9 Decisions to Make When Buying A Home

There are few bigger decisions a person can make than purchasing a home. It’s not just the amount of money you’re investing, but also the impact it will have on you and your family’s life.  If you make the wrong decision it could be something you will have to live with for years or worse end

Home Buying in Dubuque

Buying A Home In Dubuque

up losing because it’s something you couldn’t afford or had issues you were unaware of.

If you’re looking to buy a home soon in Eastern Iowa and in the Dubuque area, in particular, then here are some things to consider before you ever sign a contract. It will help to make the buying process that much easier.

What Can You Afford?

The best option is to meet with a mortgage broker to find out what you can afford. In fact, if you can get pre-approved that will make your home buying process that much smoother. After reviewing your financial data, the mortgage agent will likely give you a price range that you can afford. Consider the number carefully, as even with their recommendation you still want to decide how much you’re comfortable with. Then use this as the top of your price range when searching for a home.

Also when it comes to your mortgage get a few estimates to not just get the best rate, but the best closing costs.

Who do you want as a real estate agent?

This is another big decision, as you want someone you can trust, who is an experienced Realtor, and who knows the area. You might be considering to do this without a Realtor, but the advantages they bring outweigh the costs. They can let you know when a home that meets your criteria is immediately on the market. You could be looking at a home before it’s even in the newspaper. They can also make recommendations as you go through a property and help guide you through the entire process.

Where do you want to live?

This might not be as big an issue in Dubuque as it could be in a major city where your commute time could be lengthy depending on where you work. Still, even in Dubuque, you might want something close to where you work or in a specific school district. Maybe you want something in the city or in one of the many beautiful little towns surrounding Dubuque, like Peosta or Dyersville.

What are you doing with your current home, if you have one.

If you currently have a home, then is the purchase of a new home contingent on the old home being sold first or will you carry a bridge loan for both properties. Either way there are factors to consider, such as where you will stay between homes, if necessary, or how long can you afford to pay two loans. Selling your home might be a contingency on the new home.

How fast do you have to move in?

This could be related to the sale of your home or that you are just moving to the Dubuque area and need something quick.  You might find the home of your dreams only to find that the homeowners may not be ready to move out right away. They could be waiting on their own home purchase. If taking possession of a home in a set time is important, then let your Realtor know this.

What features mean the most for your new home?

You might have a wish list for your new home, but which ones are the most important. Is it a big backyard or an open design in the living quarters? How many bedrooms do you need and do you want a finished basement? Perhaps you find a home that has all the items you wish for, but if not, which ones are the deciding factors if you can’t have everything.

How much work are you willing to do?

Maybe you’re willing to sacrifice some of the items on your list because you can make some of the changes yourself. Or maybe the home’s interior has colors that don’t appeal to you. Will you have time to paint them yourself or to do some remodeling. Also what about the yard work. Is the lawn too big for you to take care of or will getting rid of all the snow on the sidewalk and driveway every winter?

Will your life be different in a few years?

Part of that wish list could be a certain number of bedrooms. Yet, if you’re going to be having more kids in a few years, will the new home be able to accommodate them. Or will people be moving out soon and you’ll be left with a place bigger than you need. Most likely this will be a long term investment so you have to think that way.

Are there any flaws in the homes and if so, what to do about them?

Once you’ve found a home and put in a bid that’s been accepted, there are still a few items to be completed. One of these is an inspection of the home. The home inspector is acting on your behalf and will prepare a report for you to review. Most of the findings might be small things, but some might be more significant. Some the mortgage company might even require to be taken care of before closing. And some could be significant enough to impact your offer. The chances of this happening are small, but if they do occur your Realtor can help you through the process.

Read our series on home inspections to learn more about the process.

If you’re planning to start looking for a home soon, then contact American Realty. We serve Dubuque, as well as Asbury, Bellevue, Guttenberg, Balltown, Holy Cross, Sherrill, Peosta, Dyersville, Farley, Sageville, Rickardsville, Bankston, Bernard, East Dubuque, Galena, and Epworth. We’ll have one of our agents meet you with to go over your list and help you find the home that you want. Call us today at (563) 556-4577.


As I mentioned in the first part of this series, there are a number of documents for both sellers and buyers to review in the home sales process. In this we’ll take a look at an actual inspection addendum we use in our Dubuque market. You can view the document by clicking this sample Addendum

The home addendum covers items that the home inspection revealed which were not disclosed by the owners. If you haven’t already, read the first entry in this series in which I go into more detail about what the addendum is.

