Dripping Springs Opportunities

Today, right now, at 1:31 pm, there are 130 new, under construction, or to-be-built-soon homes on the MLS (Multiple Listing Service) in the Dripping Springs school district. They range in price from $247,250 to $1,499,000, and a few even have acreage. There is even one cabin-style wood house on acreage out in the Henly area. By the way, there are some homes with an Austin zip code which are zoned to Dripping Springs, and there are houses in Driftwood, too, which are zoned to D.S.

Dripping Springs Independent School District

Now if it’s recreation you want in the DSISD, there are 22 homes on the MLS, of various ages, which have…. pools AND horses allowed. Sign me up! Oh, and the prices range from $525,000 to $3,197,700.

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See the baby? This was the end of May- I wonder what this little fawn looks like now? They are all starting to lose their spots.

Lynn Bridge 512-970-9121

Buyer Questions

Here are some buyer questions I hear a lot:

  1. What is a typical timeline for making an offer?
  2. How many offers will I have to make on homes before I have one accepted?
  3. Why are the ‘for sale’ prices so different from what the county tax appraisal says?

love these questions! Question #2 especially indicates to me that the buyer is savvy about our particular market.

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1. What is the timeline for making an offer? After further questioning, I find that the buyer usually means ‘How much time is there between looking at houses and going under contract? How much time from having a signed contract until I own the house?’ 

A couple of generalizations about this set of questions: are we talking about Austin? Or, are we talking about one of the surrounding cities? What is the price point?

Austin is generally the fastest-moving market because there are so many more buyers than there are available properties (hint, hint, Potential Sellers!). If you are not ready RIGHT NOW to make an offer and show the seller your ability to pay down payment, closing costs, and get a loan, you could be a day too late in getting the house you want. Once you start shopping, you could be getting an offer accepted in the next couple of days.

If you are looking in an outlying area, you might have days or weeks before you find what you want and have an offer accepted, BUT some situations require you to act as fast as you would in Austin. If it is a fabulous property at an appealing price, be prepared to act that very day, or it could be gone!

The next generalization about this question is: what is your price point? In general, the lower price-points, say $600K and lower in Austin and the lake area, and $350K and lower in outlying areas are highly sought-after and you will have lots of competition for that house. The price points higher than that tend to last longer on the market, but it is still true that a fabulous property at an appealing price will go quickly, especially if the price is under a million dollars for a truly million-dollar property and/or location.

If you have a cash offer accepted, you can close quickly- you will be waiting on the results of your own inspection, the title company’s commitment to what the property being passed to you legally is, and possibly, the seller’s schedule of when they can vacate the premises. I have heard of closes in just 4-5 business days, but it is typically 10 days or 2 weeks, realistically.

If you have a loan that needs underwriting, your close won’t happen in less than three weeks after you have a contract, although about 4 weeks is more typical. If you have a lender who is not motivated to get you to the closing table, it can take longer.

2. How many offers will I have to make before I have one accepted? The answer to this is dependent on the price range in which you are looking and on how close to your personal upper limit are you looking. The lower prices, say $250K and below, are full of buyers looking and making offers. I know many ways to make the offer really great for the seller, besides the sales price. BUT, the sales price you are offering is still the most important part of what you ‘lay on the table’ for the seller.

Which leads us to the second part of the question- how close are you to your personal upper financial limit in the homes you choose to look at? If you are already close to the top, you won’t have room to offer more, sometimes much more, than the asking price. Some of these properties receive 10, 20, or 30 offers in a couple of days. Being able to offer a lot more than the asking price becomes important, or you just lose out to someone who can. People looking at close to their upper limit in price might lose 5 or 6 offers before they finally have a contract on a house.

