely don’t have to say that you will want to sell your home as quickly as possible and also for your asking price. Though the market here in Billings, Montana, is hot, and houses are quickly selling for their asking price or higher, you can set yourself up for success with these tips for styling and upgrading your home.
Read on as we discuss why staging is necessary, and then give you a few tips that will help attract buyers. These tips can also be used by property managers looking to attract renters into their properties.
Ready to get started?
Why Home Staging Is Important
Selling your house is a big deal and a significant financial transaction in your life. You don’t want to settle for a lower selling price or a more extended time period than you have to. Staging might be one of the most profitable projects you can undertake. Potential buyers are looking for a home they can improve their lifestyle in and fulfill their dreams. When you properly stage, you can create an emotional purchase for the buyer, leading to more profits for the seller.
We think home staging is also beneficial because potential buyers don’t want to walk into a potential new home and only see work that needs to be done. Every problem they see will likely need to be deducted from the cost of the offering price. Too many issues or an unlivable space might mean they pass completely on buying the home.
Let’s dive into a few staging tips for sellers to help you maximize your potential profits.
Boost Curb Appeal
You’ve probably heard this a dozen times, but we couldn’t resist. Most people interested in scheduling a viewing to tour your home will most likely do a quick drive-by first to gauge whether or not it’s even worth looking inside. Make sure your home looks great to anyone driving by:
Power wash the siding on your house and the walkways (trust us on this!)
Consider planting fresh flowers and greenery
Make sure the house numbers are easy to read
Mow the lawn and pull weeds as needed
Wash the windows out front
Consider repainting the front door or porch if it looks tired and worn (but keep it neutral)
Not All Rooms Need Staging
When it comes to home staging, not all rooms are considered equal. Focus your efforts on the rooms that will have the most significant influence on buyer’s decisions. Spend less time (and money!) on the spaces that likely won’t make much of a difference.
The rooms that buyers consider to be most important are the living room, master bedroom, and kitchen. Your real estate agent will give you specific tips on how to maximize those spaces and make them look their best in the listing photos and for the open house.
Get Rid Of Clutter
We’ll get right to it – space is what sells the house, and clutter takes up that space. You can make your home look bigger (and more desirable!) by editing your things down to just the basics. Don’t get us wrong; you don’t have to get rid of all of your stuff! Simply storing excess clutter elsewhere, for the time being, can free up a lot of space. For example, if you keep all your winter items in the front hall closet, but are listing your home in the summer, remove them into a separate storage space. Anything that you don’t use daily should be taken out. Again, the less stuff inside your house, the bigger it feels, and the more appealing it will be to buyers.
Clean, Clean, Clean!
You’ve heard of Spring cleaning, but the cleaning you do when you’re putting your home on the market should be about double. You want every nook and cranny to shine, from the baseboards to the ceiling. A spotless home suggests that the home was well maintained and just adds to the professionalism. A dirty house just won’t sell for as much as a clean house – ask any real estate agent!
Now is the time to tackle those rarely done chores, like dusting the window blinds and wiping out the inside of your cabinets. Even if you’re a fairly neat person, it might be worth hiring professionals to get that deep clean you probably don’t have the time (or patience) for.
Remove Personal Items
When it comes right down to it, buyers need to be able to envision themselves in your home. Removing all personal items will go a long way toward boosting the imagination of viewers. Remove all family photos, keepsakes, and refrigerator magnets, and art. Keep clothes hidden if possible, and remove all personal items from the bathrooms. Anything that is highly personal or evocative of the home’s current inhabitants should be hidden away.
Make Those Small Repairs
Home staging is a great time to tackle the tiny scratches and holes that might signal neglect to buyers. One easy trick is to get those “magic erasers” and remove all the excess scuffs from the walls.
Start making a list for all those little things that could use some TLC. Just like with cleaning, the purpose is to show potential buyers that you’ve maintained the property and care about making the place look nice.
Though staging can seem time-consuming and cost-intensive, it can make a huge difference when it comes to the sale price and the amount of time your home will actually spend on the market. Though you might love the bright colors that make your home unique and fun, they might be just the thing that turns off buyers. When you’re staging your home to sell, the best thing you can invest in is new paint – light gray, white, taupe, light tan, etc. Intense bold colors in a room can distract from the home itself and remind the potential buyer of the home’s past and not their future in it.
Keeping things neutral allows buyers and viewers to imagine their own things inside the space.
Show Off The Closets!
This is a pro tip that you might not hear from other agencies – show off the closets! Open those closets and clear them of clutter and things you don’t need anymore. Open house visitors will no doubt open up every available storage space they can get their hands on. Closet space is one of those make-or-break wishlist items for many buyers, so make sure you show them off to their full advantage.
Trust us; even if you have to store those unsightly boxes and bins in the garage for the time being or even in a storage unit, it’s worth it! Try to leave at least 25% of your closets free to add to the appeal of spaciousness.
Need Help Selling? Contact The Billings, MT Realtors at 41 Realty Group
When you need help staging your home, contact your local real estate agent, like the experts at 41 Realty Group. We have the experience and the local market knowledge to stage your home for buyers and likely already have an established list of people who will be interested. We’ll give you all the tips and tricks you need to sell your home quickly and for top dollar! Get in touch with us today – we would love to help you with all of your real estate needs.
Regardless of whether you’re buying or selling, real estate is usually the most significant financial decision of your life, and one mistake could cost you tens of thousands of dollars and a lot of headaches. There’s no wonder why people choose to trust real estate agents instead of trying to handle all the ins and outs themselves. But what is the actual cost to hire a real estate agent? Is it worth it? Maybe you’re thinking that you could pocket a ton of cash by not hiring a licensed professional.
We get it! Everyone is looking for ways to save money. However, we think you might be disappointed at how little you will actually save if you skip on using an experienced pro to help you navigate the deal. Let’s discuss all the value a good real estate agent provides, and then you can decide for yourself whether they are worth it or not.
Everything You Need To Know About The Cost To Hire A Real Estate Agent
Here’s a list of everything you need to know about the cost of hiring a real estate agent and all the benefits that come with using one (especially on your first real estate transaction).
How Much Does a Real Estate Agent Cost?
The standard commission for a real estate transaction is typically 6% of the home’s sale price. The commission is usually split between the seller’s agent and buyer’s agent, a 3% cut for each of them. For example, if you’re buying or selling a $250,000 house, the agents would receive a total of $15,000 ($7,500 each). We get that it seems like a lot, so you want to make sure that you’re getting what you pay for.
Keep reading as we break down that 6% and what that commission covers for your transaction.
What Does a Real Estate Agent Do?
A real estate commission covers all the work that goes into buying and selling property. There is a lot that goings into buying and selling a house. A seller’s agent will help you stage your home to reach the right buyers, and most importantly, price it right. They take the time to get to know the area and compare prices so that it’s most appealing to buyers and will still bring you a profit. They’ll also make sure your home is seen by a ton of buyers, using a multiple listing service (MLS), social media, and ads. They have tools and tactics to get your home sold quickly and for top dollar.
On the other side, a buyer’s agent studies home listings that meet your needs and are within your budget. They will arrange for a home inspection, negotiate for any necessary repairs or contract adjustments, and make sure you’re getting a fair deal. Buyer’s agents cover all of the ins and outs that go into finding you your dream home that you can afford.
Both seller’s agents and buyer’s agents can give you confidence knowing you have a real estate professional on your side. Plus, both agents share many duties:
Meet with you in person or answer your phone calls whenever you have questions
Give you access to an MLS to offer more options to buyers and more visibility for sellers
Educate you on current market conditions
Refer you to other professionals in the industry (inspectors, attorneys, mortgage lenders, photographers, and more!)
Negotiate the best price and help you through mountains of paperwork
Represent you and act in your best interest throughout the entire process, no matter how long it takes
A good agent tackles all of these tasks day in and day out. Their experience handling tough contracts and helping you avoid mistakes is well worth the cost.
We thought we should also mention that although commission and the closing costs are paid when a home sells, there are few other costs to consider. Home appraisal and home inspections are used to make sure that the house is worth the price and helps bring to light any problems in the home. Talk to your agent to get an estimate of how much each of those necessary services costs, so you have a better idea of what to expect.
Is Hiring an Agent Worth the Cost?
You know the cost, and the ins and outs of what goes on in the daily life of a real estate professional, now let’s answer the question you’re really asking – are real estate agents worth the cost? As we explained above, sellers typically cover the commission for both agents, so buyers have nothing to lose. Sellers, if you think you’re getting the short end of the stick and are considering going the “For Sale by Owner” (FSBO) route, we want to lay out some stats.