If you look at this document you will see some of the verbiage we referred to in the first part of this series. Halfway down the first page, the document begins to recite the various inspections a buyer may ask for. The option for the buyer is to either have a particular inspection or decline that opportunity – the choice is theirs.

You will note that each type of inspection has some kind of time line connected with it. For instance, the home inspection – on or before a certain date or within a certain number of days after a certain event occurs – like acceptance of the buyers offer or arranging financing etc.

Home Inspection

The time line for the pest inspection however is on or before a certain date or no later than a certain number of days prior to closing. You want to be careful when choosing these particular dates.

If you move down to the lead-based paint inspection you will see that it would need to be completed by 9 P.M. on the 10th calendar day after acceptance of the purchase contract by the seller.

The septic inspection, since it is required by state law (in Iowa) for certain properties, has its own timelines depending on circumstances.

Take a look at page 3, number 7 RIGHT TO CURE/REPAIR. If the “no exceptions” (a) box is checked and the inspection points out a defect that the seller is willing to correct, then the buyer cannot terminate the contract because of that defect. However, if the (b) box is checked and there are any conditions noted there – like “structural damage or termite” then the buyer would have the right to terminate the contract, even if the seller is willing to remedy the problem.

Especially take a look at number 8 of page 3. This is extremely important. It deals with a sellers or buyers failure to respond within the required time periods. Be sure to read it over.

This inspection addendum is one of many you might find in use across the country. Inspection agreements, whichever one is used in your market, should be designed to accomplish the same thing – to protect all parties to a transaction.


In the third entry of this series we will talk a bit about how a buyer might respond to a seller if an inspection(s) point out defects in a property.


How Buyers Searching For Homes For Sale In Dubuque Has Changed Dramatically

Selling a home in Dubuque is more than putting a sign out front saying home for sale by owner. That might work if someone happens to drive by that is in the market to buy, is in your price range, and hoping to relocate in your neighborhood. People seldom drive around anymore looking for a home. Instead they do most of their searching from the comfort of their home.

Buyers Search Online

Searching for Homes

The internet has changed the way people search for homes. According to one recent report, 45% of home buyers begin their search online.  And 90% use the internet at some point in their search.

One of the main reasons for the increase in online usage is that there are so many advantages to looking online. Especially compared to a newspaper ad that has a photo of the home’s exterior and a few lines of description about the home. They can scroll through numerous color images of a home and have a detailed description of it. According to Realtor.com, of those that used the internet 89% found photos and 85% found detailed information for sale to be very useful.

When they search on homes, one of the first places they go to is Google to find home listings. The majority of these searches won’t go past the first page. This means that you want your home listed in online tools such as Realtor.com and Zillow. You also want to know that if you do go with a real estate agency, that their site is also on the first page of Google and Bing for Dubuque real estate. This ensures you’re getting the most maximum exposure for your home.

Mobile phones have also impacted how people search for homes. Now they search for homes while they are out going to open houses, looking for real estate listings close to their current location. They can also look up online to see its cost and what the interior looks like. They could fall in love with your home even before they’ve stepped out of their car.

They Still Look To Realtors For Help Searching

Despite the rise in online usage, having a Realtor is still critical to the buying process. Based on a survey by Realtor.com, 17% of home buyers contacted a Realtor even before they started searching.  And 88% of new home buyers purchased their home through a Realtor, with the main reason that they could rely on them to find the right home.

One benefit to using a Realtor is that they can let other Realtors know about your listings the minute it comes on the market. By the time the morning newspaper has come out you might have had 3 showings already.

Yet, its more than just helping with finding a home that people look to Realtors. It’s to help them through the process, from negotiating price to navigating all the paperwork involved.

Finally, they can help with Open Houses, which is still crucial for getting potential buyers into a home.

People Still Rely on The Newspaper, But Not As Much

The importance of print media has dropped over the years. According to Propertiesonly.com only 20% of buyers used the newspaper to look for a home in 2015, down from 48% just seven years ago. While these numbers are down from what they were in the past, they still represent a good number of buyers. Having your home listed in the newspaper still has its benefits, particularly in a community the size of Dubuque.

As you can see from this graphic, potential home buyer use a lot of resources to look for a home and how they search has changed significantly.

If you’re looking to sell a home in the Dubuque area, then consider American Realty. We use a number of sources from online advertising to print ads to get your property exposure. Contact our office today to speak with one of our experienced Realtors.


