Area Real Estate News & Market Trends

You’ll find our blog to be a wealth of information, covering everything from local market statistics and home values to community happenings. That’s because we care about the community and want to help you find your place in it. Please reach out if you have any questions at all. We’d love to talk with you!

April 1, 2019

Finding Your Dream Home: 10 Tips for Touring Houses for Sale in Clear Lake, Iowa

More than 5.5 million homes are sold in the U.S. each year. And before many of those millions of buyers made their decision, they toured the home.

Even as virtual tours and online marketplaces become more popular, nothing beats an in-person to visit your potential future home.

You get to see, touch, and experience the property. You can open cabinets, sit on the front porch, look out the windows, stand in the shower; everything you can do to imagine yourself living in the home.

But home tours aren't all fun and games. If you've never been on one before, they can be intimidating. And if you don't make the most of them, you're wasting your time even visiting a home.

Keep reading to learn 10 tips for touring houses for sale in Clear Lake, Iowa.

houses for sale in Clear Lake, Iowa

1. Let Your Realtor Do Their Job

Starting your house-hunting adventure is exciting.

Suddenly, every house you see is a potential home. Driving through neighborhoods, every 'for sale' sign that you see have you slowing down your car to examine the landscaping, check out those picture windows, and maybe jot down a contact number.

But while you definitely should take down that number and make note of the address, don't pick up your phone just yet.

If you've decided to work with a Realtor, like 90 percent of buyers and sellers, initiating your own home tours is a big mistake. 

If you aren't working with a Realtor, you have no choice. Unfortunately, you'll be faced with taking a tour while the homeowner hovers. You'll be in the awkward situation of asking about or deciphering the details about a property.

Then, if you do decide to make an offer, you'll be at a disadvantage. Homeowners expect Realtors to know what a home is worth and what the market is like, and will be less likely to try to mark up the price above what it's worth.

If they think you're inexperienced, the homeowner may automatically feel like they have the upper hand, and the price may reflect that.

Your Realtor knows the in's and out's of negotiating, investigating, and finding the perfect home for you. If you've found a home that your Realtor didn't mention, you should pass the address and contact information along to him or her.

If the home is within your search area, you'll likely find that your Realtor has already considered it for you, and found that it didn't match one of your criteria anyway!

2. Don't Let Small Details Make You Blind to Big Issues

Before you ever step foot in a home for a tour, you should have a list of your needs and wants. Some of those 'wants' are likely minor and are things you could easily add to home after you've bought it, like new appliances or a large porch.

But 'needs' are often tougher to change.

Maybe your family needs a certain number of bedrooms. Or you have your heart set on an open floor plan.

If a home doesn't have one of the things you need, you may not be able to do anything to change that.

When you start touring homes, it's important to keep those needs in mind, and not let minor details or wants to cloud your judgment.

3. Lay Off the Caffeine

A long day of house hunting will certainly take its a toll.

But before you swing by your local coffee house to grab the largest cup you can get your hands on, think twice. When the inevitable urge strikes, you'll be left using a strangers bathroom in whatever home you're touring.

If the homeowner is still living there, you're in the somewhat awkward position of using their toilet and toilet paper. If the house is unoccupied, the awkwardness might be gone,  but the toilet paper may be as well.

It's perfectly acceptable to use the bathroom in a home that you're touring if you need to. However, if you know you'll be going to several homes, the last thing you want to do is have to keep going constantly.

Plan in stops for snacks and something to drink at restaurants or coffee shops in between. While touring houses, stick to water to stay hydrated to cut down on bathroom breaks.

4. Open Everything

Some first time home buyers feel shy during their tour, especially if the homeowner is still living there.

But if you don't open up closets, cabinets, and other doors, you won't get the full picture of what the home is like or how it might work for you.

Homeowners and Realtors expect you to look at everything before you can even think about making an off on a house. And they want you to make that offer, so make sure that you're opening every door you see! 

Take note of the storage space and layout so that you can consider what it'd be like if your family had to store your own belongings there.

5. Pack a Tape Measure

If you plan to bring your furniture with you when you move, measure the big pieces, like your bed, couch, or entertainment center.

Then, pack a tape measure when you go on home tours. 

You don't want to buy a home, find out your furniture doesn't fit, and then have to buy new. This could set you back thousands of dollars that you weren't planning to spend.

6. Rethink Your Outfit

You aren't going to be able to really pay attention to a home and all of its little details if you're sweating through your shirt or shivering.

While it may seem unrelated, what you wear for a home tour is important. You should always dress in a way that keeps you comfortable and relaxed.

There's no need to dress up for your Realtor or the homeowner showing you space. Instead, casual clothes that you won't mind wearing all day as you climb stairs and explore the basement is the best choice.

Your footwear is equally important.

If a home has new carpet or if it is currently empty, odds are that you'll be asked to remove your shoes. Even if you aren't, removing them at the door is a great way to show your respect for the homeowner or selling Realtor.

Shoes that need to be tied or that are difficult to remove will leave you struggling at the door. Some Realtors will provide slip-on covers that you can put over your shoes. But these are often slick and can make climbing stairs or walking across hardwood floors a hazard.

Instead, opt for slip-on shoes or flip flops that you can easily slip on and off as needed.

7. Judge a Book By its Cover (At Least a Little Bit)

When it comes to a home's exterior, there are some things you can overlook and others that you should take as warning signs that something may be wrong.

Landscaping can easily be groomed. Garage doors, while expensive, can be replaced. You can even repaint or replace the siding on the front of your home, though it will set you back several thousand bucks.

But a roof that looks old or damaged, cracked foundations, a crumbling front porch, old windows, or a driveway that's covered in cracks and turning to gravel around the edges are all indicators of major, very expensive repairs.

In some cases, a bad roof or a damaged foundation can be major enough problems that you might struggle to get approved for a mortgage after the home inspection is complete.

8. Visit Homes at Different Times of the Day 

If you've found a home that you really love, and you have the time, visit the neighborhood at different times of the day.

The neighborhood you're moving to can be as important, or even more important, than the house itself.

You'll want to check out the traffic flow and the atmosphere of the neighborhood early in the day, in the evening, and even at night.

The last thing you want to do is buy a home and then find out that your morning commute will be double what you were expecting. Or that the neighborhood becomes questionable after dark.