3. Why are the ‘for sale’ prices so different from what the county tax appraisal says?

The way I have had this explained to me in my real estate classes is this: there are three prices on a house; the price the county puts on the property, the price an appraiser says the property is worth, and the price the open market says the property is worth.

a. County appraisers are not necessarily trained, licensed appraisers. They might be people hired to drive around to see if there is anything obvious that has changed about the property since the last drive-by, and then the next year’s value is slapped on the property based on what the last year’s assigned value was, plus whatever increase in revenue the county might need to keep paving the roads, paying the sheriff, etc.  Often, the county’s appraised value is lower than actual market value.

b. An appraiser has been trained to use algorithms plus experienced judgment to interpret the results in order to arrive at a value for the property. Your lender will hire an appraiser from the appraiser pool to calculate a value for the property before the loan is approved. You will pay for the appraisal at closing and not all lenders are careful to hire an appraiser who truly knows the peculiarities of the local market. I encourage you to use a lender whose policy is to “hire local” when it comes to appraisers.

c. The open market (available through exposure on the multiple listing service) will place a value on property for you. Given enough exposure, the current pool of buyers will select a price at which a property will be purchased. If the property you are looking at is listed by a competent agent who has been able to convince the seller of the reality of the market [both important caveats], the price you are looking at on the glossy brochure or pretty website is somewhat close to what a buyer will pay at this particular time. An exception would be if the seller, assisted by the listing agent, calculates that putting a lower price on a home will produce many more offers from which to choose. In this case, the listed price may be lower than you could expect to pay.

There is, of course, a lot more I could say about each of these questions, but this will get us started.

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Photo from 2006, when I was with a church group that worked on new post-Hurricane Katrina homes for the musicians of New Orleans. These were built to be appealing, safe, and affordable to build up the community again.

What I’ve Been Thinking About Today

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Yes, kitchens do become dated, and most buyers in our market long for acres of luxurious countertops rather than a dog trot breezeway on which to churn their butter.

In advising people who have been in their homes for a long time and are thinking that they might be moving into a smaller place, or into an assisted-living apartment* in the next couple of years, I realize that folks get information on How To Sell A House from  a variety of sources. Those sources are often national in scope, and are helpful in a way, but never specific enough to a market or micro-market to be completely believable.

In planning home renovations with an eye to a home sale, there is no substitute for consulting with someone who has local market expertise and has walked the walk with a multitude of buyers, hearing their comments and feelings about homes they see. Just because you think you know that most buyers want certain features in a kitchen, or a bathroom, or a certain flooring choice, does not necessarily mean that you will do yourself a favor by spending a lot of money following through with that type of renovation.

When I do a thorough market analysis, I look at every home in your neighborhood, and sometimes, other similar neighborhoods, to see what has sold in the past few months, what those homes looked like inside and out, where they were situated in relation to through streets, scenic views, neighborhood amenities, noise sources, as well as the prices they brought to their sellers. In a neighborhood in which many of the “perfectly good” homes are being torn down to be replaced with a modern version of home, your beloved home might become a tear-down, or a major remodel project, too. If that seems likely based on what the market is telling us right now, it would not be prudent to spend a lot of money updating your home for a sale. It would be more prudent to adjust your expectations to accommodate what the buying public is telling us about price, and for you to put a sales price on the home that reflects what is actually happening in the market.

Please, please do not set off to modernize a badly-dated kitchen or bathroom without getting a pair of expert eyes in to advise you on the likelihood of payoff from such a project.

Much better to keep an eye on home trends all along and periodically make judicious upgrades to your home as you are able. You want to be able to enjoy the fruit of your labor while you are living in the home, right?!?!

*Some of these apartment centers I refer to as “party barges” because the residents live in a stimulating atmosphere of slumber party pranks, laughter over wine and parlor games, endless field trips and educational adventures, and the occasional nap thrown in.

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Happy birthday to this fabulous country of ours, home of beautiful mountains, vast skies, innovative thinkers, and generous hearts. What a great experiment our founders flung out into the world, and may we continue that experiment with creative and supple minds and bodies, that all who enter will sense an awakening to possibilities and promise for everyone and everything contained within these 50 states.

(Almost) Every House is Unique

Cat video. You’re welcome.

Recently, I have found myself consulting with a number of different people about future moves that are not necessarily imminent. I think this time spent together with potential clients is rewarding! Every situation is different and every house is unique in that it is situated in a particular place in the city, in a neighborhood, of a certain age, amount of updating, and is experiencing street changes, or street stability, according to what’s happening in the market.

