Whether you’re a first-time buyer or a seasoned home buyer, shopping for a new home can feel daunting. Buying a home is a big commitment of both time and money. Plus a home purchase has the power to improve your quality of life and your future financial security, so the stakes are high.
Follow these five steps to assess your priorities, streamline your search and choose your next Mammoth Lakes home with confidence.
Step 1: Set your goals and priorities.
The first step in finding your ideal home is knowing why you want to move. Do you want more space? Is this a second home? Would you rather live in a house than a condo (or vice versa)? Are you looking for something with less maintenance or a single-level floor plan? Figuring out why you want to move will help you nail down your priorities.
Don’t forget to think about how your life circumstances might change over the next few years. Do you plan to change jobs? Have more children? See your children off to college? A good rule of thumb is to look for a home that will meet your family’s needs for the next 5-7 years.
Step 2: Determine your budget.
Financial professionals often recommend following the 28/36 rule to figure out how much you can afford to spend on a home. This rule says you should spend no more than 28% of your gross monthly income on housing expenses (mortgage, taxes, insurance, etc.) and a maximum of 36% of your gross monthly income on your total debt obligations (housing expenses PLUS any other debt obligations like car loans, student loans, credit card debt, etc.)
The 28/36 rule only provides a rough guideline. Of course it you are purchasing as a second home and/or investment, the guidelines change especially if you plan on renting to generate cash flow from the property. Getting pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage before you start home shopping will give you a more accurate idea of how much you can borrow. Add your pre-approved mortgage amount to your down payment to figure out your maximum purchasing potential.
Step 3: Choose a location.
When house hunting in an urban area, this step often takes into consideration commute times, school districts, etc. But in Mammoth Lakes, the location factors you’ll want to consider are things like how close the property is to the ski mountain, the gondola, The Village, bus lines, schools, restaurants, etc. Luckily in our 4-square-mile town, nothing is too far away.
Since Mammoth Lakes is a resort town, you might also want to consider the re-sell or renting potential. Different neighborhoods have different zoning regulations, so if you think you might want to rent out your home on a nightly basis down the line, be sure your real estate agent can find appropriate properties for you.
Step 4: Decide what you need (and want) in a home.
Start with the basics like number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, and square footage. Do you want a one-story or two-story layout? Do you want other amenities like a hot tub/spa, a garage, etc.?
You might not find a Mammoth Lakes home with all of your “wants” or even all of your “needs” at a price you can afford. Most of us have to make a few compromises when buying a home. If you’re facing a tough choice about how or what to compromise in your home search, go back to Step 1 and consider your original goals and motivations for moving. Reminding yourself of your priorities can often provide helpful clarity.
Step 5: Meet with a real estate agent.
A good real estate agent can lessen the stress and uncertainty of buying a new home. From setting goals to securing a loan to selecting the best neighborhood, my job is to assist you every step of the way. It’s never too early (or too late) to get in touch with an agent about buying a home.
In our “bigger is better” culture, there’s an expectation that each home you own should be larger and grander than the last. But life changes like divorce, kids leaving for college, or even the simple act of growing older can prompt us to find a smaller home that better suits our shifting needs and lifestyle. Plus the added challenge for Mammoth Lakes homeowners of snow removal and year-round maintenance can make downsizing even more appealing.
The advantages of downsizing are increasingly recognized by people I work with. The tiny house movement has tons of passionate advocates who promote living simply. A smaller home typically costs less and also usually takes less time and effort to maintain.
Whatever your reason for downsizing, the process can feel overwhelming. Here are five steps to take to guide you through it.
1. Determine your goals and limitations.
The first step is to figure out your goals for your new home. Are you hoping to cut down on home maintenance? Are you ready for forego snow removal forever after the last big winter you went through? Are you looking for certain amenities in the neighborhood or complex you choose? Are you looking for a place with great access to local bus lines so you can easily get to Mammoth Mountain or the grocery store?
You should also consider any limitations that will impact which home you choose. Are stairs an issue? If you’re going through a divorce, are there child custody issues you should take into account? How long do you plan to stay in your new home? Also keep in mind that your goals for a primary residence may be much different than for a second home or vacation home in Mammoth Lakes.