9. Stay Neutral During the Tour

During your home tour, if the homeowner or other potential buyers are present, keep your discussion of the home and its features neutral.

There are two downsides to voicing your opinion, especially in front of the homeowner or the Realtor selling the property.

If you love a home and express that, you'll love some negotiating power because the homeowner knows that you're serious about buying. But if you trash a home, then make an offer, a homeowner might be tempted to take an offer from a different buyer out of spite.

Whether you're a first time home buyer or a repeat purchaser, keeping your opinions neutral is an important skill to learn.

10. Look Past the Decor

This may be the toughest tip to follow during a home tour. But paying too much attention to the current owner's decor and belongings will only prevent you from noticing the bones of a home.

If you choose to buy, you'll get to start with a fresh slate that you can paint, decorate, and arrange however you'd like. Make sure that the blank slate is what you're picturing while you're wandering your potential future home.

Shop Houses for Sale in Clear Lake, Iowa

Now that you've learned what you need to know about touring houses for sale in Clear Lake, Iowa, it's time to start scheduling some visits of your own.

Start searching for homes for sale in Clear Lake today!

Posted in Iowa News
Feb. 7, 2019

A First Time Home Buyer Iowa Guide to Grants and More

Are you ready to leap into homeownership?

If you're like many people, obstacles are standing in your way. Maybe a downpayment of ten to twenty percent is unattainable. Perhaps your credit score only qualifies you for a mortgage with poor loan terms.

Recognize these challenges? Fear not. If you are a first time home buyer in Iowa, these hurdles don't have to trip you up.

Whether you need help with the down payment or flexible lending options for low-income or low-credit buyers, the state of Iowa has you covered. Cities, banks, associations, and the federal government all offer options for Iowa's first time home buyers.

Is the perfect program for you out there? Keep reading to find out more about your options including homebuyer assistance in Mason City, Iowa.

First Time Home Buyers

Mortgage Assistance: Iowa Finance Authority Programs

The first stop on our journey through Iowa's first time home buyer programs are two programs provided by the Iowa Finance Authority: FirstHome Program and Homes for Iowans Program. The programs feature both conventional loans and federal government loans, and both include 30-year, fixed rate mortgages.

You can use these programs anywhere in the state of Iowa including Mason City.

For the program's purposes, a first-time home buyer is a person:

  • who has not owned their primary residence in the past three years, or
  • who is a military veteran who has not previously used a mortgage revenue bond program
  • who intends to buy a home in a Targeted Area

You can enroll in the FirstHome Program if you are a first time home buyer purchasing a primary residence in Iowa. It's available to you if you are an Iowan or if you are moving to Iowa and intend to buy for the first time.

Are you a repeat home buyer? The Homes for Iowans Program opens up homeownership for both first and second time home buyers buying a place to call home in Iowa. 

The primary benefits of the Iowa Finance Authority's programs are the relaxed rules and restrictions compared to conventional mortgages and other government programs.

It works for people who earn low-to-mid incomes who would otherwise struggle to save for a downpayment.

You won't be asked for a minimum down payment, and the mortgages typically have lower interest rates and fewer fees than the typical loan.

It's also an opportunity to take out a conventional loan with only a three percent down payment.


To qualify for First Home, you must be a first time home buyer and the limit of your home purchase price is $271,000. Income restrictions exist, but they vary according to county and household size.

Homes for Iowans raises the purchase ceiling to $331,000. It also features a strict household income limit of $121,800 regardless of whether you are a first time home buyer or not.

In addition to being a first time home buyer as defined by the program, you must also meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Minimum credit score of 640
  • Maximum debt-to-income ratio 45 percent
  • Occupy the home as a primary residence immediately

These requirements are the bare minimum. The bank may require a higher credit score or down payment depending on your case.

Down Payment Assistance: City Programs in Iowa

The FHA offers programs in some of Iowa's largest cities including:

  • Cedar Rapids
  • Dubuque
  • Waterloo

Here's a brief overview of what they offer.

Cedar Rapids Down Payment Assistance

The City of Cedar Rapids helps new home buyers secure down payment assistance through its First Time Home Buyer Program. The downside of the Cedar Rapids program is it features limited funding that doles out on a first come, first served basis. 

While no loan is ever guaranteed, being last in line may cause you to miss out on financial assistance.

Dubuque Down Payment Program

Does the Quad Cities appeal? The City of Dubuque also offers a down payment program. It provides $5,000 loans for down payment and closing costs for home buyers in the city. The benefit of these loans is that they come with no interest and feature long terms.

Moreover, Dubuque increases its offer based on your income. If you earn less than 30 percent of the area median income, you can receive as much as $25,000 to help you buy a home.

Waterloo Forgivable Down Payment Loan

Moving to Waterloo? The city offers an entirely different program. The Waterloo Down Payment Assistance Program helps buyers afford their down payments by providing a second, forgivable mortgage. If you accept the loan and then sell the house within five years, you need to pay it back. The amount paid back funds new loans to other home buyers.

Down Payment Grands: Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines offers two programs to help Iowans cover down payments and closing costs: Home$tart and Home$tart Plus.

These are grant programs available to home buyers of all types in all parts of Iowa including Mason City. The baseline qualifications include earning up to 80 percent of the median income in the area in which you intend to purchase the home.

You must also qualify for mortgage financing with your lender. If you are a first-time homebuyer, you must also complete an education class to receive the grant.

Home$tart Plus applicants also need to be one public housing assistance.

If you qualify, you may receive up to $7,500 on Home$tart or $15,000 on Home$tart Plus.

You can use the money as a down payment, to cover closing costs, or to rehabilitate the house you buy.

If you receive the grant, it's a good idea to stay in your home for five years. Selling before the five-year mark will require you to return at least a portion of the grant. The amount you repay depends on how long you owned the home, and the repayment comes from the proceeds of the sale.

Mortgage Assistance: Federal Government Programs

Just as in other states, people intending to buy a home in Iowa can avail of federal programs from the FHA, HUD, VA, and USDA. You may find more opportunities when using these programs in Iowa because there are rural and semi-rural communities to choose from and house prices are lower than elsewhere in the country.

FHA Loans

FHA loans are available from lenders across the state. These loans are government-backed loans, which loosens up the requirements for borrowers.

The benefits of FHA loans are the option to borrow with a minimum credit score of 500 and a down payment as low as 3.5 percent.