With the buying or selling of real estate there are a lot of forms to review and activities to be completed before a sale is complete. Among these are a number of inspections. The inspection process is often misunderstood by buyers, sellers, and even sometimes agents. It can also be different from state to state. Some states require some type of inspections in order for title to pass from buyer to seller. For instance, in Iowa there is a state mandated septic inspection.

What a home inspection involves in Dubuque

What a home inspection involves in Dubuque

Since the inspection process is so complex, and yet so important for both buyers and sellers we are doing a four-part series in which we break it down to make it easier for you to understand.

Inspections should not be used as a negotiation ploy to get a lower price. I’ve actually had buyers whose attitudes were; we will make an offer and then beat them down when we get the inspection results. This not only doesn’t work, but can backfire. Many of these buyers lost out on some very nice properties.

Remember, there are different inspection forms used in different parts of the state or country. One of the key things in getting the most out of an inspection is understanding the process and the language used in a particular inspection document. For this discussion I’ll focus on a form that is commonly used in Dubuque. We won’t go over it word for word but will concentrate on important points.

Be aware that any inspections a buyer requires will need to be completed within the required time frame recited on the document. Sellers need to respond to buyer’s requests for repairs within a required time frame as well – “time is of the essence”. If neither buyer nor seller meets these deadlines, they will be out of luck as we’ll see.

One of the first statements in the inspection addendum is “any inspection(s) only cover conditions of the property not previously disclosed”. This means that if the seller or their agent has already disclosed a defect or condition of the property, then the buyer can’t ask for this to be remedied if it shows up in the inspection report. They also can’t void the purchase contract for the same reason. The only way they could remedy a pre-existing problem is if they had made the original offer contingent on the repairs being made.

The document also states that “items that have reached or exceed their normal useful life, so long as they are in working order that is not a basis for finding those items are defective”. For example, the inspector notes that the furnace has reached its normal useful life (it’s old) but that it is in good working order. The buyer can’t require the seller to install a new furnace nor can the buyer void the contract because of that (age) condition.

Both buyers and sellers will be asked to initial the document verifying that they acknowledge the above information.

I can’t emphasize enough that buyers only have a certain time period in which to have the inspection ordered (buyers order their own inspections), completed, and submitted to the seller. Likewise, sellers, when asked by buyers to complete certain repairs etc. will have a similar response requirement.

The document states that if either the buyers, or the sellers, do not respond on a timely basis then each could be impacted. The buyer will be required to take the property in “as is” condition while, if it’s the sellers that is late, then they will be required to make all repairs requested by the buyer.

If an inspection reveals a defect that has not been previously disclosed, and which the buyer considers serious, then the buyer should ask the seller to remedy the problem. Again since “time is of the essence”, the seller only has a certain time period to respond to the buyer’s request. They will have three choices:

  1. Make the repairs as requested
  2. Not make any of the repairs requested
  3. Offer some other solution – like make only some of the repairs, or pay a cash amount at closing to allow the buyer to make the repairs, etc.

If the seller chooses 2 or 3 as their response the buyer can:

  1. Accept that response
  2. Reject the response and declare the purchase contract void
  3. Submit another response requesting different procedures for the seller to complete in order for the buyer to move forward.

The objective of the inspection response form is to keep negotiations open between the buyer and seller until they reach an agreement. Or one of them makes the decision to cease negotiations.

If done right it will work smoothly

In part 2 of this series we will take a look at the addendum


If you finally found the home of your dreams at a price you can afford then congratulations!!  It is an exciting time for you and your family. Even though the seller has accepted your offer remember nothing is final until you go to the closing table and get a deed from the seller and make your final payment to the seller. And just like the seller, you need to jump through a few “hoops” before you Buying A Home - Closingcan make the journey to the closing table.

Pre-approval- Before you even start looking at homes contact your lender and get a pre-approval letter. It is our recommendation to use a local lender. Our experience is that the use of internet lenders or out of state lenders can cause huge problems when it comes time to close.

Disclosures- The seller should supply you with disclosures that are required by law. They should be complete and an honest representation as to the condition of the sellers property. If you don’t get a disclosure from the seller you can demand on at any time. See chapter 558.A of the Iowa code.

Loan application- Unless you are paying cash after you have a signed agreement with a seller immediately contact your lender and make an appointment to make a loan application. After you have made loan application do not make any major purchases (i.e. a car, wedding ring, etc.) and do nothing to jeopardize your credit score.