Make a wish list of what you want and rank the list from most to least important.
2. Find the perfect new home.
Once you’ve established your wish list, we can start the search. We can talk through the ins and outs of HOAs and which ones offer the most bang for your buck. I work with clients at all stages of life, so I’m well versed in finding a good fit for each particular situation. Looking for a condo-tel type situation or a more traditional condo? I’ll share how I found my dream home in Mammoth Lakes — it can definitely be done! When the time comes, we’ll discuss what you need to know about making an offer.
3. Sell your current home.
If you’re ready to sell your current home, we can work together to prepare to list it. I work with both buyers and sellers regularly, and my goal is to reduce the stress and hassle for you, whether you’re buying or selling a home. Even if the home you want to sell isn’t in Mammoth Lakes, I have an extensive network and will find a realtor to meet your needs wherever you are located.
Making your home stand out, intentionally staging your home, and marketing it right when it’s listed are all key to getting you the best resale value. The more you can make on your current home, the easier it will be to find the perfect situation for downsizing.
4. Sort and pack your belongings.
Even before you find your new home, you should start preparing for the move. A smaller home means less space for furniture and other possessions, so you’ll have to think through what to keep and what to sell or donate. In Mammoth, Second Chance and The Cast Off are great places to donate household items. You can also try selling things on the Facebook group Buy, Sell or Trade in Mammoth or Bishop (it’s like a Craigslist for the Eastern Sierra).
Parting with things can be emotional. Start with a small and unemotional space like a laundry or powder room and work your way up to larger rooms. Focus on eliminating duplicates or anything you don’t regularly use. If you have sentimental items you’re considering parting with, think about who in your life might enjoy having them.
Make sure what you do keep will help you achieve the goals you outlined in step 1. For example, if you want a home that’s easier to clean, cut down on knick knacks. If you’re moving from a house to a condo in Mammoth Lakes, you won’t need that snowblower anymore.
5. Ask for help when you need it.
Moving is stressful in any situation, but if you’re downsizing due to health issues or a major life change, it can be even tougher. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask friends or family members to help you with packing and decluttering. You can also look into hiring a home organizer, a full-service moving company, or a senior move manager (a professional who helps older adults with relocation).
If financial constraints are holding you back, we can look into tapping into the equity of your current home. This can be helpful in getting you the assistance you need for a smooth transition.
If your home no longer suits your needs, it might be time to consider a change. Read more about buying a home in Mammoth Lakes or selling a home in Mammoth Lakes, or contact me to talk about your options.
I work with a lot of people buying second homes or vacation homes in Mammoth Lakes. The question I get most often is “how do I find a good property management company?”
Whether you’re looking for someone to keep an eye on your home when you’re away or planning to rent your property to vacationers, finding a trustworthy and reputable property manager is a must. I always recommend setting up a meeting with potential property managers and asking these questions.
1. What percentage do you take for the management fee and what does it include?
Figuring out which property management company is “worth it” is a complicated process since they all do things a bit differently. Some will advertise a low fee but may “nickel and dime you” as things come up, so it can add up and be more expensive than a company with a higher fee up front. A company with a higher fee may include marketing, maintenance work, cleaning, and more. Be sure to ask what other charges you’ll face as an owner. Most property management companies will have pricing documentation you can read through to learn more.
2. How long is the contract term?
Your situation might change over time, so it’s good to know how long you’re locked in for. You might decide you want to manage the property yourself if you live in Mammoth Lakes, or you might want to move to a different company. Most property management companies work on annual contracts but include 30-day cancellation clauses. Be sure to ask about their cancellation policy if you need to leave the company before your contract is up.
3. How do I book my own stays?
Many property management companies in Mammoth Lakes will have some sort of online portal you can log into to book your own stay. This keeps everything orderly for you and the property manager. Since it’s your property, you can visit whenever you want, but it can be tricky if it’s already booked when you decide you want to come to Mammoth Lakes — especially during busy holiday times.