FHA loans are some of the easiest mortgage loans to qualify for, and if you lift your credit score to 580, you'll get even better perks.

As a bonus, you can use an FHA loan on virtually any property in Iowa as long as your income and the property price qualify.

HUD Loans

The Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) Good Neighbor Next Door Program is available for teachers, police officer, firefighters, and emergency response professionals who want to buy but can't afford to save.

The program offers a 50 percent discount on the home price if you meet the requirements and buy in a "revitalization area."

If you are a public servant hoping to buy a house, you can get discounts in select areas in the cities of:

  • Waterloo
  • Fairfield
  • Cedar Rapids
  • Pella
  • Muscatine
  • Des Moines
  • West Des Moines
  • Council Bluffs
  • Grinnell
  • Davenport
  • Ames
  • Sioux City

The FHA and HUD also add revitalization areas to their lists regularly. If your preferred city isn't on the list, keep in touch with your FHA lender or real estate agent.

VA Loans

VA loans are available in Iowa as they are elsewhere in the country.

These loans are provided by lenders but backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. In addition to VA mortgages, Iowa veterans may also qualify for homeownership assistance in the form of a $5,000 grant or a 100 percent property tax exemption for 100 percent disabled service-connected veterans.

To learn more about VA benefits available to residents of Iowa, visit the Iowa branch fo the VA office.

USDA Loans

Because Iowa offers many rural and semi-rural properties, it is a prime hunting ground for USDA Rural Development loans.

One of the perks of single family guaranteed loan programs offered by the USDA is that it provides a minimum of 90% loan note and can even extend it to 100% for eligible borrowers. That means you could buy without spending a penny on a down payment.

Another benefit is that the loans aren't just for the property price. You can also use them to:

  • install special features for family members with disabilities
  • pay real estate taxes
  • buy essential household equipment
  • invest in energy efficiency features
  • pay for site preparation costs
  • fund repairs and rehabilitation of existing houses

Where can you buy in Iowa? Use the USDA's address checker to see if the property you want is available.

It's Great to Be a First Time Home Buyer in Iowa

Local, state, and federal programs make homeownership for the average Iowan easier than ever. If you are a first time home buyer in Iowa, you may be able to score very favorable loans, low down payments, and even grants to get you on your way.

Are you interested in making Mason City your home? Learn more about buying in and around our family-friendly city on our blog.

Posted in Iowa News
Jan. 28, 2019

How to Apply for a Home Loan in North Iowa

Wouldn't it be nice if homes were so affordable that you could simply purchase a North Iowa home like you would your groceries? Unfortunately, this isn't the case for most people and many will need to initiate a home loan before buying.

The home loan process can be tricky, even for seasoned home buyers. For first-timers, this process is usually a nightmare of paperwork, documents, and endless questions.

We're going to talk about how to apply for a home loan, including the steps you should take and some of the reasons behind them. After reading this, you'll be ready to start the process and be on your way to moving in! 

Home Loan in North Iowa

Your Credit and Why it Matters

You probably already know that your credit score is a huge factor in determining your eligibility for your mortgage. Some people don't realize exactly how big of a factor it is, but it is basically the bank's way of deciding if you're capable of paying them back. 

If you have less than perfect credit, this shouldn't stop you from buying your home. However, it may mean that you pay a higher interest rate or are required to pay a larger downpayment. 

For those people that are lucky enough to have a great credit score, you won't have to worry much about this step. For those with a credit score in the high 500s to low 600s, consider taking these steps to raise that number: 

  • Remove any collections accounts
  • Catch up on debt, paying down revolving balances to less than 30%
  • Talk to your credit card company about removing any late payments
  • Use inactive accounts for small amounts (and pay them on time)
  • Do not cancel any credit cards, especially those that have a long history
  • If your credit score is very low and you cannot open a credit account, choose a secured option

Next Step: Pre-Approval

Talk to your bank about getting pre-qualified for a home loan. Although this process won't necessarily guarantee your mortgage, it can give you an idea of your budget. This is a great option for people who aren't 100% committed to purchasing a home or aren't sure of their finances.

The pre-qualification process is quite informal, and you will tell your lender about your assets, income, debt, etc. The lender will tell you the amount you'd likely be approved for if you should choose to move forward. If you're serious about purchasing the home then you will want a pre-approval. 

The pre-approval process is more technical and the lender will actually verify all of the information that is given. This includes checking your credit score and looking at all outstanding balances such as vehicles.

This might seem silly if you have already pre-qualified for the loan. However, many sellers will take a buyer more seriously if they have the approval showing they're capable of buying the home. 

Choose a Lender 

If you've gotten pre-approved, then you have already been working with a lender. This does not mean you must use them for the loan! 

In fact, you should absolutely shop around for the best deal possible when choosing a bank or lender. The biggest downside to continuing the process with another company is the fact that they will have to reverify everything you've already submitted which can take a few days to a week. 

Should you be unsatisfied with the lender who provided the pre-approval yet aren't sure which company to continue with, seek advice. Ask your friends, parents, and real estate agent

It's worth noting that many real estate agents have a preferred lender that they work with and it is often the best option. On the other hand, if you are purchasing a new construction home, the seller and their agent will likely have a preferred lender. 

There will typically be incentives to choose the seller's preferred lender but run some numbers before moving ahead with that choice. Often, it will sound great at first, but once the numbers are on paper, the seller comes out far better than you.

Choose Your Mortgage

You will also need to choose the type of mortgage you'd like. Not only will you need to choose the type, but you will need to choose the terms. 

First, there are the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) loans. These loans are backed by the government and are great for people with less than perfect credit. They are also ideal for people that do not have the money for a large downpayment. 

Conventional loans are generally backed by banks or credit unions. They do require higher credit scores and larger down payments. As a trade-off, these home loans can allow the borrower to skip the mortgage insurance required by FHA loans if there is a 20% or greater down payment. 

There are other loans including rural development loans and VA loans that are specifically for U.S. military veterans. Rural development loans aren't only for properties in the middle of nowhere--you can successfully apply for them in smaller cities and towns!

Once you've decided the type of mortgage you'd like, there are a few other choices. You should consider whether you want a fixed or adjustable rate and for how long you want your mortgage to last. 