Pre-Approval For Home Buyers

Pre-Approval For Home Buyers

Appraisal- Unless you are paying cash for your new house your lender will require that you pay for a certified appraisal to determine that the value is in line with the purchase price. If the appraisal is in excess of the purchase price great!! But if it’s less, then you will need to make a decision as to how you want to proceed. You will probably want to negotiate with the seller. Maybe not; but if so (and you want to move forward with the purchase) you should be prepared to pay the difference between the purchase price and the appraised value.

Inspections- Order your inspections early. We always recommend that the buyer make their offers subject to inspections – whichever ones they feel are necessary. The decision is up to you. Most common are home inspection, Radon inspection, Pest inspection, and maybe a water quality (if on a well) and septic (if served by a septic system). By the way, in Iowa septic inspections are mandatory when certain properties are sold. I have yet to see a home inspection (even on new houses) that did not point out some defect or “condition” of the property. As a buyer you need to realize that pre occupied homes are not going to be perfect. What you should be looking for are big ticket items or items of safety. And remember a home inspection is just the inspectors “opinion”. They, like the rest of us, are not infallible. If you think a defect needs to be corrected you can require the seller to do that in order for you to proceed with the purchase. If they won’t, and will not negotiate with you, it will be your option to void the purchase contract.

Subject to sale- So you have found the prefect house but you can’t buy it without first selling your present house!!  Remember you are in a competitive environment. You may be competing with other buyers who don’t have a house to sell and therefore their offer will look better than yours  If you can entice the seller to accept your offer “subject to the sale” of your home most likely they will want to have the right to continue to show their home to other buyers and if they come up with another offer they will want the right to give you notice and then you will have a minimal time (usually a few days) to try to come up with the funds to proceed without having to sell your home. This can be a very involved process and you must exercise extreme caution. You need to make up your mind early in the game that if this happens, that’s just the way it is and then deal with it. You might lose a home or two if you need to make your offer subject to the sale of your house.

Your attorney’s opinion- Once all the contingencies on your purchase contract have been removed your attorney will “read” the abstract for you. He/she will issue a written opinion as to the quality of the title to the property you are buying. Noted on the opinion will be any liens, encumbrances, etc. that are a cloud on the title. You should read the opinion yourself and if you don’t understand anything ask. Any title objections should be cleared up prior to going to closing.

Deed- When you close you will receive a deed from the seller. This is the document that will pass title from the seller to you. The deed must be recorded at the county recorder’s office.

Final walk through- You should do a final walk through of the property just prior to closing. You will want to check the following at a minimum: 1. Is the property in reasonable condition? 2. If the seller agreed to make repairs etc. have they been made? 3. Has all personal property that was not to be left as part of the sale been removed? If he answer to any of these is “no” then contact the seller immediately and inquire as to why.

So there you have it. A synopsis of what is involved in buying and selling a home. For us, taking our buyers to view properties is the easy part. Actually anyone can do that. The critical part of real estate transactions is from the point where an offer is drawn up to the point the buyer & seller walk away from the closing table – both happy.

In this process listen to the advice you will receive from your real estate professional, your lender, your lawyer, and anyone else who might be involved in the process. Even though you hire all of these people to represent your best interests be proactive in the process. It will make for a much smoother transaction from beginning to end.

Are you planning to sell your home in order to purchase your new home. Then read our blog on closing on a home in Dubuque, a seller’s perspective.

If your are planning to buy or sell a home, or both, and looking for help, then contact American Realty of Dubuque. We’ll put you in touch with an experienced Realtor to help you with the process.



Buying/selling a home is a big event for both buyer & seller. It often represents a major change for two families. If you are about to close on a home purchase/sale, then you should be aware of what will take place. There are things both sides should know about closing a home sale in the Dubuque real estate market – and it’s best to know these things before the fact. This is what to know if you’re the seller closing on a home sale. To learn about what to expect when buying a home in Dubuque, click here.


If you have sold your home then congratulations!! And if you have moved out of your home already then most of the work has probably been appropriately done. However, even though you may

Closing On A Home In Dubuque

Closing On A Home In Dubuque

have accepted an offer on your home, remember, nothing is final until you go to the closing table and you give the buyer a deed (which transfers title to your home to the buyer) and the buyer pays you the balance of the agreed upon price for your home. In the meantime there are a number of “hoops” that you will have to jump through in order to get to that point.