After asking lots of questions about goals, future desired location, amount of support- family, and otherwise- financial strengths and weaknesses, and determining which emotions are most at play, I put together a suggested plan for tackling all the issues, including prepping the house, for that future move.

Before our meeting, I drive the neighborhood carefully, even if I already know the area well, looking for signs of change, looking for clues to what’s happening. If I see on the MLS that an older home that is mostly in original condition has recently sold, I’ll check from the curb to see what it looks like now. If it is in an area where older houses are being torn down to make way for new ones, I want to know if this particular older home has met that fate, or if it is still being used as a home. Toys and playthings in the front yard six months after the sale are a pretty good indication that this home isn’t being replaced this year.

In advance of my neighborhood drive, I study the MLS and all the properties that have sold in the past six months, or year, depending on the area, searching for sold prices, condition of homes, location in neighborhood, etc. I study the photos that the listing agents put up on the MLS to see the condition of the interiors. I look for homes that might be comparable to the home I am scheduled to visit. I make graphs and charts of market activity in that neighborhood or that feeder district to a particular high school, depending on which parameters I think are most relevant to that house in that location.

When I show up at the door, I already know a lot about the situation, and I bring my graphs, information on comparable homes, a Seller’s Disclosure that the owner will have to fill out sooner or later, and other useful papers. After we sit down and talk about the personal situation, I walk through the house, taking snapshots and noting things that need to be repaired and/or updated.

Depending on the house and the micro-market it inhabits, I use one or more sets of these eyes to examine the property: the flipper-investor eyes, the buy-and-hold investor eyes, the move-up buyer eyes, the downsize buyer eyes, the coming-from-a-different-state eyes, the moving-out-of-the-city eyes, the second-home eyes. The recommendations I make to prepare the house for sale are usually based on the least amount of stuff the homeowner can do to make the house desirable. Of course, price of the home and price of updating and repair is a big factor, too.

Some homes merit new faucets, new flooring, new paint, etc., because through these improvements the homeowner is likely to make a quicker sale, or sell at the higher end of a reasonable price range. Some homes will be purchased by a flipper and price is the only thing that will matter to those folks. Even within my written recommendations, I make two tiers- one is “must do” and the other is “would be nice to do, if possible”.

Here are three short samples from some write-ups I’ve done recently:

The two most important points at which we must capture a buyer’s imagination are from the street and then again just outside and just inside the front door. Those are our ‘hooks’. People have no clue when looking at your neighborhood from the street that there is an amazing view behind the privacy fences, so we have to pull them up and in until they arrive where we want them to be.

The goal of any effort put into your home between now and putting it on the market is to transform it from your ‘home’ into a ‘house’. In other words, it will become a commodity when it hits the market. Your best chance for getting the highest price the market will offer is to get as many buyers aware of its existence as possible (that’s my job) and to pull them from the curb and into the front door (your job and my job). What I am describing now is changes you can make to the real estate to help pull those people in. Staging, our last effort before taking pictures and putting it on the market, will come later.

Because you are looking at a limited time for owning and enjoying the house (5 years is your general estimate, but it could be much less), you will only make changes which, if not made, will result in more days on market to sell your house, or will make the price lower than it needs to be. The changes you elect to make to upgrade the house in the eyes of future buyers must be changes you would enjoy, too, for the length of time you own the house.

Now… why the cat video?  Today I met with a friend and fellow agent who has recently marketed and sold a house that was home to an elderly couple with dozens of rescued cats! What a feat! (It took a village.)  Our rescues in the video? There are only 11 and they are well-loved and cared for. But, I hope we don’t have to move anytime soon!

West of Weird

Guess ‘weird’ is a matter of opinion, but I went on my first “West of Weird Property Tour” with lender Trey Powers today. ‘Weird’ is a self-proclaimed descriptor of Austin, and Dripping Springs is west of Austin, so…. you get the idea.

The big draw for me was a twelve-and-a-half acre property with large home right in the middle of the new Arrowhead Ranch subdivision. This is close in, and I mean Close In to ‘downtown’ Dripping Springs. The ranchette and subdivision are beautiful, with live oaks, wet-weather streams, and rocky outcroppings.