The fixed or adjustable rate question is concerning the interest. Fixed rate mortgages have a rate that is locked in and can't go up or down over time. Adjustable rate mortgages sound appealing because the rate could go down. This is usually not the case, as rates typically will rise. 

Choosing how long your mortgage will last doesn't change the amount borrowed, but instead will change your monthly payments. Choosing a 10- or 15-year mortgage will mean a higher payment than a 30-year mortgage. 

The draw of a shorter mortgage period is paying far less interest. However, attempting to get out of paying interest by choosing a shorter term is almost as bad as choosing to borrow too much.

Proof of... Everything

If you've chosen to use the same lender who pre-approved you, you'll have already submitted this information. However, this is a good list to keep handy when you are getting ready to purchase a home or go through the loan process. 

You will need W-2 forms and tax returns from the past two years and your pay stubs from the past 30 days. If you have other sources of income like social security, VA benefits, or regularly paid dividends, these are great to include. 

The lender will also need your recent bank statements, typically for the last 12 months as well as any long-term loans like student debt or car payments. 

Finally, you will need to provide some form of government-issued identification and your social security card. 

Being self-employed presents other problems, as it is more difficult to verify your financial history. This means that you will likely need a higher credit score and to provide business tax returns. It doesn't hurt to have some cash reserves on hand. 

Be aware that when you are self-employed and applying for a home loan, the pre-approval and actual approval can take several days or weeks longer. There is a good chance that your lender will be calling, texting, or emailing you on a daily basis asking for various items needed that might be outside of this list. 

The faster you get those items to the lender, the faster you will be approved and moving into your new house! 

Underwriting: The Stuff of Nightmares

At this point, you already know you've been pre-approved for your home loan and now simply need to get the 'go ahead' to move forward. 

This means that your lender will review your paperwork and application, have your property appraised, and you will sit on pins and needles. 

Basically, your lender is checking that the amount you are trying to borrow makes sense for the property value. They are also ensuring that you are capable of paying the loan back based on your credit, current job, and other sources of income. 

During this time, it is advised not to make any major changes to your career, purchase new vehicles, or open new credit lines. At this point, you want to keep your credit nice and steady. Opening new lines of credit or making any large purchases can lower it, potentially making the loan cost more or the lender turn you down. 

How to Apply for a Home Loan: You've Made It!

At this point, if everything went as planned, you have been approved for your home loan. You will need to begin preparing for closing, consider homeowner's insurance, and do your walk-through of the home.

You have learned how to apply for a home loan, and now all you need to do is close! There will be a ton of paperwork involved on your closing day. Be prepared to spend a few hours speaking with the lender, a closing agent, an attorney, and others, while signing and initialing multiple documents. 

Once you get through that long process, it's time for a celebration! 

If you've got other questions about being a first-time homebuyer, take a look at these tips you absolutely must know before making your big purchase!

Posted in Iowa News
Jan. 7, 2019

Mason City Real Estate Buying Guide: What First-Time Home Buyers NEED to Know

TV shows make home-buying look so easy. You look at three houses and choose the one you like best. In episodes with a bit of extra drama, you might need to go back and forth with a counter-offer or two.

Real life is a bit more complicated. There are a lot of terms and concepts you need to know about, and it's important to understand the basic process as well.

Don't worry, we have you covered! Here are the basics you need to know about Mason City real estate as well as first-time home-buying in general.

Mason City Real Estate

What You Need to Know About Mason City Real Estate

If you're looking to make your home in a small city, Mason City is the place to go. If you're ready to start your home search, though, you'll want to know more about the real estate market in the area. Get started with these helpful facts.

Mason City Has Low Home Costs

If it's affordability you're looking for, Mason City has it in spades. The median home value in the city is $88,000. Compare that to the median home value for the US as a whole, which is $220,000, and it's clear that Mason City is a great value for your hard-earned cash.

Of course, keep in mind that the median value reflects all of Mason City. Some neighborhoods have higher home values and others are lower. Make sure you find out the home values you can expect to see in the specific neighborhoods where you want to live. Base your expectations off those numbers, not the city's overall median.  

Homeownership is High in Mason City 

Throughout the country, 63% of American households own their homes. In Mason City, though, the homeownership rate is 74%.

In general, people who plan to stay in their home longer will buy instead of rent. With such a high homeownership rate, you can see that Mason City is a stable town of long-time residents. It's a great place to feel like you're part of a community.

The high numbers in homeownership are also a hint about how easy it is to buy a house in Mason City. Low ownership rates sometimes happen when a market is challenging to enter for first-time home-buyers, so they choose to rent instead. The high homeownership in Mason City sets it apart as a homeowner-friendly area.

Expect to Drive for Your Commute

Every homeowner-to-be has their own set of criteria they want in a home. For some people, their wishlist includes a home with plenty of activities and businesses in walking distance. Some home-buyers also want a home that's accessible to public transit.

It's important to note that those options aren't widespread in Mason City. 95% of the residents commute by car rather than walking or public transit. If you want to live in a walkable neighborhood, recognize that your options will be limited.

Don't get us wrong: Mason City does have public transit. While there's no rail system, the city does operate several bus routes. Still, the routes are limited compared to many larger cities.

If you will be reliant on public transportation, don't assume that it will be easy to access from any home you find. Focus your house search on homes near or along the bus routes.

Home Prices are Rather Steady

As with any other housing market, the home prices in Mason City go up and down over the course of each year. Compared to many other markets, though, their variation range has been rather small. 

The home market was at its lowest in recent years in 2009 when the median home value was around $79,000. Since then, we've seen an overall increase in our current median value which is $88,000. 

For the most part, this is good news. It means that Mason City's market isn't as volatile as many others in the country. The risk of you buying a home and then seeing the value take a dramatic nosedive is small.

Of course, this comes with a caveat that no one can tell the future. Anything can happen in real estate, but the data of the past suggests that you can expect a safe and stable home value. 

The Market Has Seen Better Days

With that data on home values in mind, it's important to note that compared to other areas of the country, the Mason City housing market is slow. The experts at Zillow give it a score of 1.8 on the ten-point scale for market health.

While that sounds like bad news, the details paint a good picture for home buyers. One factor to note is that homes in Mason City tend to sit on the market for a long time. That means it's a buyers' market, so you'll enjoy low competition in your home search.

Another aspect of the health index is the number of homes in foreclosure. While it's always sad to see a foreclosure, it does benefit you as a buyer because it means you could find a home in a short sale or foreclosure for less than it's worth.