If the property management company will be handling all of the cleaning, figure out what the owner cleaning fee will be when you stay there. To make sure they maintain a specific cleaning standard, companies won’t usually allow you to clean the property on your own after using it.
4. What are your minimum requirements for stocking my property?
All property management companies have some requirements about what you have to have in your rental property. Visitors to Mammoth Lakes might book a condo or a home instead of a hotel room because of the kitchen and common area spaces, so having everything guests need is key. Your property management company will likely require a fully-stocked kitchen, but they may also require you have things like a hairdryer, an iron and ironing board, a flashlight and trash bags. Request a list from the companies you talk to.
5. What kind of liability insurance do I need?
If you plan to rent your home to vacationers, you’ll need liability insurance. Your property management company will likely require proof of this as well, but it’s a good idea to ask them for their specific requirements. While you may have homeowners insurance already, this usually leaves coverage gaps when the property is used by vacationers. I recommend Mammoth Insurance to help you navigate your insurance needs for your vacation rental property.
6. What’s your maintenance policy?
Property management companies all vary in what they consider “normal wear and tear.” If you’re not careful, excessive maintenance expenses can fall to you. Ask the property management company up front what their maintenance policy is. Some will have policies that if it’s less than a certain amount, the company can repair it without seeking your permission. The goal in hiring a property management company is to reduce your stress and worry about the property, so the maintenance policy is important.
7. How do you capture the VRBO and Airbnb market?
Especially in the Mammoth Lakes vacation rental market, VRBO and Airbnb are huge traffic drivers. Many vacationers prefer to search these sites than those of local companies. Most property management companies in Mammoth Lakes have strategies to capture this market — they might even list their properties on these forums. Be sure to ask how they’re addressing this.
8. Are you local, regional, or national?
There are pros and cons to the size of the property management company you choose. National and regional companies likely have larger mailing lists and more robust marketing programs. Local companies may give you easier access to the owner or manager of the company if issues arise. As long as the company has multiple other properties in Mammoth Lakes, they should know the local area and have the tools to deal with whatever comes up. Whether they’re local or national, make sure they have a local contact for you and for guests.
9. What are your other properties like?
While Airbnb and VRBO capture a lot of the market, some vacationers are looking for a certain style of vacation rental. Some property management companies focus on luxury rentals, while others don’t have many requirements and offer all ranges of rental quality. Always ask what other properties the company manages. You can usually learn a lot about their other properties by searching their online listings.
10. Are you available 24/7?
Hiring a property management company should give you peace of mind. If you’re still on the hook to deal with emergencies, you might feel like you’re wasting your money. If you want to be fully hands-off with your vacation rental property, ask the company if they handle everything 24/7.
If you want to learn more about buying a vacation rental property in Mammoth Lakes, download my Ultimate Home Buyer’s Guide or contact me.
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Everyone has a crazy story about their first time buying a home, but some of those stories are riddled with common real estate myths. With so much information to sift through during the process, it can be hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Here are the most common home buyer myths I hear:
Myth #1: You need a 20% down payment.
Sure, a 20% down payment is great, but that doesn’t work for everyone. You can buy a home today with 3-5% down. A good lender can walk you through the options to have a lower down payment. With less money down, you’re a higher risk to a lender, so you may need to buy mortgage insurance as part of your monthly payment.
Note that some properties in Mammoth Lakes have very specific lending requirements. Some condo complexes will require 20-30% down, so be sure to discuss your down payment plans with your real estate agent early on and most importantly, get pre-approved for a mortgage so you are ready to make an offer when you find the perfect place.
Myth #2: Real estate agents are expensive.
It must be expensive for your real estate agent to be there for you and help you every step of the way, right? They spend countless hours working on your behalf. Luckily it’s not — for you, that is. Buyers typically don’t pay a real estate agent’s commission. Your agent’s fee will likely be paid at closing by the seller of the home you’re buying. The seller knows to factor this cost into the property’s total purchase price.
Myth #3: Don’t call a real estate agent until you’re ready to buy.