Disclosures- Be aware that as a seller you are required by state law to make a disclosure (for certain residential properties) to buyers as to the condition of your property. Also, there is a federal law that requires you to make a lead based paint disclosure if your property is pre 1978. Chapter 558.A of the Iowa code address disclosure.

Appraisal- Unless the buyer has agreed to pay you cash, and will not require that fair market value be established by an appraisal, the sale will most likely be subject to your home appraising at the agreed upon price. The buyer will pay the cost of the appraisal. If the property does not appraise (and the buyer is not willing to pay the difference) then you and the buyer  must negotiate a different price or the transaction will probably fall apart.

Inspections- There is a 99+ percent chance that your buyer will require inspections. Home inspection, radon inspection, pest inspection etc., and if you are on a well & or septic possibly

Closing on a Home In Dubuque

A Home Inspection Is Part of a Home Closing

those inspections also. In Iowa the sale of certain properties require a septic inspection. Without going into too much detail this is how it works. The buyer pays for whatever inspections they feel are necessary. If any of the inspections fail the buyer will probably ask you to make certain repairs etc. in order for the buyer to proceed with the purchase. If you are not willing to make the requested repairs etc., or negotiate them, then it is the buyer’s option to void the purchase contract.

Subject to sale- Sometimes in order for the buyer to proceed with the purchase of your home they need to sell their existing home to release their equity so they will have the down payment in order to obtain a mortgage loan and move forward with the purchase of your home. This can be  very involved and risky. In a nutshell what it means to you is that you will probably have the right to continue to market your home and if you come up with an acceptable offer from another buyer you give the first buyer notice and they have a certain length of time (usually a few days) to come up with the money to move forward with the purchase. If they cannot then your contract with them is terminated and you are free to proceed with the second buyer.

Buyer’s final loan approval- Even though the buyer probably supplied you  with a “pre-approval” letter from their lender before you start to think about closing you need to see a final loan approval (in writing) from the buyers lender. Be aware that in almost all instances the final approval letter will be subject to certain “conditions”.

Attorney’s opinion- Once all the contingencies on the purchase contract have been removed (in writing) then you can think about moving toward closing. The first order of business here is to have the abstract updated and sent to the buyer’s attorney so he/she can render their “opinion” as to the marketability of title. The opinion will point out all liens, encumbrances, etc. against the property. Unexpected liens etc. will have to be worked out to the satisfaction of the buyer’s attorney before you can close. Most sellers think their titles are clean. But, you would be surprised how many title problems come up when the buyer’s attorney reads the abstract. We rarely see cases where title objections prevent closing – but it does happen. Just a side note hereIf you were involved in a divorce and there were child support or separate maintenance payments required in the decree, if they have not been made or not made properly you probably have a potential title problem.

            Deed- Once all the above is taken care of you have your attorney prepare a deed and then you are pretty much ready to go to closing – or are you???

Final walk-through- Be aware that most likely the buyer will do a final walk through just prior to closing.  They do this for a couple reasons. First if you made repairs etc. as a result of an inspection to determine that they were made satisfactorily. Buyers also check to make sure if you were supposed to leave any personal property with the property that you did so. And finally they check to see that all other personal property has been satisfactorily removed as required in the purchase agreement. Can the final walkthrough be a potential problem? Yes it can. Here is an example (true) that happened to me a number of years ago. White or very light carpet. Looked great when the buyer made their offer. On final walkthrough the buyer noticed a rather large red stain (probably wine) in the living room that had been covered up by a rug the seller had down. Problem?? You bet!!  The transaction did not close.

Hopefully everything has gone right with your sale, then its a matter of scheduling a time with the seller’s mortgage company. The papers will be signed and then the process is complete.

If you’re buying a home after the close of your home, then read our next blog on closing a home in Dubuque – a seller’s perspective.

If you’re to the point where you’re ready to sell a home then you want to get a Realtor who can help you get the most value for the sale and knows the Dubuque market. Contact American Realty today to speak to one of our experienced Realtors. They can answer all your questions, including any you might have as you go through the process.

Selling a home In Dubuque – A Seller’s Perspective

Selling a home can be a stressful time for homeowners. You want to get the process over quickly, but you also want to get top value for your home. I recently went through the process and if you’re like me and haven’t sold a home before or at least not for a long time, it can also be a confusing time.  You likely have a lot of questions about the process and what can be done to help it along.

