Real Estate Tips

Top House-warming Gifts People Actually Want

A house-warming gift is a nice way to help invite someone into their new home. However, it can also be a burden if you give the owner something they won't use, don't want or feel pressured to put up somewhere in their home.

If you know someone that has moved into a new home, this list is for you. Maybe you're that someone. If so, feel free to forward this list to your friends and family, along with a few things you might actually appreciate.

Gift Cards

Always a very appreciated house-warming gift; if you give a gift card to a local restaurants or store, it will allow the new owners to check something out locally. This is a great way to help them celebrate this momentous occasion in their life.

Succulent Plants

Flowers don't last long, other plants could be a burden, but succulents are very easy to take care of and can be great for the interior of any home. Jade, cacti, aloe vera and other plants requiring very little care might be the perfect choice for a house-warming fit.

Fire Extinguisher

Practical, yet often forgotten, the fire extinguisher is a great gift for a new homeowner. Even if they already have one, they can always use another for the second floor or garage. This is a great gift if you're looking for something more practical.

Bottle of Wine, 6 Pack of Beer or Bottle of Liquor

If the homeowner enjoys wine, beer or liquor, you've got the perfect gift idea. There's nothing better...

How to Have Proper Home Buyer Etiquette

While etiquette often sounds like it's just a stuffy term for rules, there's more to it than just following a few rules. It's not just what to wear and how to use your utensils at some fancy dinner party. When you're buying a house, it's important to have proper etiquette.

There are several things you want to make sure you do to ensure basic etiquette is a part of the equation. Here are some of the top etiquette tips for homebuyers to follow.

Leave the Kids and Pets at Home

When you're going to look at home, you don't want to take the kids or pets, especially if you're attending an open house. It's too easy for children to end up playing on the furniture or backyard swing set, which isn't theirs. In addition, you could be dealing with a complete meltdown if your child falls in love with the home, but it's not the right one.

Pets are simply not a good idea when home shopping. They could break something or cause an issue while you're looking at the home. Unless you're taking a service animal with you, leave the dog at home.

If you do become serious about a house or your offer has been accepted, it's time to take the kids to see the home, but not any sooner.

Don't House Hunt with a Group

Outside of your real estate agent and the decision makers, nobody else needs to be with you when you're house hunting. Too many opinions can make for a horrible day or at least one that isn't nearly as much fun. You may think taking a friend or relative with you is a good idea, but they are not the one that ultimately has to make the decision. Be careful who you shop with and limit it to only agents and decision makers.

No Pictures Without Permission


Answering a Couple Common Madison Real Estate Questions

Every real estate market is different. Some cities don't have four seasons like Madison, Wisconsin does and others may have a longer summer compared to the winter. In addition, some markets are very hot and favor buyers, while others are very hot and favor sellers.

If you're looking to buy or sell in Madison, you may have questions. Well, we have answers. Below you'll find answers to a few common questions about Madison real estate. If you have additional questions, just contact our team and we will be happy to help.

How long will my Madison home sit on the market before selling?

Commonly, sellers want to know how long it will take to get their home sold. This question comes up because they may be shopping for a new home or they may need to sell quickly. While the answer may change from one season to another and from one year to the next, right now, it's a seller's market, which usually means homes are selling faster than normal.

There are too many variable to put an exact number of days on it or even give a range. The list price will make a huge difference and so will how the home has been prepared. It's best to speak to an agent to find out how long they think it will take to sell your home with the current state of the market.

Which time of year is best for selling my home?

The media used to tell everybody that spring was the best time to sell. This was pretty correct, but the media also likes to say winter is a horrible time to sell, which is dead wrong.

In fact, during the winter, sales don't really fall as much as you might think. They only...

Why Isn't Your Home Selling?

Sellers have been favored in the Madison real estate market for many months now. In fact, if your house isn't selling, it's a bit of an anomaly right now. With less inventory than necessary, it shouldn't be hard to get your home sold.

However, if you’re struggling to sell your home, there could be a reason behind it. Here are some of the top reasons your home may not be selling in Madison.

The Price

Setting the right price makes a huge difference. Too high of a price and you'll scare off potential buyers. If you set a list price too low, buyers may wonder what's wrong with the home.