Tips for First Time Home Buyers

As important as it is to know the market you want to buy in, it's just as important to know about the home buying process in general. Here are some tips that can help any first-time home buyer. 

Fire Up That Savings Account

Buying a home is something you need to plan for far in advance. You need to save up a down payment as well as closing costs which could be just as high as your down payment is.

It's best to save up 20% of your target purchase price as a down payment. If you can cross that 20% threshold you won't need to purchase mortgage insurance, which is one more expense you can cross off your list.

Even if you can't meet 20%, the higher your down payment is, the less you'll pay in interest over the life of your loan. Having some patients and taking the time to save up could save you thousands of dollars down the line.

Start by sitting down and defining your savings goal based on your target home price. Divide that up and create a set amount of money to set aside each month. You should think of this as a mandatory piece of your budget, just like every other bill you pay.

If you just decide to "save whatever's leftover" each month, chances are that you'll find yourself with fewer "leftovers" than you think.

Research Your Options

Getting a mortgage isn't as clear-cut and simple as you might think. For first-time home-buyers in particular, there are many types of mortgages and mortgage programs available.

Some types of mortgages will allow for a lower down payment than conventional mortgages do. They may help you get a lower interest rate too. Some prospective buyers even qualify for programs that will provide grant money toward their down payment.

This is why it's so important to take your time and do your research before you buy a home. You don't want to miss out on opportunities just because you didn't know they existed. A local real estate agent can help you find out what you need to know in addition to online research.

Get a Credit Check-Up

Along with developing a savings plan, another of your earliest steps before buying a home should be a credit check.

Your credit is one of the largest factors in whether you're able to qualify for a mortgage at all, along with the interest rate you'll be able to get. In other words, a poor credit score could cost you thousands of dollars in interest or it could prevent you from buying a home at all. 

Start with a free credit report that shows you your credit score from all three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Find out what factors may be lowering your score and make a plan to address them.

Some ways to improve your credit score can be quick, like paying down credit card debt. Others can take many months or more than a year. It's also important to find out how to avoid lowering your credit score, like applying for new credit cards. The earlier you start being vigilant, the more likely you are to have a strong score when it's time for a mortgage.

Get Preapproved

Imagine falling in love with a house and then losing out to other buyers because they have secure funding and you don't. Or worse, imagine negotiating and reaching a deal but watching it fall through because you can't get the mortgage you expected.

This happens too often to track, but it's completely preventable. The key is getting pre-approved for a mortgage before you start shopping for a home.

With a pre-approval, a lender will assess your credit, income, and other factors to determine how much they would lend to you. This tells you how much of a home you can buy while also making you more attractive to home sellers because it can make the sales process smoother.

Note that preapprovals are usually valid for two or three months. Don't get yours until you're serious about looking for a home, and recognize that you might have to renew your pre-approval if it takes too long to find your future home.  

Buying Your First Home Like a Pro

Buying a house can be a nerve-wracking process, especially for a first-timer. There are ways to make it easier, though. Getting up to speed on Mason City real estate can go a long way toward helping you set your expectations and streamline your search.

To get started, begin your Mason City home search online today. 

Posted in Iowa News
Dec. 29, 2018

Your Complete Guide to How to Find the Best Real Estate Agent in Mason City, Iowa

How to Find the Best Real Estate Agent in Mason City, Iowa

These days, real estate agents advertise everywhere.

You can find them marketing themselves with online ads, yard signs, elaborate posters, and even sponsored cars. Everywhere you turn, you'll see another form of self-promotion.

Cutting through this hype to find the right agent for you can be tough. It's critical that you're able to discern who'll be the best fit for your unique needs.

If you're looking to find a real estate agent in Mason City then we're here to help. We take an in-depth look at how to find the very best real estate agent.

Real Estate Agent

When to Start Searching?

Even if you're not ready to put your house on the market yet, you can start reaching out to real estate agents.

Real estate agents should act as your guide from the start of your sale process until the end.

Particularly for first-time buyers, an agent can help you asses your different mortgage program options. The more information your agent has about you from the start, the better they'll be at understanding what it is you need.

An in-depth understanding of your requirements and desires will assist them with their search. In addition, securing an estate agent early on in your buying and selling process will avoid mistakes on your part.

Because of their training and knowledge of the market, they're better equipped to know what kinds of improvements are needed in your home. Before putting it on the market, an agent can guide you through financial concerns and prepping your house for sale.

Real Estate Agent Reviews

While in the process of looking for an agent, remember to do your research. Reading online reviews and chatting to previous clients of an agent will prove extremely helpful when making your final decision.

Recommendations from people you trust, like friends and family, will prove especially useful.

Remember that online reviews don't provide the whole picture. Many disgruntled clients won't bother to leave a review.

This means you'll also have to interview a few agents yourself. When you're wondering what to ask a real estate agent, keep this in mind. You're allowed to ask them a variety of questions before you make your selection.

Don't be afraid to ask questions--they're providing you a service and you're paying them.

Clear Communication

Both buyers and sellers will benefit if they're able to openly and effectively communicate with their agent.

For sellers, once you've completed repairs, it's time to have a serious discussion about what your home is worth. This is not an easy discussion, as people almost always believe their home is worth more than it actually is.

It's important not to overprice the property, as this will leave it waiting on the market for too long.

Similarly, for buyers, the discussion about a budget is critical yet uncomfortable. It's important to feel comfortable enough with your agent that you're able, to be honest about your boundaries.

Your residential real estate agent should listen to you and shouldn't attempt to talk you out of your budget requirements. An open and trusting relationship with your agent should rank high on your list of requirements.

Credentials and Awards

A massive endorsement is if an agent has received a 'Realtor of the Year' award. This is voted for by an experienced panel and will guarantee an exceptionally high standard. If you're looking for only the top real estate agents, read on.

In the first place, if an agent is called a 'Realtor' with a capital 'R', it means they're a member of the NAR.

Estate agents have areas of expertise, just like other professionals. The letters after their name will indicate their specific skills or designation.

  • CRS (Certified Residential Specialist): Additional training in residential real estate.
  • ABR (Accredited Buyer's Representative): Additional education in representing buyers' transactions.
  • SRES (Seniors Real Estate Specialist): Additional training aimed at helping buyers and sellers in the over-50 age group.