We hope this list has proved that a good agent is worth the cost of commission. The best piece of advice we can give you is to find an agent with plenty of experience. Your buddy who barely passed his exam might not be the best choice when it’s your first home. Look for a pro who has a long history of success!
The team of experts at 41 Realty Group would love to be your go-to person when it comes to real estate. Buying, selling, investing – we have an agent in every area who would to help answer your questions, find you the perfect home, the perfect buyers, and more. Reach out to our team today and see if we can help you with all of your real estate needs.
Both real estate agents and brokers are licensed to help you with real estate, but is there a difference between agent vs. broker? In some states, they are interchangeable as a real estate broker is at the same level as a licensed real estate agent. In others, like here in Montana, brokers must have at least two years of experience and then pass a broker’s exam.
Let’s talk about some of the differences between agents and brokers.
Understanding the Differences: Real Estate Agent vs. Broker
Though both agents and brokers can help you with your real estate transactions, we thought we should highlight some fundamental differences in responsibilities.
Real Estate Agents
A real estate agent is a person who has taken and passed all required real estate classes, plus they have also passed the real estate licensing exam in the state they want to work in. For those just getting started in real estate, this is the most encompassing of the titles. You might also hear agents called real estate “associates.”
An agent can represent both buyers and sellers with their real estate transactions. Buyer’s agents will collect a wishlist from their clients and try to find a home that matches their wants and needs. On the other hand, a seller’s agent will list a home on the market for their client and try to solicit buyers.
When it comes to agent vs. broker, an agent is responsible for carrying offers and counteroffers between buyers and sellers, plus answer any questions that come up along the way. Agents work with other agents, and they also guide their clients through all of the necessary paperwork. They will ensure that their clients are aware of any and all requirements they need to complete the sale, including home inspections, closing dates, and more.
How Agents Are Paid
Real estate agents work for brokers or agencies and are typically paid on a commission, which means they receive a percentage of each property’s sale price. The higher the sale price, the higher the commission.
Responsibilities of Real Estate Brokers
When it comes to agent vs. broker, a real estate broker has continued their education past the standard entry-level. They’ve successfully passed the state broker exam and can now work independently or even employ agents underneath them. Some agents who have passed the broker exam still choose to work under a brokerage, and they are typically called real estate associate brokers. Associate brokers might share in the brokerage profits and have the potential to earn more than a typical agent commission.
Like buyers’ agents, brokers who work with buyers help them find properties that match their criteria, conduct negotiations, prepare offers, and handle any other issues that come up before the closing date.
Sellers’ brokers determine market values of each client’s properties, help list and show properties, schedule open houses, communicate with sellers about any offers, and assist in negotiations.
How Brokers Are Paid
Brokers receive a commission once the transaction has been completed, and the commission amount will be listed in the contract between the broker and the buyer or seller. Typically the listing agreement will outline how much of the percentage of the property of the sale will go to the broker.
A realtor is another real estate professional, but the distinction is that they are a member of the National Association of Realtors (NAR). To become a member, agents must agree to abide by the association’s standards and uphold its strict code of ethics. The word “realtor” is commonly confused or mistaken for “real estate agent.” However, it can be open to various professionals in this industry, including residential and commercial brokers, appraisers, property managers, and RE salespeople.
Though most real estate communities do it naturally, realtors are bound by a code of ethics where they promise to be transparent and always uphold their client’s best interests in all transactions. Usually, those in this association are experts in their field.
Key Takeaways For Agent Vs. Broker
If you skipped everything above, here’s the quick breakdown:
Real estate agents are licensed to facilitate real estate transactions for both buyers and sellers, work underneath brokers, and are paid commissions for each sale.
Brokers typically have more experience, are more qualified, and can work independently or have other agents work for them.
Realtors are a part of a specific trade organization called the National Association of Realtors and can hold any position in the industry.
The significant distinction among the three is that an agent must work under a licensed broker, while a broker can work independently. So when you work with an agent at 41 Realty Group, you’re working with an agent employed by the brokerage. Essentially, you’re hiring the brokerage to help you through the process, and your specific agent is acting as the agency’s representative.
What You Need To Know About Licensing
It’s important to note that every real estate professional is subject to specific regulations. Both agents and brokers in the United States are licensed by the state, not by the federal government. Each state has its own laws for agents vs. brokers and what types of relationships can exist between them and their clients, plus the specific qualifications that real estate professions should meet.
Finding the right real estate agent that fits your needs doesn’t have to be hard. Every real estate agent is legally bound to act in your best interests, and when you work with a team like ours, you’re getting an entire group of professionals who know precisely how to help you. Ready to chat with an agent OR a broker at 41 Realty Group? We would love to help you with all of your real estate questions and needs! Get in touch with us here.
The City of Billings Planning Department has been working on updating the zoning code, which has been a massive undertaking. This video explains the entire process and why this update is happening as Nicole King, owner and broker of 41 Realty Group interviews Nicole Cromwell, Zoning Coordinator/Code Enforcement Supervisor.
Watch the video or scroll down for the full transcript of the interview.
What Do You Know About Project Re:Code in Billings, MT?
Nicole K: Hey there! I’m Nicole King, broker/owner of 41 Realty Group. I am here at the City Planning Department, correct?
Nicole C: You are.
Nicole K: Okay, good almost got that wrong, with Nicole Cromwell and the reason I wanted to sit down with her today is that the city of Billings has been going through for the last few years the major process of evaluating current zoning and looking at how that can be changed and updated to be more effective for the people that live here and more beneficial to all the ways in which that we’re trying to grow and improve our community. And I wanted to talk with Nicole because she has been heading out that entire endeavor and just really excited to hear what she has to say, so…
Nicole C: Well thank you, Nicole.
Nicole K: Thank you!
Nicole C: Yeah, and thanks for making this opportunity to reach some of your constituents and some of your customers and clients. It is really important. About four years ago the City Council adopted a new growth policy. And the growth policy is intended to take the community forward like 5, 10, 20 years into the future. And it’s very broad and general statements about where we want to be at those points in time, and how we implement that is through different codes the city council adopts. So we have a code about buildings, we have a code about how streets are developed and laid out, and what types of sidewalks need to be put in, and where water and sewer is going to go. And the major portion of it is also zoning. So zoning takes those goals and policies and tries to implement them. So in 2016, when they adopted this new growth policy we looked at our zoning code and said, you know this 1972 zoning code is really not doing it anymore. Not for these growth policies.
Nicole K: The world was very different in 1972.
Nicole C: It was, yeah. People who know what a cassette tape and a pencil is and why those two things go together were alive back then and those don’t exist anymore. They’re not useful anymore, and we have many tools like that in our existing code that don’t get us where we want to be. Where we are now and where we are planning to be in five or 10 or 20 years. So the Planning Board, with the approval of the Council and the County Commissioners, said let’s do this – let’s take on this big project and update our zoning project.
Nicole K: Right.
Nicole C: So the first thing they did is they decided that it had to be done with a lot of citizen and constituent input. It couldn’t be done by just hiring a consultant, having them come in read our existing code, read our growth policy and write us a new code. That doesn’t really work for our community.
So we established a steering committee. It was 18 people from real estate, from neighborhood task force, from people who sat on the zoning commission, city council, county commissioners, all got together and talked about how we were going to line out this project and get it done. And we met starting in august of 2017 and we met monthly for quite probably about six months. And they established what we called our guiding principles for Project Re:Code, which is what we called it.
Nicole K: Okay.
Nicole C: And Project Re:Code is this effort to build a new zoning code for Billings and Yellowstone County as well. So those guiding principles basically gave us our marching orders as staff and consultants were brought on board to help us with the hard work of writing and rewriting and illustrating and graphing all of the new zoning. Along with our – we established four working groups who focused on specific parts of the code.
Nicole K: So what were a couple of examples of the guiding principles and then maybe what were those work groups?
Nicole C: Okay, so the guiding principles of, you know, our number one guiding principle was to make the code clear.
Nicole K: Okay, so someone like me could just open it and understand it.
Nicole C: Right. Not using fancy terminology –
Nicole K: Could you make the whole government like that?
Nicole C: Well, you know, there are some states that adopted what they call ‘plain english’ requirements for laws and statutes. So we kind of adopted that into our zoning. You obviously have to use some technical terms that are specific to real estate. So clarity was important but also consistency was important. So every time we looked at a part of the code to change it, we said okay, what other parts of the city code is this going to have to fit with and is that going to contradict those parts of the code. So we kept our eyes on that as well as we went through. We wanted to make sure that the new code was more predictable than the existing code because some zoning districts that we have now – you could have everything from a shop warehouse to a multi-family apartment building and if it’s vacant ground, you just don’t know until the shovels go in the ground and that person has decided whether it’s a shop building a warehouse or a three-story apartment building. Those are the kinds of districts that make people very afraid. I mean, there’s no other way to determine, it’s scary.
