Q & A with Barbara Corcoran

» Featured Columnists | By Barbara Corcoran | August 21, 2009 8:00 AM ET

Q1 - I own a restored 1800s Victorian in pristine condition in upstate New York. I paid cash for the home two years ago but have moved out and need to sell. It's been on the market for 6 months with no buyers and I've lowered the price from $399,000 to $324,000. My contract with the current broker is running out and I'm thinking of listing it with an agent that could bring interested buyers up from New York City. Do you have any suggestions?

A - Most people shop for real estate on-line so a solid web campaign is the best way to reach buyers. Make sure your broker has great photos and an accurate description of the house on-line. Ask your broker to send you data on how many visits both their website and your listing receive each week. Compare that with numbers from other firms and pick the Realtor that has the biggest web presence.

Q2 - My sisters and I have convinced our mother to sell her home in Upper Ditmars, Queens, 15 minutes from Manhattan, where she's lived for 33 years.  It's an attached one family and extremely well kept, freshly painted, and with parking space in the rear.  Good schools and shopping are within walking distance. We do not want to overcharge or undercharge.  How do we zero in on the right price so we can sell quickly and relocate Mom to Long Island?

A - The best way to sell a house quickly is to price it 10% to 15% below what it's worth. Invite three brokers in to give you an estimate of its value, and pick the broker who gives you the lowest price. You might also pay a local appraisal firm to appraise it as they have no vested interest in giving you a number higher than what the house is worth. It will cost you money on the front end but save you lost time and money in the end. And don't worry about under pricing the house because as long as it's marketed properly, smart buyers will spot the deal and you may well get more for it than the asking price.

Q3 - My husband and I are retired seniors and want to refinance the mortgage on our co-op and lower our monthly payment.  We have a 30 year fixed rate loan at 6% with $146,000 left.  What is a reliable company to go with and would it be worth all the closing costs?

A - Begin with your current lender and see what rate you could get and ask for an estimate of the closing costs. Also talk to at least one other bank and to a mortgage broker asking for the same thing. If you get quoted a lower rate, calculate how long it would take to recoup your closing costs by dividing that amount by the amount you'll save in your monthly payments. If you plan to live in the house at least that many months more, then it's worth refinancing.

Q4 - I am interested in purchasing a second home in Florida and I have no idea where to start. Are there brokers in NJ that I should contact or must I seek a real estate agent down south?

A - You'll need more than just a broker! First figure out where in Florida you're interested in living - on the Atlantic or the Gulf or away from the water, north or south, in a city or small town. It's a big state with a lot to offer. Then plan a few trips down there to spend a few days in different parts of the state. Once you've nailed that down, you can ask a trusted New Jersey broker to refer you to a qualified broker in the area you've chosen.

Q5 - I am interested in buying a home in Ozone Park Queens, NY that has a selling price of $489,000 and has been on the market for 60 days.  Similar homes in the area have sold for about $449,000.  I have confirmed that the value assessed by the city is only $421,000 down $59,000 from last year. Does the assessed value determine what my offer should be? How far below the asking price can I make a bid, 10 or 20%? I don't want to embarrass myself.

A - Assessed values mean nothing in the real world so don't base your offer on that. They always lag behind the current market. Buyers and sellers set market value and only the most recent sales are the best guide to value. Based on similar homes you've seen, decide how much you're willing to pay for the house and bid a number about 15% lower than that. Don't worry about embarrassing yourself, we're in a buyers' market. Make a starting bid you think is reasonable and expect to negotiate up from that.

Q6 - I'm having trouble finding a 1 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn for $800 to $850 per month. Do you have any suggestions on where I can look for apartments? If possible I would like to live close to the 2, 3, and 4 trains. I also have a small dog.

A - $850 may not get you too far these days especially if you want to be on one of the major subway lines, but don't give up hope. First of all, look at apartments asking up to about $1000 as landlords today are negotiating. If you've got good credit and a solid record as a tenant, it will help you get a lower rent because landlords love a good tenant. Search on-line for no fee apartments but be wary of the many bait and switch listings out there. Make sure that you can see the actual apartment that is listed and get a specific address before you make an appointment. And don't forget to pound the pavement! Walk around the neighborhoods you'd like to live in and look for 'For Rent' signs, and ask doormen and superintendents if they know of any apartments for rent. Take down the phone number of management companies posted in building lobbies and call them also for any availability.

Q7 - My husband and I live with a teenager, 3 dogs, and my father-in-law in a one bedroom! We are in debt, but we need a house badly. We've owned homes in the past, but trying times have lead us back to square one. My husband had a house heired to him, and is selling it in an effort to "get out of the hole''. Should we use the money for our debt or a new home?

A - God, that sounds horrible! And sadly, you don't have a choice. You've got to get out of debt before you can buy a house or you'll never get the mortgage to buy your dream home! Use the sale proceeds to pay off your debt but save enough for a down payment. You'll have to be patient as it will take about a year or so to clear up your credit. In the meantime, talk to a lender or mortgage broker about what kind of loan you're eligible for so you can determine your budget. Start going to open houses so you can educate  yourself and be ready to move when the time is right.

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