Dubuque home selling

Selling a Home In Dubuque

First of all, a disclaimer. I didn’t have to look for a Realtor like most homeowners would. I help American Realty with their online marketing so when it came time to list the home I reached out to them and asked them to set me up with a Realtor. So your first step would be to hire a Realtor. When you do, you want someone like mine, whose familiar with the Dubuque market and knows how to price a home to sell. And also knows how to get your home the most exposure possible.

We ended up with Ron McCarthy, and between his experience and American Realty’s marketing, we knew our home would be seen by a number of potential buyers.

To sell a home here are some things you can do to help you get the best price for your home and to sell it quickly.

Clean Out Your Home

Even before we contacted American Realty we knew we had to clear out the home so that it would seem larger. Part of this was to haul away any junk we had accumulated over time and look for any items we no longer used. This made a big difference, but we thought there was more we could do. So we rented a storage locker temporarily and cleared out even more furniture and belongings. Renting a storage unit might not be an option for you, but maybe there is another place you could take some items temporarily.

Depersonalize The Home

When Ron toured our house he made suggestions along the way, including areas we should touch up. He also suggested we remove items that might be personal to us, but that might throw off potential buyers. So family photographs, some of our artwork, and even some nick knacks we removed. The idea is to have a blank canvas on which potential buyers could see themselves creating a homey environment.

Staging the Home To Sell

As Ron walked about he also offered suggestions on not just how to make the rooms look better, but to stand out more. We moved things around and made the living room and the master bedroom, for example, seem much larger. Then a family member offered us some of her furnishings to make the home look more modern and stylish.  By the time we were done I didn’t even recognize some of the rooms.

Know the History of Your Home

One of the first steps after signing with the agent will be a questionnaire on your home. Try to have this information ready for when they come. Things like the age of your roof, when the furnace was installed, etc. Also any other additions you made to your home. Do all of this in advance so it makes the process go quicker.

Price It To Sell

After researching homes that had sold in our area, Ron presented us with a detailed proposal on how much we should list our home. It based it on comparable homes that had recently sold. The price he came up with was a little lower than we had hoped for, so after a little discussion, we settled for slightly more than Ron had suggested. When a Realtor suggests a listing price for you, don’t be afraid to counter slightly. Yet, I wouldn’t recommend going too much over the suggested price. Then your listing could be on the market for a while and eventually you’ll have to lower the price.

Prepare To Leave At a Moment’s Notice

Once the house was listed we prepared the family for leaving when a Realtor wanted to show it.  We told our son that most likely we’d have to step out for an hour every once in a while, as the house was shown. The more times it’s shown the better off you’ll be.  That also means you have to keep your home clean and be prepared to store things away quickly.

In our case, however, we just had to show it once. We knew that homes in Dubuque at our price range we’re selling quickly but none of us, Ron included, expected it to sell to the first family through. Ron posted our home online on a Tuesday and we soon had a showing scheduled for that afternoon. By the time we returned we already had two others scheduled for the evening. Yet, Ron called us soon after to tell us the family had made an offer above our asking price and with terms that we were extremely pleased with.

For us, we benefited from having home in a price range that homes were selling quickly.  Depending on the price you’re asking it could take longer. This is why you want to do as much as you can to help your Realtor to sell your home and in our case, begin looking for a new home.

If you’re looking to sell a home in Dubuque, then contact a Realtor at American Realty. They have the experience to help you sell your home and with American Realty marketing campaign, your home will get the exposure it needs to get the best price.


You want to sell your house. You think your property is worth $250,000 and then along comes an appraiser who appraises it for $220,000. Over my 46 years in the business I have completed hundreds of estimates (appraisals) on homes in the tri state area. Have some of them been a disappointment to the homeowner? Sure they have. Have some of them been off the mark? Very few, but some. Remember, appraisals are one peron’s opinion of value and it is not an exact science – that’s why different appraisers may come up with slightly different values.

When you contact a real estate agent and ask him or her to give you an idea of what your property is worth, if they are true professionals and if they are ethical, what you should expect from them, among other things, is an honest answer to the question of value. How do you know if their answer is honest and reliable? If they provide you with current and reliable data to support their conclusion (and if they have not manipulated the data) then you can be fairly sure the value they recommend is accurate.

Dubuque Home Appraisal

Compare your property to comparable listings.