Nicole K: /yeah anytime that I go to sell a piece of property like a house or anything that’s already built, if there’s vacant anything nearby, a lot or just open ground of some kind, the very first question I get is “do you know what’s going there?” And then I’ll do all sorts of work to figure it out, but that’s often because like you were saying, the zoning that it might fall under is just open to anything and everything. So it’s hard to know until you get a hold of the right person who’s in the know about what might be built there.
Nicole C: Right, so we also knew we had voids in the code. So that was another guiding principle; we needed to fill in parts of the code that we had never had to deal with before. Accessory dwelling units. Short-term rentals.
Nicole K: Absolutely for sure. All kinds of craft alcohol that’s now allowed by the state of Montana. The only one we even talk about in our code is micro breweries, but that is not a universal term. We have micro distilleries now, we have cideries, we have wineries – all have different types of licenses from the state but we only talk about one of those.
Nicole K: Right, so the licensure has kept up with whatever the current industries are but our zoning has not?
Nicole C: Right.
Nicole K: Okay.
Nicole C: So our working groups were because we have, well we had a combined code with the county. We separated those codes so we had one working group that worked just on county issues and one working group that just worked on urban issues. Because we’re going to have separate codes
Nicole K: Yeah which is really helpful, it’s great.
Nicole C: It is, because the issues in the county, although we share edges, they’re very different issues. So we wanted to make sure that those groups worked just on those issues and then came together when there was a common, common thing that they had to work on. So that led to two more working groups; one for landscaping codes and one for signage codes. And they worked on both the city and the county versions of both of those codes. So it was quite lively, those groups. We met at least once a month, sometimes more depending on what we were working on. We started in January of ‘18 and most of the groups finished up in January of 2020.
Nicole K: Right before COVID, so that’s good.
Nicole C: Right before COVID. Then taking all of that work and then having the consultant and the staff working to refine and polish and get those public review drafts out took most of the spring, until March/April, and then those code sections were published online on our project-recode.com website.
Nicole K: Make sure to put a link down in the notes to this video so you guys can click right on it and go to it.
Nicole C: So all of the presentations that we’ve done to many task force or interest groups are posted on that webpage, on education and outreach. If you want to look at your existing zoning versus your new zoning district there’s a side-by-side comparison map on there. There’s also the code outline page, which has both the city and the county as different links on there, so you don’t get confused. You don’t have to read both of them at the same time. So it’s we were hoping to lose some weight in the code pages.
Nicole K: What, 428 pages in the proposed… something like that?
Nicole C: Right it depends on what font…
Nicole K: Yeah I guess that’s true. How many pages were in the old one, do you know?
Nicole C: 450.
Nicole K: So quite a bit though, I mean, 25 pages of code is a lot to lose though, so that’s excellent.
Nicole C: So actually when it finally gets into the overall city code it’ll probably shrink, because we use large font we have pictures and graphics, and you know.
Nicole K: There are a lot of graphics which is very helpful in the proposed code to really see when it says the description in writing. What I picture might be different than what somebody else pictures so I really do appreciate all of the graphs that you guys put in there. It makes it a lot easier to understand for sure.
Nicole C: Right. So I guess one of the, I guess big changes, is that right now we have about 12 residential zones. When we looked at our growth policy it was written around the idea that there are neighborhoods. They’re not just residential subdivisions. There are pieces and parts that go together in a neighborhood and so we wrote our new code as neighborhood zones, not just residential zones. Now those neighborhood zones allow different types of dwellings. So we have one zone district that’s just single family and then we have two zones that allow one or two family. And then we have three levels of multi-family zoning depending on where you’re intending to use them or where they actually are in the community already. So we found these small apartment homes, houses, kind of scattered throughout all of Billings. There’s the little four unit sometimes just three unit buildings in our neighborhoods already. So we built a code for that.
Nicole K: So the things that already have – so let’s say it looks from the outside like a single family but maybe it has been divided into two or three units – you looked at that and gave it a different zoning than its neighbors who still truly are single family.
Nicole C: Yes.
Nicole K: Perfect, okay.
Nicole C: Right and we built that code, that district, so that it could be used the same way in the future. And it wouldn’t be you know it wouldn’t be like our current codes which you know if you have a multi-family zone, you could have next door to you, you could have a four plex, an eight plex, twelve plex, ten plex. It’s really – it’s so unpredictable. And it’s scary to have a multi-family near you because it’s so wide open. So we made it more predictable and we kind of made these smaller increments of multi family. From the small four unit buildings, that’s all, or you could go a little larger up to eight. And then beyond that there’s the five plus so it’s more predictable. If you’re next to this mixed residential three zone you know it’s at least going to be a five unit building and sometimes much larger.
Nicole K: So you’ll tell right from looking the name of it instead of – so right now when I look at multi-family vacant lots for investors, they then have to call you guys and say, “what can I build on this” and then you have to look up the size of the lot and do all sorts of measuring and then go, “you can build a fourplex on that.” So now it’ll just be that’s the zone and that’s what you can build.
Nicole C: Right.
Nicole K: Great, love it.
Nicole C: One to four, to eight, and five or more.
Nicole K: Well that makes my job much easier.
Nicole C: When I was talking to our director this week about this new tool that we’re planning to put in the code called “The Planned Neighborhood Development Tool”. This is meant to make the edges of the city and the county more seamless. In other words if you want to come into the city and annex property and build a new neighborhood, here’s some like a kit of parts you have to use in order to do that. Because we’ve built these new neighborhood zones, we’re using those as part of the kit. Each one of those zone districts was based on an epic or an era of when billings was built. So we have what we call first neighborhoods or N1, so those in the standards and site requirements for that N1 district are intended to make anything new that’s built in those existing areas, fit in better.
But it also has some very good things to recommend for us now. So it can help you build cottage courts, you know, where people can live around a central courtyard that they share that open space together. It’s a very popular form for elders, you know, or that they don’t want to own their own lot, their own big backyard to take care of, but they still want to have some kind of semi-private open space for when the grandkids come and visit or whatever. So that’s one of those things that you can do in that N1 district is you can build some homes around a courtyard.
So that’s an era thing, and so when we did the next era, which is mid-century or N2, we said, “there are some nice things about this too” Yes it was popular and we did it almost exclusively after World War II but before 1970, there’s still some really good things about that so let’s keep those good things and allow people to use them in new neighborhoods.
Nicole K: So examples of those good things would be…?
Nicole C: Well they generally were built as single level living. They were ranch style, they weren’t as tall. Sometimes they were split levels. Sometimes they had like a half of a second story on them. So examples of this would be like Gorham Park area or Forest Park a little bit. But some of those other places like between 24th and 15th street West – all that kind of was built during the same era. Sometimes they have a two-car garage attached on the side, so the buildings are longer, they face the street directly. So there’s some nice things about that style of building and neighborhood formation. So we said, let’s let’s honor our existing neighborhoods – put that zoning there. And then let’s make sure that we can carry that forward because that is all of those eras. And then the N3 which is the more suburban style that we’ve had over the last 40 years or so. Let’s allow all of those available for new neighborhoods as they come into Billings.
Nicole K: So N3 they could harken all the way back to the 1920s and 30s craftsman style, or they can honor a mid-century modern style, or they can go the traditional, things that we’ve been seeing they can do anything really in the newer neighborhoods
Nicole C: Right. That was the intent, so that we allow that flexibility but also some predictability for neighborhoods as it comes in. Because right now a developer can go to the county say, county give me all my zoning and then just annex to the city and say, oh city you’re not involved, sorry.
Nicole L: Very interesting, okay.
Nicole C: So that’s one of the reasons for that tool as well – so that the city can be involved in that land use planning decisions, soup to nuts. So that’s another good reason for that. The other part of that PND is that we found some neighborhoods, because of subdivision laws, don’t build any public space for people to use in their own new neighborhood. So what we built in here was that they have to do at least a small area, that they develop. It could just be all grass, but it’s a place for kids to have a little pick up game, kickball, or people just to stand around and chat. Just to be outside together in a public space. Socialization kind of helps people know their neighbors more.
Nicole K: Yes, that’s true.
Nicole C: Right, so we built that into the Planned Neighborhood Development tool as well. Just a little bit, not a lot, but enough so that every neighborhood has at least some of that.
Nicole K: A little bit of green space goes a long ways for both beauty and relationships and overall flow of the neighborhood. So yeah it’s been nice to see that in a lot of the newer neighborhoods that are going up as those designated free space areas, it’s really nice.