Pricing is the top reasons a home doesn't sell in any real estate market. When you set the right price, it will sell and in a seller's market, it will sell fast.

Sellers often set too high of a price due to emotional attachment. Hiring a good real estate agent can give you an objective opinion and help you set the right price for your home.

Not Properly Staged

An un-staged home means it could be too personal for buyers. When you still have family pictures up and your decor everywhere, it may not appeal to a large enough audience.

Buyers need to see the home as their own, not yours. Staging will not only help to take you out of the home, but will also give you better listing pictures. Both of these can help get your home sold faster and for a better price.

Poor Marketing

If you're trying to sell your home on your own, it may not be listed on MLS. You may also be missing the social media buzz you need to get your home sold. Even if you hired a real estate agent, they may...

The Challenge of Moving

We all know that moving is hard, especially with a family. The process can seem overwhelming and it can feel near impossible to keep up with kids running around. As a father of 3 himself Josh is an expert on getting families prepared to move. Check out our latest Real Estate News video to get more information on great staging advice and to learn more about how we can help you!

Ready to take the next steps? If you're wanting to sell or looking to buy, we're ready to help you with all your real estate needs. Contact us by giving us a call at 608-620-4234 or visit our website.


Rent Vs. Buy

Have You Ever Taken $1,000 and Flushed it Down the Toilet?
You may not have literally burned up $1,000, but if you're still paying rent, it amounts to the same thing. When you buy a home you own something solid, real, full of value. Building equity by buying your own home is one of the single most lucrative investments you can make.

According to the National Association of Realtors the gap between rental costs and household income is widening to unsustainable levels, and the situation could worsen. In the past five years, a typical rent rose 15% while the income of renters grew only by 11%.

Buying a home is 23% cheaper than renting nationwide and now is the best time to buy since 2012. This is calculated by an assumed 3.85% mortgage rate on a 30-year fixed rate loan with a 10% down payment.

The New York Times has used an assumed 30-year fixed rate mortgage with a 20% down payment for their reference. With these assumptions buying can be up to is 36% cheaper than rent.

This month on CW57's Real Estate news Josh discusses renting vs. buying. Check out the video below and keep updated with Josh's monthly segments for more information about real estate topics and trends.

Affordability of Home Buying

If you can afford a rent payment, you can afford a house payment. A simple formula determines how much house you can afford. In general, 28% of your total income can be used for a mortgage payment (principal and interest only). Taxes, insurance, homeowners dues and other variables increase your monthly payment and reduce the total loan amount for which you can qualify.

Annual Income:

Wondering how to make your home more energy efficient? Do this!

Home Performance with ENERGY STAR

On July 9th 2015 Stephen Pipson of TDS Home Performance conducted a Home Performance Assessment Report for Josh Lavik's house. Josh's family was noticing the impact of paying over $300 for one month during winter and with their growing family, felt it was necessary to take steps for a more safe and efficient home. The assessment included a blower door test with thermal imaging, combustion safety and ventilation testing plus a full physical inspection of the home to determine where the air leakage is occurring.

Another benefit of doing the energy assessment is because Focus on Energy is offering various reward incentives. Prior to the energy assessment Josh said, "I heard that there might be some tax credits or something out there but didn't know exactly how much or where to find it. Obviously that was a factor in our decision to do this now rather than wait." Then a quick search on the Focus on Energy website reveals that they have "Helped Wisconsinites save energy and money since 2001".

The report of the Lavik's home received notes of the current condition and then advises of the best plan of action for the specific areas. The recommendations for the Lavik's home included: correcting water heater venting issues, air sealing and insulation added to side and upper attics, air sealing the garage from the house, upgrading ventilation and insulating the sill boxes. By fixing the issues defined by the TDS Home Performance Assessment, the Lavik's can plan on enjoying the comfort change and utility savings.

Interested in your own home energy audit? Then check out TDS Home Performance or contact your local trade ally.


Wondering about Radon in Wisconsin?

Are you concerned about Radon in your home in Wisconsin? Do you even know what radon is? Should you be concerned?

In this video real estate agent Josh Lavik and local home inspector Brad Acker discuss some of the common things to consider regarding radon in a home.