When I am asked to estimate the value of someone’s property I always ask if they have an opinion on what their property is worth and if so how did they arrive at their conclusion. I have received some interesting responses. For example – “My brother-in-law, who knows a lot about real estate, told me my house was certainly worth X”; or “I paid $100,000 for it and have lived here for 20 years. If it appreciated at 5% a year it must be worth X”. My question then would be “what data did you draw on to support that conclusion?”

Actual age vs. chronological age.

Take two houses that are each 40 years old. One has been maintained and upgraded over the years so it reflects current decorating styles etc. The actual age of this house is 40 years but the chronological age is maybe 10 years. The other house which has not been touched in 40 years has an actual age of 40 years and a chronological age of 40 years. Something to consider when you are thinking of value.

My house is worth more because it is my house!!

I’m sure you feel the same way. Fact of the matter is your house is worth what it is worth because it exists in an ever changing market place. So, one would need to go into the current market place (within the last 12 months) and find out what properties (called comparables or “comps.”) that are similar to yours sold for-realizing that no two properties are alike and that to arrive at a reliable conclusion one would have to make adjustments for the differences.

An example would be your house has central air but the “comp” house does not; you would have to add the value of the central air to the sale price of the comp to adjust for that difference. If it was the comp that had the central air and not your house you would subtract the value of the central air from the sale price of the comp to adjust for the difference.

You apply all the adjustments to the sale price of the comp to come up with an adjusted sale price which would be indicative of the value of your house. It is important to try to find at least three good comparable sales to compare the subject property to in order to get a reliable result.


Once I have found good comps and have made all of the appropriate adjustments for the differences between the comps and the subject property I always ask myself “is there any reason or condition of the properties that might require me to make an overall final adjustment to the value that my analysis indicates?” An example might be that the owners have pets and there is a strong pet odor in the house. I would consider making a negative overall adjustment to the value I came up with on my analysis. Or maybe the property is superior to the comps in every respect. Then I am going to consider making a positive overall adjustment to that value.

Always remember though the one thing no appraiser can adjust for is emotions – either a seller’s emotions or buyer’s emotions – which could affect what a seller is willing to accept for their house or what a buyer is willing to pay for your house.

Can I manipulate the data to influence the final outcome?   Sure!!  I could use inflated/ deflated values to make my adjustments; or I could choose comps that are not reasonable or that I know have an inflated/deflated value. However, that would not be honest nor would it be fair to you the owner. Frankly, that’s not the way I do business!!

So there you go!!!  Although not an exact science appraising does take a certain level of expertise and market knowledge – at least to be accurate. So the next time you need an appraisal on your house be sure to ask your agent to explain how they came up with the recommended value and what data they used to arrive at their conclusion. If they can’t give you an answer look for another agent.


If you live in the Dubuque area and looking to sell, then contact American Realty. We can help you set a price that represents its true value and helps you get your home listed as quickly as possible.


This post is written by guest columnist Peg Ball, Vice President Lending at Dubuque Bank and Trust

I’ve had the pleasure over the past 30 years to work with many first time homebuyers and help 0abb5a22-073c-42e5-98f8-4e966479d5cethem achieve the dream of home ownership. Throughout this process, many of these buyers have had many questions. It’s important to discuss your questions and concerns with your lender as well as your realtor so you can make the right decision. Being educated on the process will help you make one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life time…buying your first home!

The following are some of the questions that come up frequently:

  1. Why should I buy instead of rent?

A home is an investment and not just a monthly bill. When you rent that money is gone forever but when you own your home you continue to build equity monthly. Also, the interest accumulated yearly on the mortgage loan is normally a tax deduction on your federal returns.

  1. Can I become a homebuyer even if I have bad credit or not much for a down payment?DubuqueHomeBuyer

You may be a good candidate for one of the Federal Housing Administration loans (FHA). The FHA loan allows for a lower credit score and lower down payment than a conventional loan. And, you’ll still enjoy the benefit of a fixed rate over the life of the loan. The advantage of a fixed rate mortgage is that you always know exactly how much your mortgage payment of principal and interest will be. There will not be any interest hikes or surprises throughout your mortgage term.

Dubuque Bank and Trust also partners with Iowa Finance Authority to provide assistance in down payments and closing costs. We also have been awarded grant money from Federal Home Loan Bank to help borrowers bring very minimal to the closing table. The City of Dubuque also teams up with Dubuque Bank and Trust offering City second mortgages.