So going forward now, if people want to learn about Project Recode, so project-recode.com is the website they would go on. They can kind of explore all of that. But if they have, we’re kind of – we’re pretty far into the process as far as public comment and input and changes and things. Where are you guys at in that process right now?
Nicole C: Well I guess at the time this airs, we’ll hopefully be between when it was approved and when they have to vote a second time on it. That’s always required for any zone change like this. Right now we’re just going into the public hearing process scheduled to start on November 9th, hopefully conclude on them November 23rd and then have that second reading in December.
Nicole K: Those are the City Council Meetings where they can tune in to online and check out – or are they doing in person, in person attendance?
Nicole C: The county commissioner’s hearing is on Tuesday, November 10th in the morning and they are you can attend in person at the county commissioner’s hearing room, third floor of the stillwater building. They also doing online, so they’re doing virtual, online, in person all together in the same room.
Nicole K: Interesting. And is there anywhere, a way, without attending the actual meetings, can people submit comments at all or not or anything and how do they do that?
Nicole C: Right, so on the city website you can go to the Mayor and City Council page and there’s a link there you can click it and you can send an email to all of them at once.
Nicole K: Oh thanks, okay. And you can probably attach documents, search stuff, pictures, just a standard email?
Nicole C: Yeah just a standard email that goes to all of them.
Nicole K: Okay that’s handy yeah is there anything about Project Re:Code that you didn’t get to say yet that you would like to?
Nicole C: Well I guess I would say that the city has done this before. Not in my lifetime.
Nicole K: Anybody who was alive in 1972 or before they did a lifetime ago, right but not since then. That’s quite a while ago.
Nicole C: Yeah, so historically speaking the city of Billings has had zoning since July of 1930.
Nicole K: Wow, okay.
Nicole C: And at that point we had five zoning districts and it was just this down town
Nicole: Which was perfect for what they were doing.
Nicole C: Yeah and then from 1930 until about 1954, that zoning was pretty much the same. And then in 1954 they kind of redid the whole thing.
Nicole K: Okay, just like you guys are doing right now.
Nicole C: That’s right and then we redid the whole thing in 1972 and now we’re redoing the whole thing in 2020. I don’t want to wait 40 years to do this is again.
Nicole K: So it’s nothing new, nothing unusual, it’s something we should probably – so it sounds like in the 50s and so 30s, 50s, 70s and then we missed our 20-year mark and doubled it and now we’re doing it again. So probably should happen fairly often.
Nicole C: Yeah, every time you do your growth policy update, which under state law is every five to eight years basically.
Nicole K: Wow, so that’s fairly frequent. We should be looking at the current zoning and making sure it appropriates.
Nicole C: Then once it’s adopted, we’re going to probably have about a year of kind of shakedown, fitting in, working the code. And where we’re finding issues or little things that need to be fixed or tweaked or, you know, just like, wow we missed the mark there kind of thing; we’re going to come back to the city council in four months, seven months and 11 months with all of those like minor things that need to be fixed.
Nicole K: Yeah, okay. One of the conversations I had with you a few months ago was sort of this idea that there are just so many variances that get applied for currently under our current code. I think you had said one of the rumors that’s going around is that the variance process is going away, that what’s in the code is all you’re gonna do now. That’s not true?
Nicole C: Correct.
Nicole K: Okay, so how many variances you guys were working through triggered some of the need for change, because you were seeing the same things over and over and over again requested in those variances, correct?
Nicole C: Oh yeah.
Nicole K: So a lot of what you’re seeing, or were seeing in those previous variance requests are now built into the code.
Nicole C: Right exactly. So for example, the lot coverage allowed on each lot is very low.
Nicole K: Currently very low.
Nicole C: Currently very low, what’s allowed. It’s more of a rural type of lot coverage allowance than an urban lot coverage. So we’ve kind of bumped those numbers up. So those types of variances are not going to be coming to us like four times a month. Which is you know, if you have to do one it will probably be the only thing that you ever do in zoning is a zoning variance. Hopefully we’ve kind of relieved some of that pressure by saying, no this is normal, this is okay.
Nicole K: This is now allowed, you don’t have to come to us for a variance to do that thing.
Nicole C: Right we have what we call the five-minute variance.
Nicole K: Okay, I would love for anything in the government to take five minutes. Tell me how you’ve done this.
Nicole C: Well the five-minute variance is based on the fact that we go through a month-long process of analysis looking at zoning history. Yes this is the same as the last 10 of these that you’ve done, it’s not a big deal. You get in front of the board of adjustment and it takes them five minutes to approve it.
Nicole K: Okay so really the whole process isn’t in five minutes, it’s that last portion.
Nicole C: Right, but it’s something that you would wish, it’s like “oh my gosh why are we doing this again.”
Nicole K: Yeah so a lot of that will just go away, but it’s not going away entirely. So if there’s something that somebody goes to the new version of the code and they’re like, oh well that still doesn’t work, there’s still going to be a process for them too.
Nicole C: Right exactly. And we’re building in what we’re calling administrative relief so it’s for like the really tiny changes like less than 10 percent of the code requirement and you just need that little bit of room to move the building like a foot. It’s not going to be a whole full-blown variance you make your case, you meet the criteria, and administrative relief and you’re good to go.
Nicole K: Love it. It sounds so much easier than the current process is. Awesome.
Nicole C: Well we hope so.
Nicole K: I think it will be. Any other things that you’ve been hearing that are really common misconceptions about the rezoning that maybe we should cover real quick?
Nicole C: Not common misconceptions. There’s a lot of very specific things that come forward as questions from the written code and then, you know, just clarifying those for folks. I do that a lot. People can call me anytime, 247-8662. Some people have me on speed dial.
Nicole K: I do have your number in my phone now.
Nicole C: So always available for questions.
Nicole K: You’ve been incredibly available and incredibly helpful. I do appreciate every time that you’ve got on the phone with me and spent time working through the issues that my clients have had so…
Nicole C: sure absolutely, it’s what we’re here for.
Nicole K: I love it. Okay, anything else?
Nicole C: Nope that’s it.
Nicole K: Alrighty. Well thank you for tuning in and definitely go check out that website. Put in your property address, see what the current zoning is, see what the proposed zoning is, take a look at what that’s going to mean for you and make sure you understand everything it means. We’ll see you again soon.
In our first installment of Billings Best, Nicole King sits down with Sam Hensler of Dynamic Analysis to discuss home inspection information. Together they go into more detail regarding home foundations, how soil contents affect house settling, common homeowner mishaps, and so much more. This video also shadows Sam on an actual home inspection with a new buyer.
This video is long, but the knowledge you’ll gain as a homeowner or a potential buyer is invaluable. Watch below or scroll below for the full transcript.
Home Inspection Information You Should Know In Billings, MT
Here is the transcript for the first episode of Billings Best, which discusses home inspection info you don’t want to miss. The transcript covers the first half of the video before Sam goes on a home inspection to show you what to look for.
Nicole: Hey there, I’m Nicole King, broker-owner of 41 Realty Group. I’m here at Dynamic Analysis with Sam Hensler, the owner, and we’re here to chat a bit about what is going on in the greater Yellowstone Valley Area.
Kind of the elephant in the room that everybody’s been hearing a lot about is some foundation and soil movement and things out in Copper Ridge. We are definitely not going to talk specifically about Copper Ridge today but Sam, and he’s going to give you all his credentials here in just a moment, but he is well versed in soils and foundations as a structural engineer and I just wanted him to tell us kind of what to expect from areas around the Billings Area as far as soils and structure and what people should really be looking for in homes in those areas and how they can best take care of their homes so it can last as long for them in the best condition possible. So thanks for meeting with me.
Sam: Yeah, absolutely.
Nicole: All right so tell us about you, your credentials and why we should rely on you as an expert.
Sam: Sure so MSU grad and graduated with a degree in engineering at MSU. Went on to design uranium processing plants for a company out in Bozeman for five years and worked on building designs and infrastructure and large industrial designs and then moved out to Billings where i got involved in more building and residential specific construction and the design for those. And something I had never heard of but the need for structural engineers to evaluate homes that were being bought and sold which was not something that I had seen before but apparently happens pretty often here. And then now I do about 800 of those a year.
Nicole: 800? Every year? So visiting existing residential structures to evaluate their structural integrity.
Nicole: Okay, so when you get called out what are the things that you see most often?
Sam: Yeah, yeah, it depends on the area. Certain areas have specific issues whether they’re relating to the soils in that area for instance if we go south of the river then the soil changes completely and now we’re worrying about heaving soils that are pushing up on slabs and pushing all the guts of the home up and potentially lifting that the floor the roof up off the foundation, so things like that are more concerning once we go there.