These credentials will help you select the best realtor to sell your house. They'll assist you in finding the right real estate agent for your unique needs.

Current Listings

We recommend checking out the other listings of the agent. How similar are the properties to the one you're planning to sell or buy? Are they in a similar price range? An area close to yours?

You can easily snoop around all their online listings. This will also show you how they market the properties, the quality of their images and their overall presentation style.

Keeping a close eye on the agent's listings will also help you to discern whether they'll have time for your property. In contrast, it'll show if they have enough properties to indicate a healthy business.

Hyperlocal Helps

Someone with a deep understanding of the local market will be useful to you in many ways.

Not only are they able to access and share market data, but they're also able to interpret this data for you. Real knowledge of the local market will give you an idea of the potential of the market to shift over time.

Instead of just seeing the market as it is, an agent with this knowledge will consult you about previous market shifts.

An excellent agent should also help clients to interpret market data on their own. This is a great way to prove to you that they do have your best interests in mind.

Team Talk

When you hire an estate agent, you're not only hiring them. You're also paying for whatever team they represent.

Buying and selling homes is obviously time-consuming. It doesn't necessarily align with normal working hours, as much of the work happens during weekends or after hours.

An agent with an administrative assistant will take some of the work off their hands. This frees up more of their time for actually selling or buying your house.

How much time are they able to allocate toward your unique needs? If they don't have a team or at least some assistance, they won't have enough time for you.

Keep this in mind when looking into different agencies.

how to choose a realtor to sell your home, what to ask a real estate agent, top real estate agents, residential real estate agent

Experience is Key

When deciding on the best realtor to sell your house, it's essential to take their level of experience into account.

You can ask the agent themselves or you can find out from a state licensing authority. The length of time they've been in the business will assist your search for top real estate agents.

Some say that it's unwise to go with an agent who's been in the game less than five years. It's believed that they simply won't be able to guide you efficiently.

At the end of the day, you want to select someone who can demonstrate deep knowledge of an area. You also want an individual who has sufficient experience in selling homes in your price range.

Someone who is too new to the game may have gaps in their knowledge which could bite you in the butt later on.

Professional Pointers

You need to ask your agent questions. How many homes have they sold in your area? How many listings do they have? How and when will they communicate with you?

Remember, they're an advocate and not a friend.

Questions will include who they will represent in the transaction.

These questions require a level of professionalism and maturity to ensure the interaction remains positive and mutually beneficial.

For this reason, it's critical to choose an agent who fully supports your end goal of buying or selling a house.

Remember, you're hiring them to do a job. It may be tempting to treat them like a friend, but this may harm the professional relationship.

A level of friendliness is important and helpful. But at the end of the day, they're advocating for you. It's also best not to choose someone who you know personally.

Proceed with Caution

Selecting a real estate agent is like selecting a life partner. It needs to be a trusting, open, longtime interaction. If it feels uncomfortable at the start, it'll probably just get worse.

So, it's important to listen to your gut. If you're getting a bad vibe, you should stop and think about choosing someone else.

As we've said, this is an important relationship. Your agent must be able to accept and listen to what you tell them as you move toward your goal.

Everyone will have specific needs when searching for a home. Selling a home will also be an extremely personal process for anyone.

At the end of the day, you're putting your trust in someone who's assisting you in a huge and stressful experience.

Please chat with us for more guidance when making your choice. We're more than happy to assist you in this process.

Posted in Iowa News
Dec. 21, 2018

10 Critical Questions to Ask Realtors Before Buying a Home in Mason City, Iowa

Buying a home is a special time in your life. Purchasing your first home brings a lot of pressure on what will eventually be a joyous occasion. Having the right realtor can make or break the experience for the client whether it is their first purchase or not.

There are a lot of questions that you will think of during the home shopping phase. You should write them down so you can ask the realtor when the two of you speak. For the best experience, you need to have open communication with the agent.

Prior to selecting which real estate agent you will work with there a certain things that you should already be clear on. They include the criteria for the home search and how knowledgeable the agent is about the area.

Continue reading for 10 questions you should ask realtors in Mason City, Iowa before buying a home.

mason city iowa realtors

Realtor vs. Real Estate Agent

It is important to know the difference between a Realtor and a real estate agent.  A Realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors. Having the title of Realtor does not mean someone is a licensed real estate agent. 

To become a member of the NAR individuals must agree to adhere to a strict standard of practice and code of ethics. Realtors can operate in many roles associated in the home buying process. Having an agent who is a Realtor, could mean having an advocate with a wide range of experience.

A real estate agent is someone who has undergone the required accreditation to sell homes and represent buyers. Each state has its own requirements. Real estate agents do not have to be registered with the NAR.

1. Is it Okay to Work With Multiple Realtors in Mason City Iowa? 

 Home buyers may want to keep their options open when house shopping. For some, contacting the real estate agent listed on the "For Sale" sign is easier than calling their agent. 

It is not uncommon for an agent to put in a lot of time showing a buyer homes. When they least expect it, the buyer announces they have put an offer in on a property with a different agent.

Unless the buyer has signed a buyer's broker agreement, he or she is not obligated to use the agent to close the deal. This means the agent will miss out on any potential commission if the buyer buys a home he previously showed.

2. What is the Median Price Range for the Neighborhood?

The median price for a house in a certain area derives from calculating the midpoint for all homes sold during a set time period. Knowing the median home price can help you compare prices with other neighborhoods or nearby communities.

Your questions to ask realtors should focus heavily on pricing because this is the biggest purchase most people will make. Comparing median home prices can tell you a lot about housing trends around the country. 

Shifts in home prices can expose an upturn or downturn in the market. They set the tone in determining if it is a buyer's market or a seller's market. It can also affect interest rates.

Mason City Iowa

3. Why is the Home Owner Selling?

Knowing why a seller has placed their property on the market is something a lot of people want to know. For some, it is about superstition. Knowing the previous owner died in the home can send some buyers running.

Buyers also want to know if the move is due to neighbors behaving badly. There is nothing worse than entering into a 30-year mortgage and learning your neighbors have no boundaries. Things like arguments over lawn care, loud parties, or frequent police calls can be a huge nuisance. 

On the other side, learning that the owner is in bankruptcy, or the home is in foreclosure, can gain the buyer an advantage. Someone desperate to unload their home is more likely to negotiate on the price.

