Question: We’re thinking of adding a swimming pool to our backyard. Will that add to or detract from its appeal when we sell the house?
Answer: It depends on the market. If half or more of the homes in the neighborhood have a pool, then it’s a positive thing. And for buyers with teenagers, a pool might be just the amenity they are looking for. But conversely, buyers with toddlers or young children might be put off by a house with a pool. If you do decide to build the pool, be sure you budget for appropriate landscaping. You don’t want it to be just a concrete hole in the ground.

Question: What’s the difference between prequalification and preapproval?
Answer: When you are in the market to buy a home, getting prequalified should be your first step. You supply basic financial information – such as your income, assets and debts – to the mortgage company, credit union or bank, and the lender then provides a preliminary estimate of the amount of the loan for which you may qualify. Prequalification can often be done over the phone or on the internet. But because it’s just a cursory look at your finances, it doesn’t mean much to anyone but you. It gives you some financial perimeters to work within

Preapproval takes this a step further. You fill out what is, more or less, a loan application and you pay an application fee. The lending institution scrutinizes your finances and credit rating and helps you determine your potential interest rate and monthly payment. Being preapproved puts you in a stronger position in a competitive market because it is proof that you have your finances in order; it tells the seller that you are a serious buyer. Remember, however, that preapproval does not guarantee that you will actually receive financing.

You didn’t ask, but the third and final step is the loan commitment, which is issued by your lender when it has approved you and the house you wish to buy. The house should be appraised at or above the sales price – the bank doesn’t want to lend money for a home that is not worth the sales price – and then the lender will make one more check on you to make sure that nothing has changed since the initial approval. That’s why, for example, we advise clients to never buy a new car right before closing on a new home, because a car loan will affect your credit rating.

Question: How can I keep my suits fresh in the closet?
Answer: First, give them plenty of room, making sure there is space between each suit jacket. Hang up trousers using a clamp hanger. Don’t use plastic covers over your suits. Instead, do what you can to ventilate your closet, even having an HVAC vent installed, if possible. Finally, brush your jacket and pants every evening as soon as you take them off, using a natural bristle brush. If you brush your suits regularly and let them air properly, you should only need to dry clean them one or two times (if at all) during the course of their lifetime. Remember: Dry cleaning kills suits.

Question: I hate the idea of strangers roaming through my home at an open house. How important are open houses to selling?
Answer: Like so many things in real estate, it depends on the market. In the higher-end markets, such as River Oaks, West University, Tanglewood and Memorial, open houses play an important role. Buyers who are busy during the week and “don’t want to bother” their agents, use open houses as a way to screen what’s available. These are houses that would typically require the listing agent and the buyer’s agent to both be available for showings. For homes that are vacant and/or on a Supra keybox, open houses are less important.

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