Want to learn more about radon? Then check out the environmental protection agency and see their suggestions about radon, or the department of health services for Wisconsin.

Thanks for tuning into our real estate blog for the Madison area in South Central Wisconsin. For more information about buying a home, selling a home, home inspections, or radon tests, feel free to reach out to us. Have a great day!


Top 3 Signs That NOW is the Time for a Bigger Home - Movin' on up!

Are you tired of your current small home and considering a move into something larger?

Here's the top three signs that might indicate, that NOW is the time to move up into a larger home.

The number one sign that you need a larger home is that you're fighting with too many family members for use of the bathroom. This might mean you only have one bathroom at the present time. In which case, it's time for a second or possibly a third. Or you might have more than one bathroom but you're really tired of cleaning up after your spouse's/kid's toothpaste in the shared sink. Two sinks and at least two full bathrooms might be a MUST HAVE in your next home.

The second indicator that you're ready to move into a larger home is that you find yourself wishing, hoping, and praying for some extra space away from some of your other family members. I know you love your family, but sometimes it's healthy to retreat into another part of the home. This could be the man cave, sewing room, reading room, or movie room. In any event, you probably really love your family but just need a space to retreat once in a while. This extra space can be just what you need to bring more peace into your home.

And the third sign that you need a larger home is, that you honestly cannot remember the last time you invited over friends and family for a gathering. If your current house is too small, then you will probably feel very reluctant to bring over more people into your tiny space. If you're craving more family gatherings and potluck events, then maybe it's finally time to move into a larger home.

Want to talk more about moving into a larger home in the Madison area?...

HUD Owned Homes in Wisconsin

Did you know that HUD homes can be one of the best deals in real estate?

What is a HUD home?

A HUD (housing and urban development) home is a 1-4 unit property that that went through foreclosure that was FHA-insured. When HUD becomes the owner, then it is listed for sale with a local broker. If the foreclosed property was insured by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, then it will be listed elsewhere.

You can search HUD homes for sale at or you can usually find them listed on agents and broker websites listed as a "foreclosure" or "REO" (real estate owned or bank owned).

"I heard HUD homes are a money pit"

You may be wondering, "what kind of condition are these homes in?" As you can imagine, most HUD homes are just like other foreclosures and they probably need some repairs done. Some homes are like this moldy mess and other's are actually in very good condition, needing only paint or a good cleaning. However, it's probably best to budget for having to do some repairs, paint, and replace appliances/mechanicals. If you think about it, the previous owner was no longer able to stay current on their mortgage, which means that they probably didn't maintain the property as well as they should have.

Other things to know about buying a HUD home

The buying process for HUD homes is a little different than buying a traditional home in Wisconsin. First of all, the contracts are different than the normal state approved forms. This means that even savvy home buyers may want to bring the contract to an attorney to review. In fact, all Realtors in Wisconsin use state approved forms and may not be familiar with HUD forms. Since these contracts are different, it takes a little more thought and attention to detail. Hence this is one reason that HUD requires that all bids for a HUD home MUST go through...

Income Approach to Real Estate Market Value

In this video Josh Lavik explores two ways to look at the income approach to market value for a real estate investment; the discounted cash flow model and the direct capitalization method.. Josh is a real estate agent in Madison Wisconsin and works with numerous real estate investors as well as traditional home buyers and sellers.

If you want to talk more about buying or selling investment property in the Madison area, contact his team today!


Land Contracts and Rent-to-Own

Looking for a land contract or rent to own?

As a Realtor in the Madison area, I often have people contact me that are looking for a land contract or rent-to-own possibility (hereafter referred to as LC). Since I have received this question recently, I thought I would explore my thoughts on the topic, as well as some of the pros and cons from various perspectives.

Why would anyone want do a land contract or rent to own?

From the seller's perspective - At the core of this type of agreement is essentially a seller financed transaction for the buyer. As a home seller, you might consider a LC if you want to sell your home. This could be an attractive option if you know that traditional bank financing might be challenging for the buyer. On the one hand, this is good because you can open up your home to more potential home buyers and ideally get a better price for your home sale. On the other hand, would you really want to make a loan to someone that could not get approved by a regular bank? In most single family and condominium transactions, there is still plenty of money available at traditional banks for those with a decent credit score and stable debt to income ratios. But let's say that you own a condo without majority of the units sold to owner occupants, then you might consider a LC and offering terms that a buyer could not find on their own. Or if you are trying to sell a business or commercial property that seems risky to banks, you might consider a LC. Or if you are simply trying to make a return on your equity, you might consider a LC to receive a guaranteed return on your money rather than placing in an alternative investment. As a home seller you will probably need permission from your current mortgage holder or need to own the property free and clear.