4. Does the House Have a High Sell History?

A sign that a home may have problems is the number of time it has been on the market. Having this information can help the buyer make an informed decision. People sell homes for a variety of reasons. Knowing the selling prices will tell you a lot.

Sell prices that consistently increase could mean the property value in the area continues to rise. If a homeowner has no sentimental connection to the home they are more likely to capitalize on the increased profits. 

When home prices decrease or remain stagnant, you will want to explore why. It could be a sign that there are issues with the property that could cost you a lot of money to repair down the line.

5. What Rating Do the Local Schools Have?

Buyers with children or planning to start a family should ask a real estate agent about the quality of the schools their children will attend. Someone moving into the area may not have this information or know how to get their hands on it.

Realtors in Mason City, Iowa, can assist buyers in choosing neighborhoods that have the best schools. They can also direct buyers to information on each school in case they are looking for specific programs.

Working families plan their lives around their kids and their activities. This could win a realtor points if they can find homes in areas that address that need.

6. What are the Crime Statistics for the Neighborhood?

Like school information, crime statistics are at the top of the list of what to ask a realtor. No one wants to live in a crime-ridden neighborhood. You will also want to know where crime is on the rise.

The crime statistic for a neighbor will impact your ability to get homeowners insurance. It will also play a role in the amount you will pay. 

No one is immune from crime, installing cameras and a security system will help you get credits on your homeowner's insurance rates.

7. When was the Roof Last Replaced?

Before the home can pass inspection the roof needs to be checked. This is one item that the seller could be forced to bear the expense for. Questions to ask the Realtor is how to negotiate the repairs into the contract, or if the money can go into an escrow account.

You also want to receive any warranty remaining on an existing roof. It is very expensive to replace a roof. A good agent will ensure you do not get stuck or caught off guard by a bad roof.

8. What is there to do nearby?

We all have social needs and living near your favorite fitness center, park, restaurant or coffee shop is important. The last thing you want is to spend time driving across town to get to our favorite businesses. When moving to a new city or community you want those places to be conveniently located. 

Realtors in Mason City, Iowa, can narrow your home search based on the approximation to the places you will frequent often. Having a good relationship with one real estate agent helps you build a bond. 

9. Has the Home Experienced Water or Fire Damage?

Other questions to ask a real estate agent when checking out homes are whether the home has experienced water of fire damage. It is easy for someone to apply cosmetic fixes to a home that has suffered certain types of damage. However, there can be underlying issues that surface later.

A home that has had significant water damage could have mold growing behind walls and cabinets. There could also be damage to subfloors and wiring.

Small fires can easily get covered up with a coat of paint. Bigger fires can impact the structure itself. Checking for building permits to verify repairs were done by a licensed contractor is part of due diligence. 

You also want to know if there are any warranties for work done on the repairs. 

Buying a Home in Mason City, Iowa

10. How Soon Can I Be in the Home?

Getting into your new home is the ultimate goal. Finding the perfect home will get you halfway there. The next leg of the journey is waiting for your loan approval and receiving a closing date.

Having a real estate agent who provides timely updates will make the wait easier. The agent is just as anxious as you are to close the deal. Negotiating your move-in date and making sure buyer and seller are submitting required documents is par for the course.

If you find your agent becoming unresponsive and not meeting deadlines you can reach-out to the realtor to see what is going on.

Are You Reading to Go Home Shopping?

Knowing the questions to ask when home shopping will help alleviate stress. Realtors in Mason City, Iowa, are experienced in getting the answers you need. In order to earn their commission, they have to complete the sale.

Helping the customer to relax and guiding them to the perfect property is their job. Click here to check out great properties on the market in Mason City.

Posted in Iowa News
Dec. 12, 2018

North Iowa Realty: The Best Places to Live in North Iowa

Are you thinking about moving to Iowa? Awesome!

We want to be the first to welcome you.

But do you know what you're getting yourself into?

Who doesn't get excited about renting a 20-ft moving truck, loading it up, and spending the next two days unloading and sorting through the boxes?

Doesn't everybody like pulling up roots and moving to a new town?

It's not just the packing, the unpacking, or the long drive. It's not knowing for sure whether you've chosen the perfect place to live: so much stress and uncertainty.

Did you know Iowa has been on the list of top 10 places to live in the United States?

It's true, and many cities in Iowa are known for being the best vacation spot, the best lake city, the place to eat bacon at a festival. The list goes on.

For the family looking for the best places to live in Iowa, or the vagabond looking for a new adventure, we've shared a few of the best reasons why Iowa is a place not to miss.

Come on in and get to know us. We guarantee you'll love Iowa as much as we do!

Best place to live in Iowa

What Makes a City Great?

Talk to ten people, and you'll get ten different opinions.

One person will say a great city has challenging hiking trails while another might rate greatness based on short commute times. One will evaluate based on how friendly people are, but another looks at how well people mind their own business. One expects a great city to have every kind of cuisine imaginable and their partner looks for that one fantastic burger joint.

Hiking trails, traffic patterns, and good food are all part of the equation, but it might be helpful to drill down to the basics of what makes a city great. To do that, let's take a quick look at an old theory. Remember Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? 

Reach back to the recesses of your mind and retrieve the memory of sitting in Psychology 101 listening to the professor drone on about some guy who wrote a paper in 1943.

That guy was Abraham Maslow, and he proposed that humans all have the same basic needs.

He created a nifty pyramid with the most basic needs at the bottom. To have those needs met a person must have air, water, food, and rest, and health. Next up on the pyramid is the need for security, which includes safety, shelter, and stability.

What does all of this have to do with living in Iowa?

We're not here to prove Maslow's theory (being criticized for not having any scientific grounding), but when you're looking for a place to live, you probably should measure how well the city you're about to fall in love with meets those basic needs.

And you're about to fall in love with one of the best places in Iowa to live.

Iowa Has What You Need

Maybe you've driven through the state on the way to your ranch vacation in one the western states. Or, maybe your parents wanted you to go to school here, which you should have because we have some of the best institutions of higher education in the country.

We hope you didn't make the same mistake a few other people do and confuse us with the great state of Idaho.

Welcome to Iowa! We understand how people sometimes confuse our name -Iowa does sound similar to Idaho but who needs to drive to the other side of the country when we have everything you need right here in the Heartland?