If we’re going along the rims then we’ve got issues with slope stability and rock fall and collapsible materials and air pockets and all sorts of weird shifting in the debris field of a former landslide for going out in areas where you have a lot of soil that was deposited by wind like the northwest portion of billings there’s a lot of of compressible and collapsible soils that can move foundations.
If we’re looking at the older part of town then we’re looking at a lot of foundations that may not have that many usable years left depending on how they’re originally constructed and how well they’ve been taken care of for the last 100 years.
A lot of times there’s homes that have been heavily modified because they used to build homes pretty small and would just add on to them and I see a lot of homes that have had bearing walls removed or portions of the walls that are meant to hold the building up in a windstorm. A lot of times people dig out there, underneath their floor and put upgraded utilities like a large furnace or water heaters or things like that and they’ll undermine their foundation because it was only six inches deep to begin with and then a simple hose being left on could cause the foundation to collapse at that point. So it really depends on the issue and what part of town you’re in and when your house was built and how well it was taken care of and what kind of soil it’s on.
Nicole: Okay, so if you’re thinking of giving homeowners, either people who are about to be homeowners or currently homeowners, some advice on things that they need to be doing, kind of no matter what area of town they live in, what are some major things that they really need to be doing to make their house last for them?
Sam: Sure, so the number one thing that everyone’s probably heard of by now is just keeping good drainage and there’s a lot of reasons why keeping good drainage is important for areas that have hydro sensitive soils, soils that will react when water is mixed in with them. So like a swelling soil like you have south of the river or a collapsing soil that we have up in along the rims or in the northwest part of town that will collapse when they get wet.
It’s really important that we keep the soil underneath the foundation dry to prevent it from moving, but also, for instance, if you’re in Laurel where there’s high alkalinity in the water and in the soil it will react chemically with the concrete and dissolve the foundation out from underneath the house.
Nicole: That doesn’t sound like a good thing.
Sam: No, it doesn’t and it happens to a lot of homes out there. It’s a slower process but a lot of those homes are in that age where I have seen foundations completely converted back to sand and we’ve had to replace foundations just because it dissolved, just disintegrated right underneath the house because water was pulling up and carrying sulfides into the, into the concrete where it would evaporate in the dry basement air and build up and disintegrate the concrete.
We get frost heave out here any time that you get freezing conditions which we can’t really avoid unless you heat a space so if you have an unheated garage, it’s an issue. If you have a shallow foundation, that’s an issue, if you have frost susceptible soils which are fine particle soils like silts and clays which we have all over and we have moisture, which also can’t really get rid of then you’re going to get frost heave so that’ll lift up on any slabs that are unheated throughout the year. So like garages we’ll see a lot of slab heave movement which will change the drainage of the slab and potentially cause all your watershed from your car to drain towards the foundation and cause further issues in the foundation.
There is lots of spalling like freeze-thaw spalling, just in concrete that gets beat by the Sun. Concrete’s really porous, the water will actually absorb into it, which is not something a lot of people know but water can pass through the concrete fairly easily, just really slowly. So if you have in the Spring while you’re getting lots of freeze thaw, the water will move into the concrete and the foundation and then freeze at night and can pop things off and you’ll get a bunch of spalling along your foundation as the thickness of the foundation wall just kind of erodes and then you can start to expose rebar which will get wet and then that’ll rust and expand and pop your foundation more.
So a lot of things mostly related to water damage to the foundation and the soils beneath the foundation.
Nicole: So what are some of the most common reasons that you see water go towards the foundation? Is it sloping towards, planting gardens next to the houses? Tell us what you’re seeing most often.
Sam: Drainage, for sure, and especially in new homes, it’s really common when they’re building a house they, you know, they dig down to the bottom of the foundation and they they build everything up from there and then they put the soil back in they backfill it up along the foundation wall.
And a lot of times it doesn’t get compacted very well in that spot so right along the foundation wall it can get pretty fluffy and you’ll have your landscaper set your landscaping drainage so that’s draining away from the home but within the first couple years it can, all that air that’s trapped underneath the underneath the surface there, can escape and all of a sudden that drainage starts to collapse and turn negative and now you’re draining back towards your foundation.
That’s probably the most common thing I see, especially in newer homes, is just over time that backfill slumps and now you have negative drainage and need to redo your landscaping.
Sam: Gutters are another thing a lot of people just let their gutters drip right next to the foundation and then water pools up there so you need some good extenders on there.
Nicole: How long should extenders go?
Sam: I like six feet, it doesn’t matter too much as long as it’s discharging the storm water in an area that has positive drainage is taking the water away from the foundation it doesn’t really matter how long they are if it just comes pouring right back to the house.
Nicole: Sure. I see a lot of times that they terminate inside gardens where it’s got like a concrete barrier all the water goes up against that and then it just stays in that garden so getting it on the other side of whatever edging someone might have, things like that.
Sam: Yep, ideally, so newer homes you’ll see where they have the concrete edging the little curving that’s five, between three and six feet around the home and so if you can kick it out over that that’s ideal in an area where you don’t need to remove it for lawn mowing because people tend not to put it back.
Nicole: Yes, I see that a lot.
Sam: Yeah, but a lot of places will do underground discharges okay so the downspout will actually go underground and it’ll either come out and pop up in the yard somewhere or it will go to an underground drain field depending on where the house is located. If you have hydro sensitive soils it’s generally not a good idea to inject the water underneath the surface because those sorts of soils don’t accept water very readily so if you can keep it on the surface it’s more likely to just roll away. But if as soon as you get it underground then it’s just going to percolate in and get into an area where it’s really not supposed to.
I tend to stay away with subterranean discharges if I can, if you can keep it on the surface and just let gravity do all the work it works out better, more often perfect.
Nicole: Sure. Anything that you see a lot that you wish people would just stop doing that we haven’t talked about yet?
Sam: So many things.
Nicole: Top two.
Sam: Let’s see, oh yeah think about that for a little bit. Let’s see so I work on both ends of a structural lifespan. So I design new things for people to build and I do forensic evaluations of things that are failing and it costs much more money to fix something that’s failing than it does to just build something correctly from the get-go. So I think the biggest thing is just making sure that even if you’re doing a simple retaining wall or just about any structure a lot of things are more complicated than people really understand. And even if they have a contractor who they think is really confident in certain areas, if you’re doing anything that’s outside the norm it’s a good idea to get a professional involved and have their opinion weigh in and see what really needs to be done.
A lot of people think it’s expensive to spend a couple hundred or maybe a couple thousand up front on a design but compared to spending tens of thousands of dollars to come back and fix it later, it’s much cheaper.
Nicole: Yeah, I see the tens of thousands to fix something when I enter the picture as a real estate agent a lot, so I would love it if they would get a hold of you first.
Sam: Yeah, absolutely.
Nicole: Let’s switch to not just getting water away from the house but what are some things – a lot of times I see ventilation not proper in attics, bathrooms that the vents discharge into the attic, what kind of structural problems can that cause?
Sam: So, I see pretty hefty mold and water damage in certain circumstances. I think the worst I’ve seen is either dryer vents or furnace vents venting into an attic or into a crawl space and completely demolishing all the framing. You can definitely get the same thing with bathroom vents because it’s a lot of moisture that you’re moving into the attic and that wood will soak up that moisture and you can get mold growth.
If you have OSB sheeting for your roofing that will soak it up right away and lose a lot of its structural integrity and start to grow mold pretty quickly. So in general keeping the moisture outside the building envelope is a good idea you don’t want to dump it anywhere inside of the area you’re trying to keep the environmental conditions out of.
Nicole: Okay, so if somebody is worried that they have some structural problems, things that they’re like, I don’t really know if this is quite right, if this is the way I should be doing it. When is the point that they should probably get a hold of you or someone like you?
Sam: Well, in general, if you’re going to build any sort of structure if you’re not working with a contractor that is reputable and understands what they’re doing and going through the appropriate permitting process because you need to permit almost everything. There’s a handful of things you don’t need a building permit for, but in general in order to get a permit you need to have a plan it’ll be reviewed by the city. If the city doesn’t feel that the contractor’s plan is done appropriately or isn’t considering all of the possible issues that could arise then they’ll request that an engineer take a look at it and then it comes to me. Or you can start there and have an engineer take a look at it first and develop a plan or an architect anyone who knows what they’re doing basically and going through the right channels to make sure that it gets done correctly
Nicole: Okay, sounds good. Is there, how do people get a hold of you and find out about your services?
Sam: I’m online you can Google “Dynamic Analysis” or “structural engineering and Billings” and I should pop up there somewhere and then my number you can email me through the website or reach out to me. I think I’m on Facebook but I’m not, I am on facebook but i’m not on Facebook often.
Nicole: I get to follow all your fun snow adventures and things like that on Facebook yeah that’s great, awesome. Thank you, Sam.