From the buyer's perspective...

Homes Staged Well Actually Sell Well in Madison

Ever wonder about Home Staging?

Have you ever wondered about home staging? Here's a brief example from Josh Lavik and his team that shows how to attract as many potential buyers as possible. Trying to sell a home in today's market can be a challenge. One of the things that we often recommend to our seller clients is to consider home staging. Typically, this is when a home seller would clean up and present the property at its very best. Often times this can be decluttering and removing many personal items from the home. In this video, however, one can see the benefits of bringing in furniture and other accents to help potential home buyers to visualize the space at it's best.

Staging is effective. Compared to nonstaged houses, on average staged houses:
1 - Had more showings scheduled (3 more showings)
2 - Spent less time on the market (11 fewer days on market)
3 - Sold for a higher price (1% of list price higher)

Source: 2013 Sellers Guide KW Market Navigator

Want to learn more about home staging and selling your home for top dollar in the Madison area? Then contact Josh Lavik and his team today by calling 608-620-4234.


Home Financing Process with Josh Lavik and Joe Long

Josh Lavik from Keller Williams Realty and Joe Long from Waterstone mortgage recently put together a short video that discusses the basics of home financing.

For more information about home buying in Madison Wisconsin or to obtain a pre-approval letter, please contact us below.

Joe Long, Mortgage Loan Officer
Waterstone Mortgage
Free Consultation
Full Application

Josh Lavik
Keller Williams Realty
Setup a home buyer appointment


Net Operating Income - The Key Metric for Real Estate Investing

Are you an investor? Do you enjoy searching for a right deal to find in order to get a decent return on investment? When looking at various places to put your money, there's a number of factors one can use to determine if it's a good deal. Some people look at liquidity, marketability, leverage, management, tax implications, risk, and rate of return.

One critical method of comparing real estate investment opportunities is looking at the net operating income (NOI). This is the annual income generated by an income property after collecting all income from operations (rent or other income) and then subtracting all expenses required to operate the property.

Potential rental income
- Vacancy and credit losses
Effective rental income
+ Other income
Gross operating income
- Operating expenses
Net operating income

You will notice that the net operating income does not include financing or the tax status of the investor. Meaning, the NOI is unique to a specific property and offers a way to compare just based on the amount of cash a property will generate in a given year. The NOI value will drive the overall value of the property. For example, one can compare previously sold properties NOI and their sale price to determine a market capitalization rate (also known as cap. rate). Using this cap. rate, one can then value other similar investment properties and their respective NOI.

So what does this mean? As a buyer or seller of real estate investments, it makes sense to find ways to maximize the NOI for maximum returns.

Looking for other ways to value and compare various income properties? Then contact Josh Lavik & Associates to learn more about real estate investing in the Madison area.


Accepted offer!!! Now what? Earnest Money

If you've been working hard to find a new home or trying to sell your home, then you can certainly start to celebrate after you have an accepted offer. Below is a short video clip that says one of the first things that the buyer will need to do after reaching an agreement with the seller.

The earnest money check is a good faith deposit that will be applied to any additional amount due at the closing. Depending on the offer terms, the earnest money check will be either mailed to the listing broker or dropped off in person.

Any breach in your offer to purchase contract could put your earnest money in jeopardy and one should consult an attorney to discuss the options available.


Negotiation Effectiveness in Real Estate

In the real estate business, one part of the job description is negotiations. The offer, the counter offer, the back and forth discussions before reaching, "an accepted offer." This is one of my favorite parts of my job as a Realtor in Madison. And for some people it's the most frustrating. As one recent client told me, "my gosh, I don't know how you do this and keep it all straight". Well, I actually think it's pretty fun.