The ranchette is the remnant of the ranch which contains the main house, built in 2000, with horse barn and amenities. Somebody has GOT to buy this for a bed-and-breakfast or related retirement project right in the middle of the town which calls itself the “Wedding Capital” of central Texas. Please call me if you know someone who wants to buy this jewel.

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Entry

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View outward from the front of the house

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Nice pool off the outdoor kitchen, no?

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Yes, that’s a library with fireplace through the door in the center of the photo.

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Example of good planning: the antler chandelier can be lowered by pulley for cleaning.

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These were the ones that weren’t standing in the middle of the road when we were leaving.

While we’re on the subject of views, the first home we looked at this morning is lovely- spacious and only one story with this view from the back verandah:

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The title company could find no restrictions on what could be built on this property, so you could have your own business and a lovely home. But, please keep in mind that if you have no restrictions on your property use, your neighbors have none on theirs. Anyone up for a little acreage on a hill with a beautiful Texas hill country view from the house?

You can find me at 512-970-9121.

EXTRA: Here’s something to do this weekend. I am the president of The Austin Mosaic Guild and I am always promoting this art and this organization of wonderful people. We were invited to exhibit with the Texas Society of Sculptors at its annual Sculptfest, so, if you feel like dining at The Oasis this weekend, you can see and purchase indoor or outdoor sculptures to complement your new hill country views.  Here is the link with photos and hours and address:

Sculptfest 2017

If You Really Want to Move Now, “Price It Right”

I’m looking at the March 2017 Austin Board of Realtors Market Report from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M University this morning. Focusing on the zip code 78620, which is the Dripping Springs area. Because A&M is using the Austin Board of Realtors Multiple Listing Service data, I can look at any zip code I want to in the central Texas counties. If you want different area stats from the ones here, just ask me.

In the existing homes category, there are 2.8 months of inventory. Because a market considered ‘balanced’ in which there are about as many people wanting to sell homes as people wanting to buy homes is about 6 months of inventory, we are clearly still in a seller’s market overall. There are more people who want to buy homes than people who want to sell homes.

OK, class, what does this do to price? Yes, that’s right… the market forces keep the prices up. Existing homes are in demand.

Here’s something interesting: the new builds have an inventory of 9.3 months in this zip code. Also, the average selling price of existing homes is $482,145 vs. $430,550 for new homes.

In no category of home; single-family, townhouse, condominium, both new and existing, does the selling price average equal 100% of the listing price average. The ratio is hovering around 94%-95%. On average, sellers are not getting their full asking price for their houses.

However, if you are clever, you will find a REALTOR® who looks at the statistics for your particular neighborhood or area and finds out what the hyper-local market is doing. Amenities, features, well-considered upgrades, location, and landscaping are all factors! With this knowledge you’ll have a better idea of how to price your house.

Remember, the aggregate of buyers who are looking for your type of home, in your price range, in your market is what determines the likely selling price of your home. And, in turn, the aggregate of buyers is influenced by all kinds of forces, from financial, to emotions about the economy and government, to work opportunities, to weather patterns to local government policies and private sector opportunities. And so on.

To put it a different way, if you want to sell your home in this ‘buyer’s market’, it is best not to get too cocky and think that you can pick your own price. I have watched homes sit on the market for weeks and months without very many showings and zero offers. Why? Price per square foot that looks reasonable for the neighborhood and amenities that look good on paper, BUT the fixtures and finishes are dated, or the layout that was suitable for the wants and needs of a family in 1985 is no longer relevant or desirable, or the amenities are not as glam as a typical buyer in 2017 expects to see. In short, a home that was pretty wonderful 30+ years ago has lost its edge and must be priced to attract a smaller set of real buyers. (Real buyers are the set of people who would REALly buy your home.) This is not personal. This is business!

When you price your home too high for what price the market puts on it, you are selling the home down the street, or around the corner, that IS priced right for its market. Buyers see both homes and immediately realize which is the better bargain. And it’s not yours.