The second half of the video shows Sam leading a buyer through an actual home inspection so that you could see what to look for. To get more help from Sam Hensler and Dynamic Analysis, go to dynamic-mt.com.
Due to COVID-19, mortgage rates are at an all-time low, which means a renewed interest in homeownership. Especially as young people are tired of seeing their rent costs rise every year, the idea of having equity becomes more and more alluring.
There are plenty of benefits that come with owning a home, including building a path to a greater financial future. However, first time home buyers might be shocked at the real costs of homeownership. In addition to mortgage payments, the real cost of owning property involves plenty of hidden expenses. Here we go over which costs are simply financial and which might be a surprise to you. We’ll look at the most common expenses and how to deal with them.
Your Guide To The Costs Of Home Ownership
Though your house is one of the most significant purchases you can make, other ongoing expenses come with homeownership. Things like closing costs, down payments, moving, and more, let’s discuss some of the things you’re most likely to encounter.
Homeowners’ insurance is not an unexpected expense; almost every bank and mortgage company requires that you have insurance before giving you a loan. The premiums will likely be included in your mortgage payment. A lot of times, your homeowner’s insurance premiums will be paid from your escrow account, like your property taxes.
Remember that premiums often rise annually, particularly if you increase your coverage to reflect your property or possessions’ rising value.
Another surprise that home buyers often don’t realize is that most homeowner’s insurance does not cover “acts of God.” You’ll need additional coverage for floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and even water damage from storms.
All homeowners are required to pay property taxes. The township, city, or country where your home is located will determine the tax rate, not your bank. Property tax is basically a guaranteed perpetuity payment that is made at your expense. Like with any tax, you don’t have a say in how much it will be, but there are strategies to help lower it.
When it comes to your home, water can be its worst enemy. The primary job of your roof is to keep water out. A leaky roof can cause cosmetic damage both inside and out of your house, and it could destroy belongings inside and even damage the integrity of the structure.
Roof damage usually happens when shingles get cracked, blown off, or damaged in some ways. Roofs will inevitably need to be restored or replaced eventually, so make sure you have an inspector look at it closely when you buy – you might be able to negotiate the price if the roof is in bad shape.
The Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) System
Your home’s HVAC system is a complex system in your home that controls heat, cooling, and the overall circulation of air throughout the residence. This system should not undergo cheap DIY fixes; you should be prepared to hire an HVAC professional from time to time.
You’ll likely need to buy new units at some point, be it at the time of purchase or later down the road, as these systems do wear out over time. Replace the furnace and AC filters to help keep them running efficiently.
We recommend having your HVAC systems inspected at least once per year. Do some research in your area, as many companies over service or maintenance plans might reduce the cost of an annual inspection and provide other benefits, like lower costs on parts or even reduced pricing on emergency visits.
The Electrical System
Faulty wiring and other electrical issues cause a decent amount of fires in homes every year. As a homeowner or future homeowner, we suggest that you have a basic understanding of how these electrical systems work to keep your home and family safe.
If you’re facing any sort of systemic problem or in the middle of significant remodeling, make sure you call in a trusted and licensed electrician to make sure everything is installed correctly and up to current codes and safety standards.
Another on our list of the costs of homeownership is plumbing issues. Clogged drains and other small plumbing problems will happen from time to time, and they usually aren’t a big deal.
However, some older homes might present larger problems, specifically if they contain galvanized iron water pipes. These pipes become clogged with mineral deposits over time and will gradually reduce the water pressure in your house. The bad news – you can’t repair these; they must be replaced entirely.
Talk to your real estate agent and your home inspector to determine what to expect before you buy.
HOA and Condo Fees
If you buy a property within a condominium associate or a homeowners’ association (HOA), you will be required to pay a monthly or quarterly fee. This fee will include the cost of things that benefit the entire neighborhood, from snow plowing to landscaping, garbage collection, and more.
HOA fees can rise steadily, or your HOA might deem it appropriate to charge extra for individual extra projects to benefit the neighborhood, like adding a new security system, renovating buildings, or even repaving the parking lot. Check with your agent or the association itself to see what these fees will be before you buy.
The Costs of Home Ownership Include Furnishings and Appliances
You might have already thought about this, but it’s likely that your new home will be larger than where you’re currently living and might require some extra furnishing. Plus, some appliances in your home might be considered fixtures and be included in the sale price of your home, like dishwashers or ovens; other appliances are not always included. This means if the seller doesn’t want to include the refrigerator or washer or dryer, you might have to buy new ones.
You should also consider how old your home is. If it’s more than ten years old, the appliances included in the sale price might be on their last leg anyway. Be sure to budget for replacing some of those high dollar items, like your water heater or cooling system.
Cost of Home Ownership Key Takeaways
Typically, when people think about the costs of homeownership, they are only thinking about the mortgage payment. They don’t always consider property taxes, insurance, maintenance fees, and repair costs.
Though homeownership has many perks, there are some unexpected expenses to be aware of, like the ones we mentioned above. Some costs are beyond your control, like property taxes and homeowners association fees. Ensure you’re aware of the costs of homeowners insurance, especially if you live in a natural disaster-prone area.
The most costly part of homeownership relates to your house’s overall upkeep, including repairs and monthly expenses. The experts at 41 Realty Group can help you stay well informed about the average monthly costs of owning a home and help you avoid expensive surprises. We would love to help you budget your expenses and help you buy the home you want.
Nicole King, owner, and broker of 41 Realty Group, visits Enzo’s Bistro, one of Billings, Montana’s most popular and iconic restaurants. She interviews Tyler Samson, Enzo’s new owner, to find out what he’s keeping the same, what he’s changing, and what his vision is for this beloved establishment.
An Interview With Enzo’s Bistro New Owner Tyler Samson
Read on for a transcription of the interview with Nicole King and Typer Samson.
Nicole: Tyler, congratulations, first, on purchasing this property.
Nicole: This is an iconic restaurant in the Billings area, and you’ve made some changes but you’re keeping things the same also. Tell us about us and then also give us a little backstory on how you got here.
Tyler: Ok, well, to make a long story short for how we arrived here in the short term anyways – I owned a bar outside of town. I live in Billings so I was commuting about an hour and a half round trip every day, and I’m also a commercial real estate broker by day for NAI business properties. So I wanted to do something different to shorten my commute at night so that I could make both things work really easily.
And I had a conversation with James, the previous owner, I’ve know him for about 12 years now, we are good friends. And we had coffee about a year and a half ago and we had kind of started the conversation about me taking this over, and all the ideas starting coming about. And I got really excited and also kind of nervous, especially when COVID hit and we closed actually, at the very end of June on this. So there wasn’t really any game plan written for this, to deal with this, you know, so we’ve had to definitely make some adjustments. But, to be honest with our strong takeout presence and we are at about, about 65% capacity with the layout of the restaurant, keeping that six-foot distance rule. But you know with the takeout and that and I think just since we did a kind of a nice elegant remodel, and made some really nice changes, not only cosmetically but also to the menu, there’s been a lot of demand and a lot of people wanting to come check out the new changes, as well as, you know, the regulars who’ve been dining here for the last 22 years. So I think there’s a lot of excitement, you know, I’m very blessed because we’re actually doing about the same numbers as they were last year, even pre-COVID even with the reduced capacity. On a majority of the nights, we’re even surpassing sales, you know, from a year ago, which I’m very blessed, and yeah, we’re very fortunate for that.
Nicole: Absolutely. So you’ve been a chef in the Billings area for a long time?
Tyler: Not a chef actually. So I went to MSUB here when I was 21. I got into the restaurant industry working in, I started in a casino, just slinging beers and running that and then graduated into a few restaurants. My longest stent was with Walkers for eight years, I worked there through college, and then after college. About eight years ago I became a commercial sales agent with NAI business properties and I had a huge passion for both industries and I was trying to see how to make it work. I’ve actually kind of become one of the premier brokers for restaurants across Montana, so that’s kind of the niche I focus on.
Before this I had the Edgar Bar, and I had actually had that listed for the previous owners, and that’s how we kind of stumbled across it. I bought it with a partner and it was a very successful business, you know, I had that for almost four years before I did this. I’ve been in the restaurant industry for about 15 years, so I have a huge passion. But again, for me it’s also about being able to help other restaurants and casinos and bars, and you know, sell their businesses or have people buy them, so, you know, I handle both sides of the acquisition. It’s really fun.
Nicole: But you probably have great advice on how to be successful, also.