We're not pushing Maslow on anyone, although his theory has been renovated recently and if you're a psychology buff, you might be interested. But Maslow and his handy theory about needs help break down in simple terms how you can determine how well a city might meet your basic needs.

  • Shelter - great cities offer a variety of affordable housing options.
  • Safety - low crime rates ensure you're moving to an area where you and your family can feel secure.
  • Stability - a strong economy is an excellent indicator that you're moving to a city where you have opportunities to thrive financially
  • Health - quality healthcare you can access without driving for an hour isn't too much to ask for.

Maslow didn't stop at the basics, and when you move up on his ladder of human needs, you find a few things that are often considered wants rather than needs.

You Belong in Iowa

Once you find a city with plenty of homes in safe neighborhoods and a hospital nearby, you'll most likely wonder how well you'll fit in, whether your kids will make friends, will you make friends?

We all have social needs, and at least some of those are met in the cities where we choose to live. 

Move to Iowa, and you'll find friendly people. Iowa is known for the farm wave, how much more friendly can you get?

If you're looking for friendly people and fun ways to interact with them, you've come to the right place.

It's not just about the people; the state has an excellent reputation for being one of the top ten places in the U.S. to live. Not many states get those bragging rights, and we take the honor seriously. So much so we're willing to claim Mason City and Clear Lake are two of the best towns in Iowa.

If you're looking to meet your social needs, you won't find a better place to meet like-minded people who will not only wave but will tell you all about the best restaurants, where the best fish are caught, and how to find the nearest whatever you're looking for. 

You can't beat people who wave at you even if they've never seen you before in your life. And the corn. Don't forget the corn.

Iowa is known as the Hawkeye State, but corn is a huge part of life here. Consider joining us in signing a petition to change our name to the Corn State.

When we say welcome to Iowa, we mean you belong here.

Move To Iowa

Iowa Has What You Want

There's an ongoing debate, especially when you talk to personal finance gurus, about wants vs. needs.

Everyone needs a safe home, food and water, access to medical care, and a way to make a living.

Everyone doesn't need to live in a mansion, next door to the best restaurant in town, or within walking distance of a beach. Those are wants! Nice things to have but not deal breakers, at least not for the average person.

Wants are closely tied to amenities when shopping for a new place to live. We all want the best facilities. Think about the first thing you read when booking a hotel.

Where's the pool, right?

People explore the amenities in a town too and look for things like:

  • Parks
  • Golf courses
  • Farmer's markets
  • Cultural events
  • Restaurants
  • Outdoor recreation

Iowa has all of these and more. You could spend every weekend in a different town and still not see all the state has to offer. There are many cities great enough to be considered one of the best towns in Iowa, but we think two genuinely live up to the name.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa should be at the top of your list of towns to explore. Let's start with the basics. Both are located in Cerro Gordo County

Mason City Iowa

Mason City

  • Population: 27,546
  • Median age: 43
  • Median income: $45,193
  • Median home value: $102,800

Clear Lake

  • Population: 7,644
  • Median age: 44
  • Median income: $51,004
  • Median home value: $135,800

Fun facts

Mason City is the hometown of Meredith Wilson composer of The Music Man, one of America's most beloved musicals. If you belonged to the drama club in high school or majored in musical theater in college, you might have played the lead in production. 

If you're a fan of Mark Twain or have a love for riverboats, Clear Lake features The Lady of the Lake, a steamboat- like cruising boat that offers the premier boating experience in northern Iowa.

Keep reading and discover a few more reasons why these "sister" cities are two of the best places to live in Iowa. Your next step just might be shopping for your new home.

Would You Be Our Neighbor?

Finding the ideal place to live depends on your perception of ideal and how much you're willing to compromise if you fall in love with a town that's less than perfect.

It's about putting the pieces together and completing the puzzle. You have basic needs, your list of must-haves, and the reality of what's available in any given town.

One way you can determine the best fit for you is to visit a town and talk to people who live there. 

Most places look lovely on paper (or online) thanks to great writers and photographers. The people who live in a town and understand both its beauty and its warts are often better resources and usually happy to talk to you about their town.

Once you take the time to explore the Hawkeye State, you'll find every kind of natural scenery you could imagine and every kind of fried food. Don't believe it? The Iowa State Fair is known for fried everything - Oreos, Twinkies, corn dogs, and even fried butter on a stick.

It's heaven for fried foodies!

If you haven't realized it yet, Iowa is also farm country. That means we're big on farm-to-table. Whether it's fresh fruits and vegetables or our famous pork. Yes, Iowa is the number one hog producing state in America, and we have our bacon festival.

Iowa isn't just about boating and fishing or eating Maid-Rites (you'll have to visit to find out what they are).

Iowans are passionate about education. They love their high school and college football. They also enjoy a reputation for educational excellence, but hey, it's football season.

There are too many reasons to list about why living in Iowa is so amazing, but one thing is sure, we'd love for you to be our neighbor.

Visit One of the Best Places to Live in Iowa

We think Iowa has it all but rather than take our word for it, plan a road trip and make sure you include Mason City and Clear Lake on y our itinerary.

If you're considering a move to Iowa, or if you already live here and want to explore the area, we'd love to show the best places to live in Iowa,

Contact us and meet the team at Jane Fischer & Associates. We're ready to help you find your new Iowa home.

Posted in Iowa News
Oct. 8, 2018

What are the statistics for Mason City IA Real Estate?

Receive the Latest Local Market Stats

Curious about local real estate? So are we! Every month we review trends in our real estate market and consider the number of homes on the market in each price tier, the amount of time particular homes have been listed for sale, specific neighborhood trends, the median price and square footage of each home sold and so much more. We’d love to invite you to do the same!

Get Local Market Reports Sent Directly to You

You can sign up here to receive your own market report, delivered as often as you like! It contains current information on pending, active and just sold properties so you can see actual homes in your neighborhood. You can review your area on a larger scale, as well, by refining your search to include properties across the city or county. As you notice price and size trends, please contact us for clarification or to have any questions answered.

We can definitely fill you in on details that are not listed on the report and help you determine the best home for you. If you are wondering if now is the time to sell, please try out our INSTANT home value tool. You’ll get an estimate on the value of your property in today’s market. Either way, we hope to hear from you soon as you get to know our neighborhoods and local real estate market better.

Posted in Market Updates