While you don’t want to waste anyone’s time, it’s smart to call in a real estate agent as soon as you start considering buying. Even if you’re just browsing the internet, a real estate agent can be a huge help. In Mammoth Lakes, having someone who knows the intricacies of the neighborhoods, different condo complexes, etc. can save you a lot of trouble.
A real estate agent can also set up a search for you in the Multiple Listing Service (MLS) so you get notified whenever something hits the market that meets your criteria. The MLS is usually more up-to-date than Zillow and Trulia. Setting up a search early on will help you get an idea of what’s available and what’s in your budget and save you time since you won’t need to scour the internet.
Myth #4: Fixer-uppers are more budget-friendly.
You’ve probably watched shows on HGTV that make fixer-uppers look dreamy. But beware: homes that need a lot of work also require a lot of money. Even big renovations (like a kitchen remodel) take a lot longer and often cost more than it seems on TV.
In Mammoth Lakes, many properties were built in the 1970s and 1980s. While they aren’t really fixer-uppers, many of these will need renovations, so it’s wise to think about before committing to an older property. If you fall in love with an older home that needs a lot of work, get a few quotes from contractors before you buy so you know what you’re getting into.
Myth #5: Your only upfront cost is your down payment.
The down payment is probably the biggest chunk of change you’ll need, but that’s not all. Closing costs usually range from 2-4% of the total purchase price of the home. This includes things like homeowners insurance, title fees and more.
You’ll also need an inspection before closing, which usually costs a few hundred dollars but depends on the size of the property. Your lender will also require an appraisal to determine how much the home is worth. You might pay when the appraisal is done, or it might be added into your closing costs.
Myth #6: You need a high credit score to buy a house.
You don’t have to have perfect credit to buy a home. There are many loans out there that buyers with lower credit scores can qualify for. Some come with additional feels, so talk to a few lenders or mortgage brokers to see which option is best. Bring your real estate agent up to speed early so they can advise you on which properties would be best for your financing situation. Again, it is best to get pre-approved early in the process so you have a better idea of your budget and are ready to make an offer.
Myth #7: You can’t qualify for a mortgage if you’re still paying off student loans.
You might be more comfortable paying off your existing debts before jumping into homeownership, but it’s not required. When applying for a mortgage, your lender will look at your debt to income ratio. You can calculate this on your own by adding your monthly debt payments and dividing those by your monthly income. Your lender calculates this to make sure you can afford your monthly mortgage payments in addition to what you’re already paying. If your income is high enough that you can easily make all the payments, a student loan won’t affect you getting a mortgage.
Myth #8: You should base your budget on what your lender approves.
When you prequalify for a mortgage, your lender looks at your income, debt, assets, credit score and financial history to see how much you can qualify for. Lenders tend to approve you for the highest amount they think you can afford, but that doesn’t mean you should borrow that much.
Instead, use an online mortgage calculator to get an idea of how much you can actually afford. Think about what you’d like your monthly payment to be, and remember to include principal, interest, taxes and insurance. You should also think about ownership expenses that aren’t part of your monthly payment, like HOA dues and maintenance.
Myth #9: It’s all about location.
“Location, location, location” is basically the real estate industry’s motto, but it’s not always the best guide for you when buying. Especially in a ski town like Mammoth Lakes, prices can vary quite a bit depending on what housing community you’re in or how close you are to Mammoth Mountain. While you do want to think about resale values of each location, you should choose what’s right for you and your family rather than focusing on resale above all.
Myth #10: If you look hard enough, you’ll find a home that checks every box on your wishlist.
Unfortunately most buyers will have to make some compromises. The home that meets every item on your wishlist might be out there, but it’s also probably double or triple your budget. And don’t forget that Mammoth Lakes is a tiny town, so the options can be a bit more limited than in a big city.
I recommend narrowing your wishlist down to the top five things that are important to you, then rank them based on priority. You should also note your absolute deal breakers so your real estate agent can avoid properties that just won’t work.
Whether you’re a first-time buyer or a seasoned homeowner, there’s no reason to go through the home buying process without a strong advocate on your side. Learn more about buying a home in Mammoth Lakes in my Ultimate Home Buyer’s Guide, or call me to start looking for your dream home: (760) 914-4664.
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