Tyler: Yeah, it’s been great. I’ve definitely done some consulting with a lot of restaurants I’ve sold, you know, I’ve represented both buyers and sellers, you know, all across Montana for the last eight years. It’s just really exciting and I love being able to, you know, give my personal input and give advice, and, you know, being a commercial agent that owns, has owned a couple restaurants now, and successful ones, and kind of more iconic ones – it definitely helps my real estate career as well. Being able to get new listings where you know people are now coming to me, you know, to list or to help them buy, you know, liquor licenses, or beer and wine licenses, or full establishments too.
Nicole: Absolutely, so what is the top-selling dish here?
Tyler: Right now, anyways, is our Alaskan halibut. Until the end of October, we’re able to get it fresh, so we actually get it second-day air to us. It comes with a certificate on the box, we get it in whole, so we bone it and skin it in-house. Our chefs filet it out and they weigh them out, so you know it’s never been frozen, it’s easily our top seller.
Nicole: It sounds delicious.
Tyler: It’s really good.
Nicole: What is the time that has carried through from all the previous owners to now that people come back again and again and again?
Tyler: There’s definitely some staples. So when we looked at the menu, my kitchen is led by Alex Bean and Jason Marble, the three of us got together even before I had purchased this before the sale went final and just looked at the menu. We just looked at the menu and, you know, we didn’t want to change anything too drastic. So I would say it’s probably 20% new but 80% we kept the staples, like the veal piccata, the shrimp tempura pasta. Paul loves the vanilla bean creme brulee, he’s been in for that. My favorite is the portobello and mozzarella pasta with fresh pasta with a basil pesto. Everything’s served over a bit of marinara with mozzarella and then we do a grilled portobello cap. So we actually skewer the pasta and then garnish it with two grilled artichokes on top of the skewer, and then we also add some mixed greens in the mix of that and toss in a little bit of balsamic too. So there’s so many different flavor profiles going on, and it is a vegetarian dish but you can add chicken, beef, sausage, or shrimp to it too, so it’s been very popular.
Nicole: That sounds delicious.
Tyler: So we kind of cater to every palette, you know, we have a lot of gluten-free options, some vegan options, a lot of vegetarian options. We’re doing a lot of steaks right now too, the last couple of weeks we’ve been running a hand-cut 15-ounce ribeye, and we do a homemade Atlantic crab bearnaise sauce over the top, so it’s kind of a nice surf-and-turf with a beautiful presentation. But we’ve been selling out of that almost every single night we feature it so it’s been awesome.
Nicole: What type of remodeling have you done since you’ve been in here?
Tyler: Yeah, mostly cosmetic for now. We did all new carpet, upstairs and down, we painted the entire interior. Matt The Painter and his team did that, they are going to be doing the exterior here in the next week or two. We added this bar top in so there’s actually seating at the bar with new lighting. We put new lighting upstairs and then I was fortunate enough to get Kira Fercho to display her art here on the walls too, and that’s been amazing. Very stunning. Then I hired Ann Jackson to help with the interior design as well, just for some extra guidance.
Nicole: Ann did a great job.
Tyler: Yeah, thank you. We wanted to keep it very elegant, keep it classic. We didn’t want modern at all, but yeah we just kind of brightened things up and it just needed kind of a facelift after 22 years, so it was a really fun process actually.
Nicole: So what’s the best way for people to get a hold of you do either order takeout, or to just come in?
Tyler: We’re kind of old-fashioned still, we like the phone call for the reservations, we still hand-write everything in on the reservation book. We don’t have a digital system just because it’s never failed in 22 years so why change it now? We do takeout orders over the phone as well, so usually, we allow a 30-45 minute time slot so that usually when that person walks in to get their to-go food, it literally was just boxed within 30 seconds. Or we’ll see them walk in and then fire and put everything together, so, you know, most of the people with the residential community that we’re surrounded by, you know, they’re home within just a few minutes so they’re still getting the food fresh.
We’re not doing any delivery options. Grubhub does have a small presence here, we don’t advertise with them just because of the quality of the food that we’re serving, we want to, you know, if we give it to a third-party courier that takes it out, we really have no control of how it’s handled and taken care of when it leaves here so we want it to be as fresh and hot as possible for the guests.
Nicole: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that experience, where I order something, and 45 minutes later it’s at my door and it’s…not great anymore.
Tyler: Right, yeah. We take a lot of pride in what we do and you know, being this close to so many houses, a lot of people are coming from downtown or the heights, they get the food on the way home and they can go have dinner with their families. Or, you know, especially now with the bar and we added a beautiful chef’s table right in front of the kitchen. A lot of people can, you know, have a drink while they wait for their food as well, so it’s been really nice. With the limited seating, to add the bar seating and the chef’s table, you know, to add the extra seating has definitely helped us out. We had to get kind of creative, you know, just to get people in seats.
And then this spring we’re going to do a really nice, kind of a glamorous patio too. So it’ll be really fun, we’re excited about that. I was going to do it in July, but with all the COVID spiking across the nation, I was a little worried about doing that, putting the money and the work into that and then getting shut down, you know, and not being able to utilize it so we’ll do that for sure this spring.
And then, I can’t announce it right now, but we have a huge exciting announcement at the end of October and we’re going to have a big, kind fo a grand event as well that we’ll start advertising for.
Nicole: I want to get invited to that.
Tyler: Definitely, you’re on the list.
Nicole: Everybody heard, I get to be invited to the grand event. Is there anything else that you would like people to know?
Tyler: That’s about it, you know, it was very important for me to keep Enzo going and keep it in the community. Like you said, it’s an iconic restaurant and I wanted to be able to, you know, basically, enhance what was already here, keep it in the community. I didn’t want anybody else with a new concept coming in here or a startup, you know, it’s very important to respect the history and just try to enhance. Our biggest thing we teach, you know, is hospitality here, you know, we like to customize the experience for the guest. I always tell everybody, it’s what the guest remember the most is how we made them feel. When you compare that with amazing food, it’s just kind of a winning combination. Want to see more great interviews and videos around Billings, Montana? Subscribe to 41 Realty Group on YouTube today and never miss out on everything that is great about our town.
Are you thinking about starting the process of buying a home? There’s a strong chance that at least one person has suggested that you get a mortgage pre-approval. There are many good reasons why it is a good idea to get pre-approved.
Let’s dive into why this piece of paper is vital when it comes time to buy a home, especially if you’re a first-time buyer.
4 Reasons Why You Need To Get Pre-Approved
Before we get into some of the benefits that come when you get pre-approved for a mortgage, let’s first discuss what a pre-approval letter is.
A mortgage pre-approval letter from your lender assures you, your real estate agent, and sellers that you have the ability financially to complete any purchase of any home that meets the lender’s guidelines. This letter will also include a specific pre-approved interest rate, though it’s important to note that mortgage rates are variable. Mortgage lenders will consider the same factors they would consider for traditional mortgage approval, like your debt to income ratio and your credit score. The more your finances are in order, the more you’ll get pre-approved to borrow.
Your pre-approval letter will show you what you can afford to spend and what your monthly payment might look like.
Some of the required documents you might need when applying for mortgage pre-approval are:
Pay stubs and W-2s
Bank, retirement, and investment account statements
Financial statements (if self-employed)
Letters of explanation for credit blemishes
Another thing to mention is that pre-approval is different from pre-qualification. Many lenders will issue “pre-qualification” letters, which ask you about your financials, but it doesn’t hold the same weight as a pre-approved letter. A pre-qualification can be useful as an estimate for how much you can afford, but a pre-approval gives you approval on a specific loan amount.
You’ll Know Exactly How Much House You Can Afford
The first significant benefit that comes when you get pre-approved is that you’ll know exactly how much house you can realistically afford before you even begin house hunting. Knowing this information narrows down your options and makes the selection process more efficient. Plus, it will save you the heartache of realizing the home you fell in love with doesn’t align with your budget.
It Makes You a More Serious/Attractive Buyer
You might know this already, but there are two types of markets: buyers’ markets and sellers’ markets. In a buyer’s market, inventory is high, but the demand is low, which means you might have more wiggle rooms in terms of the purchasing process. However, in a seller’s market, inventory is low, and more people need to buy homes, which means that buyers need any advantage they can to get ahead of the competition.
Just like the oceans’ tide, these markets ebb and flow from season to season. If you’re trying to buy in a seller’s market, then having a mortgage pre-approval can set you apart as a serious buyer who has the funds to close the sale.
Put yourself in the seller’s shoes. If two buyers are putting an offer in on your house, but only one has actually been approved for a loan for that offer, who do you think you should sell to? In almost every case, the buyer who has been pre-approved will get the house, as there is a lot less risk of the deal falling through due to lack of appropriate financing.
It Increases Your Negotiation Power
In addition to making you a more attractive buyer to sellers, you’re giving yourself more flexibility in bargaining and negotiations when you get pre-approved. Sellers know that a buyer who has already been qualified for the listing price or offer amount might be more willing to make compromises because the sale is a sure thing.