By the way, when you and I interview each other about selling your home, I will ask you what you know about any homes that have sold off market around you. That would be homes that have sold by the owner without ever being on the MLS, and homes that were going to go on the MLS, but the owner accepted an offer from a buyer before the MSL thing happened. Having this information helps me to help you price your home right for your hyper-local market.

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Stuff to Know About Buying a House

IMG_0097I love to insert into this blog photos I’ve made over the years!

You can get lots of information on the internet about buying a house, selling a house, maintaining a house, etc. Much of the information is even correct. In some state. Under some circumstances. At some point in time.

I start reading about ‘How to sell a house’, or ‘How to buy a house’ and I think, “Yes, but not in my state…. That’s not the way it’s done here.” We have personally bought and sold homes in three states, multiple times, over decades. Each state is very different, and things change within one state over time. Every two years, after the Texas Legislature meets, we have new laws to follow.

The first thing to know about buying a home in the Austin area in April 2017 is that, if you are going to need to borrow money to buy the house, you must tend to that first thing. REALTORS® keep lists of lenders they’ve worked with and whose clients have had a good experience. Interview some REALTORS®, pick one, and ask about lenders.

Lenders will pre-qualify you for a loan, which means that they ask in person, or online, for your numbers and information, crank it through an algorithm, and spit out a pre-qualification, if your numbers pass the test. Because it is based on self-reporting, and doesn’t go in-depth with your complete financial picture, a pre-qualification doesn’t carry much weight with the seller of a home, especially a nice home in a ‘hot’ neighborhood.  Your REALTOR® is not likely to show you very many homes until you have a more substantial loan work-up done than pre-qualification.

Special note: if you cannot get pre-qualified for a loan, there are companies that can guide you through your journey to financial stability; a good lender might very well partner with a company that can help you in this way; and some lenders offer this service. All is not lost if you don’t qualify right away.

The next level is a pre-approval by the lender. This means that the lender has checked your background information, such as your credit scores from the three major reporters; Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, has seen copies of your pay stubs, etc. A pre-approval is as far as most lenders will take you before you have a signed contract to buy a house. For the purposes of most home sellers, a buyer with a pre-approval is good enough to sign a contract with.

A few lenders will actually take you through the underwriting process before you even sign a contract to buy a house. Underwriting means a specialist has rooted through your work life, your banking and financial life, your credit history, and your related personal life enough to agree to loan you up to a certain amount of money to buy a house, providing the house you choose passes muster. Going into contract negotiations with a home seller after you have been underwritten for a loan is a strong position, provided your offer is one that makes the seller happy.

Okay, next subject is paperwork. There is a lot. I have been told, and have seen evidence,  that appropriate paperwork provides some legal protection for the following parties: 1) YOU, the buyer, 2) the seller, 3) your real estate brokerage, 4) the agent or REALTOR® looking after your interests on behalf of that brokerage, 5) the agent and brokerage on the seller’s side, 6) the title company insuring clear title on your purchase, 7) the lender, 8) the property owner’s association, if there is one, 9) the builder, if it is a new home purchase, 10) any lien holders on the property in question, 11) the government entities under whose jurisdiction the property falls, 12) any inspectors you employ to assess the property for you, and 13) anyone else who is breathing and walking, rolling, or slithering  nearby your real estate transaction. There is gonna be a lot of paperwork, and it’s my job to make sure it all gets negotiated where possible, filled out properly, and signed.

Because there is a lot of paperwork that gets looked at and signed at various points along the way from agreeing to hire a particular brokerage to work for you to completing the buyer transaction and taking possession of your new home, you must plan to be available during the time-intensive periods

Also, in this still-hot market, you must plan to be available to look at homes and make decisions in short-order. In most cases, you won’t have time to mull over a situation during the buying process; the home you want will be under contract with someone else that day. The time for big, mulling-over decisions is before you go looking at homes. Your REALTOR® can help you think through your situation and decide on your must-haves, your bottom line, and your contingencies before going into battle.

While we’re talking about going into battle, let me touch on the subject of negotiations. I have found that negotiating on behalf of a client works so much better when we all treat each other with utmost respect. I aim to be unfailingly polite and respectful, no matter how the seller approaches things- not only does it make work more satisfying, but I am able to be more successful in getting you what you need as a buyer.