Next week, I will start my third year in the MBA program at the University of Wisconsin and one of my classes is "Negotiations". Sweet!!! Now here's a relevant class that I can really put to use in my real estate career. One book we are reading is titled, "Negotiation for Advantage - Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People." I started reading some of it and thought I would share four key habits of some of the best negotiators. I will frame these habits around my experience during a home sale negotiation.

A Willingness to Prepare

In making offers and counter offers, often the best deals come from those who best know the market. I have had numerous examples of "good negotiations" when I'm able to use market data and similar property information to make a convincing argument for either buyers or sellers about a certain price. Other negotiations have proved more challenging. In fact, I had one situation where a home seller simply, "did not want to take any less" for his house, regardless of what I said. That's fine. Don't take any less. But before digging those heels in too much, maybe we should look at the market and see what else is out there. Trying to convince a buyer that they should pay more for a property is nearly impossible without taking the adequate time to prepare and research the market.

High Expectations

Research on negotiation reveals a striking fact: people...

Nastiest Ugliest Foreclosure Home in Madison

In today's real estate market, you know there have been some foreclosures. Being a Realtor, I look at a lot of houses almost every day. Yesterday I went through the nastiest, ugliest, moldiest foreclosure home that I've ever seen. It was so bad, I had to take a few video clips to share with you. Check them out and enjoy.

Josh Lavik - Keller Williams Realty - 608-234-1523 - joshlavik (at) kw (dot) com.


Knowledge - It Matters in Real Estate

In today's generation, there's more information than ever before about practically anything. In terms of real estate, that means that more information is readily available about homes, prices, and trends. In the Madison area (Dane County) there are currently 2244 homes for sale (at the time of this posting). I don't know about you, but that's a lot of homes to sort through. If I were a home buyer looking for a place to buy, then I would have to wade through this many homes to try and find the "perfect" fit. Okay, let's narrow this down a bit. Let's say you're a married couple looking for a modest but nice home. You would probably spend between $200,000 and $300,000 on a house in Madison. At the time of this posting there were 698 homes to choose from. That's a little better, but still a challenge. So, how do you find the right home?

Searching for homes today you can do a number of things, such as: drive around areas you like, look in the newspaper, browse through printed home books, or search on a website. More and more people these days are doing the later and heading straight to their internet browser. I often ask my buyer clients which websites they go to for their home search. Often they don't remember, but usually the top ones are, zillow, or trulia. Or often people say, "the MLS" which is available on my real estate website at Here you can find detailed property info, save your favorite homes, and setup email alerts for new listings.

After spending some time searching, you'll probably realize that there's a lot of information and a lot of homes. At some point you'll probably want to move from simply browsing online to actually seeing homes in person. You could wait for an open house or you could contact a top agent (like me) to help you see any home you like. When you find the home you love and want to buy, then it's time to submit a formal offer.


How much are closing costs in Wisconsin?

One common question that I get from home buyers and sellers is, "How much are closing costs?" Well, that really depends. There are a number of costs involved when buying or selling a home, aside from the final actual sale price.

Buyer's closing costs

As a home buyer, you're probably already aware that you'll need to come up with some money in order to be able to buy a house. Typically you will need money for a down payment, closing costs, and other surprise expenses. Most home buyer's today need at least a 3.5% down payment to qualify for a mortgage with FHA (Federal Housing Authority). There are other programs available that allow other down payment amounts, such as 5%, 10%, or the standard 20%. If you decide to put down at least 20% on your home mortgage, then typically you will save some money every month because you will not have to pay for Private Mortgage Insurance (also called PMI). Depending on the size of the loan, your PMI could be $80 a month or $180 a month. The amount varies based on the estimated value of the home and your down payment.

Other closing costs for a home buyer include lender fees, appraisal fees, credit fee, flood certification fee, document preparation fee, deed recording fee, prepaid taxes, mortgage insurance premium, origination fees, and title insurance. Many of these charges vary based on where you decide to obtain a loan or if you're paying cash for a property. These costs will vary dramatically depending on the loan program you choose. A good loan officer will review all the best loan programs that fit your situation and go over all of the estimated charges in a document called a "Good Faith Estimate". For example, an FHA loan has an up front mortgage insurance premium of around 2%, that is often added to the loan amount. Conventional programs may not have any up front charges. Some appraisals are $300-$400,...