A mortgage pre-approval can help you strengthen your buying position and may make it more likely that you get some other things you might ask for, like repairs, improvements, or even having the seller cover closing costs for you.
You’ll Close Faster
On average, it can take about 50 days to close on your home. Several factors cause this timeline, and that includes mortgage approvals. If you already have your pre-approval in hand, you might be able to speed up the process so you can move into the home of your dreams earlier than you might have been able to otherwise.
When you start the closing processing, securing finances is the first step. However, when you already have your mortgage pre-approval, financing is already squared away, and you can jump into the appraisal and inspection process. Especially when the seller wants to close sooner than later, having your pre-approval lender upfront is a beneficial advantage.
The Bottom Line To Get Pre-Approved
When you need to get pre-approved, the first thing to do is to determine who you want your lender to be. You can get a mortgage pre-approval from up to three different potential lenders, and it might be a good idea to do so. Getting approvals from multiple lenders allows you to compare rates and select the option with the best lending terms.
Here’s some specific information in regards to your finances that your potential lender will ask you for:
First, they’ll need some personal information to run a credit check, like your social security number and proof of identity. They’ll also want to see proof of your income for the past two years, including all W-2s or alternate tax information and anything else they might need related to your source or sources of revenue. Lastly, you’ll need to provide any documentation relating to assets outside of your income, including investments, monetary gifts, and more.
Once you gather all of this info, the process to determine how large of a mortgage you qualify for can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on who you’re working with. Typically your mortgage pre-approval is valid for anywhere in your state from 60-90 days, which usually is enough time to search for and make an offer on a home. A general rule of thumb is not to make any significant changes to your finances between getting your mortgage pre-approval and buying your new home, as major purchases or taking on more debt will most likely invalidate your existing pre-approval amount. When you’re ready to start looking for your dream home, we can help! Give us a call, and we’ll refer you to our favorite lenders and give more tips to consider as a first-time homebuyer.
First time selling your home? Maybe you’re ready for more space, looking to downsize, or perhaps you simply want a new adventure in a new location. No matter the reason, we think it’s essential to be prepared for the entire sales process. Selling your home can be emotional and stressful, especially for first-time home sellers, as likely it’s your most significant investment.
As a first-time seller, you have the advantage of having gone through the buying process. Now’s the time to spend your time prepping your home to look it’s best for potential buyers. Plus, depending on your plans, you may also have the extra pressure of selling your home and buying a new one at the same time. Let’s go over the entire process from top to bottom so that you feel a little more prepared before you sell.
Your Guide To Being A First-Time Home Seller
We think that having a basic understanding of the home-selling process can give you some peace of mind as you make your next move. Here’s a step-by-step guide that gives you everything you need as a first-time home seller.
1. Decide If You Should Sell Your Home Or Buy A New One First
The first thing you should do is figure out when you’re buying your next home. Some people decide to sell first so they don’t have to worry about two mortgages at one time. We suggest talking to a real estate agent and look at your current housing market. In a buyer’s market, there’s a better chance that a seller will accept an offer on their home, even if it’s contingent on the sale of your current home. However, in a seller’s market, homeowners might not be keen on accepting a contingency that forces them to wait around.
We also suggest that you address your finances before getting too far into the process. Contact your current loan servicer to discuss your remaining mortgage balance so that you know how much equity you’ll have when you decide to sell. Learning this information will help you budget for any improvements you’ll need to make before listing.
2. Choose The Right Agent
The next step is to find the right real estate agent to work with you during this process. The trick is to find someone who knows the area inside and out and is willing to work around your busy schedule. At 41 Realty Group, we have agents on our team that specialize in helping sellers and their unique needs. The right real estate agent will help you set the right price, negotiate offers, and give you the advice you need to sell your home for the best price.
Plus, real estate agents will be there every step of the way to help you navigate through any sticky situation that might come up.
3. Set The Right Price
A critical step in the home selling process is to set the right price. Both appraisers and real estate agents will give you an opinion based on comparable sales that occurred within the last 3-6 months in your specific neighborhood. They look at several factors, including the house’s age, square footage, location, and the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
Your agent will perform a comparative market analysis for you to recommend a price that is right for your home based on current market conditions.
4. Prepare Your Home To Sell
It’s probably no secret that there are many details to take care of before you officially list your home and show it to buyers. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Fix The Little Things
You know that to-do list you’ve had for years of all those little things you need to fix or replace? Now’s the time to do them. Maybe it’s a broken door handle, a faulty outlet, a sink that drips, etc. They might seem small to you, but potential buyers might attribute that to the house not being adequately maintained in the grand scheme of things.
You might not need to do costly and extensive renovations. Though they will be impressed by the new countertops or new roof, they likely won’t want to pay more for those updates.
Declutter And Clean
When showing, it’s vital to declutter and eliminate distractions that take away the buyer’s focus. Now is the perfect time to sell or toss anything that you aren’t planning on taking with you when you move. Clear out the closets and organize all of your storage areas.
Once the clutter is all cleared away, the next step is a deep clean throughout the house. This is the time to scrub the baseboards, wipe the dust from ceiling fans, and get behind all those nooks and crannies you usually skip.
Stage Your Home
Staging your house is a powerful tool that a first-time home seller should utilize when it’s time to sell. It can be as simple as cleaning well, removing extra clutter, and repainting a wall or two. Staging helps potential buyers look at your house like it’s already theirs. They will want to see details to help them imagine themselves living in this space. Try to make your home as comfortable and neutral as possible.
Your real estate agent will help you find just the right placement of furniture, or even help you bring in rented pieces and decorations to freshen up your space.
5. Market And Show Your Home
Once you’ve prepared your home and made it fit for selling, your selling agent will start marketing your home to buyers. Marketing involves several different elements, all designed to paint your home to the best light and find the right people interested in buying. They’ll most likely start with professional photographs of your home to create an online profile. This listing will include all the details about your home that buyers will be looking for.
Your agent will also use the multiple listing service (MLS). The MLS is a private database that is used only by licensed agents to find homes for buyers. Your home will be listed on the MLS and syndicated to all popular home search websites. Agents will also put a sign in your front yard, perhaps use flyers and direct mail for marketing your home, using a video tour, and of course, share your property across their social media pages.
Another marketing strategy is open houses. Your agent will give you tips on when the best time to host an open house is and what you can do to prepare for buyers coming in and out of your home.
6. Negotiate And Accept An Offer
Negotiating is a significant part of the home selling process. As a first-time home seller, you can expect your agent to work on your behalf to ensure your best interests are represented. They want you to save money and get the most for your house.
When entering the negotiating phase, our advice is to have realistic expectations and remain flexible and open with your agent. They will help you set realistic pricing goals and tell you what buyers will be looking for and what offers they are likely to make.
Especially if you’ve been on the market for a while, talk to your agent about what you can do to speed up the process without losing too much money. They’ll be your guide when it comes to handling all the tricky parts of this negotiation process and help create a win-win for you and the buyer.
7. The Closing Process
Did you accept an offer? Congrats! Now comes the official closing process. Here’s how it works:
First, you’ll prepare for the appraisal and inspection. A licensed appraiser will evaluate your home and make sure that the amount matches or is similar to the sale price. An inspection is ordered by the buyer to assess your home’s structure and systems. This is done to find out if there are any significant repairs needed.
Frequently your listing agent will recommend having a pre-inspection before putting the home on the market so that no surprises come up that you might have to pay for later. If things do come up during the inspection, your real estate agent will help negotiate repairs and help you decide what you should do, whether it’s making repairs yourself or lower the house’s price.
The next step in the closing process is to get all your paperwork in order. Likely you’ve already filled out the listing agreement and the purchase agreement. Now your agent will work with the title company to get the rest of the documents squared away. This will include title work, property tax documents, property surveys, any plans and permits associated with your home, and your homeowner’s insurance information.
As soon as all the terms of your purchase agreement are met, and the loan paperwork is ready to go, an escrow agent will deliver a settlement statement that details all the money transfers. On closing day, you’ll sign all the paperwork required to transfer ownership of your home officially.
8. Tie Up Loose Ends
Once you get through closing, you’re just about done with the entire process. We wanted to mention a few loose ends you’ll need to tie up. Don’t forget to change your address with the post office and cancel your homeowners’ insurance on the home you just sold. Now is also the time to close all accounts delivered to your home, like utilities or newspaper subscriptions.
If you have any manuals that go with appliances in your home, leave them on the counter for the new owners. That’s it! You’re free to begin the next adventure in your life.
Ready to get started? We can help! Give us a call at 41 Realty Group, and we’ll answer your questions, help you sell, and even help you find a new house.