Some of you have heard the opening salvo in a negotiation- the selling price on an item- and then offered a low bid, followed by going back-and-forth with the seller until you eventually meet in the middle.  In home-buying, there is an element of that strategy. However, it pays to understand the psychology of what happens with a house offer. Sellers are usually quite invested in their price and their home, and they don’t respect a low-ball offer on their prized possession. Not to mention, in this market, a lot of times the offers start at the list price and go upward from there. No, it would not be unusual for a low-ball offer to have the effect of cutting off any possible negotiation. You could end your chances before you even get started.

There are other considerations besides price. The standard one-to-four family residential resale contract has 9 pages, not counting additional disclosures, addendums, and ammendments, so you can imagine how many other points there are for a buyer and seller to agree on besides just the selling price. Your REALTOR® can help you put together an offer package that is appealing to the seller. Maybe even appealing enough for the seller to sign a contract with you!

Now you have signed a contract to buy a pre-owned home. Congratulations! Except in unusual circumstances, you will want to pay the seller an amount of money for the privilege of keeping the home off the open market long enough for you to hire professionals to inspect the various systems of your home and give you a report. You need to be reasonably certain that you know what you are getting into. The money you pay the seller for this purpose is called the “option money” and it will be a direct payment. If during your option period that is specified in the contract you decide not to buy the home, the seller has no obligation to return the option money. After all, you paid her the money to let you sign a contract, yet still spend time re-examining your future purchase, and possibly deciding against it. That keeps her home off the market for days, and could be a real liability for her.

You will also pay an amount of money called “earnest money” to show that you are indeed serious about following through with the home purchase, provided there are no nasty surprises that weren’t evident in the home after first inspection by you. This earnest money does not go to the seller; it goes to the escrow officer, usually at the title company you and the seller have agreed to use. Or, it may go to a lawyer’s office and be held in escrow there. This money is recoverable, as long as you follow all the agreements in the executed contract. If you buy the property, the escrow money may be used toward your transaction at closing. Earnest money is typically about 1% of the agreed-upon selling price of the house, but this is one of the many negotiable points between you and the seller.

In most cases, one of your expenses as a buyer will be the appraiser’s work. In a loan situation, the lender will order an appraisal by a licensed individual to give that appraiser’s best assessment of what the value of the house is. In this market, sometimes the agreed-upon sales price is higher than what the appraiser says it is worth. One of the decisions you, as a buyer, will be making ahead of the home-search process, is whether or not you can afford to make up the difference between what you contract to pay for a house (higher amount) and what an appraiser says the home’s value is (lower amount). There are also acceptable ways to provide the appraiser with information about the neighborhood and local sales that she might not have access to through standard channels when she is doing her work.

There are many expenses that a buyer will have in closing a purchase transaction. Some of them the seller might agree to pay, but many more will be your responsibility. Someone will pay for title insurance. Someone will pay title company and county recording fees. Someone will pay loan origination fees. Someone might even pay for a new survey to be made of the property. These costs are something your REALTOR® will help you grasp before you start your transaction and, if you will be getting a loan, your lender will take them all into consideration when they are looking at whether or not you are a good credit risk for them. They will help you understand the costs of closing a transaction.

Part of the transaction cost that is ultimately shared within the selling price by both parties will be paying your real estate broker and the seller’s real estate broker their commissions to cover the work done on behalf of both you and the seller. This is another reason for you to hire carefully when you hire a REALTOR® to work for you- the commission cost is not insignificant, and you want to make sure that the brokerage you hire will serve your needs to the fullest, and then some.

I know I have given you just a bare outline of what goes on from the buying side. In other posts, especially those tagged ‘buyers’, you can see more specifics that might answer some more of your questions. I keep writing these posts as a service to the community, because I know the feeling from my own pre-licensing days of being completely confused and in the dark about what was happening during my own real estate transactions. I want to shed as much light as possible on a complex and important topic.  I always welcome suggestions left in the comment section of this post, or other posts on this blog.

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