  1. How do I know if I can get a loan?

It’s best to come in to see a mortgage professional for a “Pre-Approval” before starting your house hunting venture. Your realtor will recommend this also so he/she knows what price range to be looking at for you. Our Pre-Approvals are free and we’re able to give you an answer right away! At this time, they’ll also go over some of the loan programs and grants available to you.

  1. What happens after I find a house I want to buy?

After your offer is accepted by the seller, call your loan office to discuss further details on your loan situation and to lock in your loan application and rate. Then your bank starts the process of final approval. At this time, you and your realtor will schedule any inspections you may require. Once final approval and title work is complete, a closing is scheduled. After signing your loan documents at the bank, the house is yours!


Any other questions or concerns I can help answer, feel free to contact me at Dubuque Bank and Trust…563-584-2591.


So you want to know what your home is worth!!! Maybe you are thinking of purchasing a new home, or maybe you are doing some estate planning, or maybe you are preparing a financial statement for your banker – or for whatever reason.

Some people will tell you that your home has different values – really??? For instance if you plan to sell your home in order to buy a new one of course you want as much value as you can get. Or, if you are preparing a financial statement you will also want the value to be high. But what if you are seeking a reduction in your tax assessment? Then of course you want the least value.DubuqueHomeSales

Remember this though. For whatever reason you are determining the value of your home – it is worth what a willing buyer is willing to pay in an unbiased market assuming the buyer is not under any undue influence.

Here are two terms you should keep in mind when valuing your home. Chronological age and actual age. Actual age of course is the age of your home in years. Chronological age is the age your house would be if it has been kept up to date. For instance you have a home that is 30 years old. Never been touched. Same carpet, cabinets, etc. as day one. Actual age and chronological age are the same – 30 years. On the other hand you have a home that is 30 years old but you have kept it up to date. New carpet, new cabinets, & counter tops etc. Actual age -30 years but chronological age-10 years. It can make a difference in the value of your home.

So what is the process to determine the value of your home? Given what we said above about a “willing buyer in an un biased market” your home will be worth what “willing buyers” have paid for similar homes in the last 12 to 18 months that have been adjusted for differences.

So let’s make this as simple as possible. Let’s say that you live at 101 “A” street (we will call this the subject property). You have a 1000 square foot ranch home built in the 70’s that is in average condition. It has one bath, an attached garage, and 500 square feet finished in the lower lever – average finish. You never really did much to it over the years; in fact you never even put in central air.

Now let’s say at 102 “A” street there is a house that sold recently (we call it a comp or comparable property) – about 6 months ago. It is a 1000 square foot ranch built in the 70’s that is in average condition. It also has one bath, an attached garage, and about 500 square feet finished in the lower level – average finish. This house also does not have central air (must be your brother). All other physical aspects of this comp are the same as your house. The sale price of this recently sold comp was $125,000.00. And then on “B” street just a block away same scenario but this house sold for $128,000.00.

Based on the above then you would estimate the value of your house in today’s market somewhere in the area of $126,500.00

So how many times does this happen?? Almost never. In fact in my 45 years in the business I have never encountered a situation like this in estimating the value of homes.

So here is how the process works. You look for comps similar to your home– and you should try to find at least three. You list all of the physical amenities of your home (and there are quite a number of them) and compare them to the physical amenities of your selected comps. Then you make plus and minus adjustments to the price the comps sold for, for those differences. An example- one of the comps you have selected to compare your home to has a fireplace and your home does not. This comp. sold for $125,000.00. So, you make a minus adjustment to the comp sale price for the value of the fireplace. You say why would I adjust the comp when I am trying to establish the value of my home? You know the comp sold for $125,000.00 so you subtract the value of the fireplace (let’s say $2,500.00) from the sale price of the comp to account for that physical difference. At this point you don’t know the value of your home (that’s what you are trying to find out) so you cannot adjust your home. So if every other physical aspect of these two homes is exactly the same, then the indicated value of your home, given this particular comp, would be $122,500. If it were the other way around and your home had the fireplace, and the comp did not, then the adjustment to the comp would be + $2,500.00.

So the rule is when making adjustments you always adjust the comp. never the subject. Ask yourself- “how do I make the comp like the subject to adjust for this particular difference”.
How much do you adjust each difference? This is the tricky part. In most cases the tendency is to over adjust. This is where experience is required and you really can only get that kind of experience if you are exposed to the market on a day to day basis. Enough said about that.

There can be reasons to make adjustments other than “physical differences”!!! One important one would be for “functional differences”. For instance, a comp with three bedrooms where you have to walk through one bedroom to get to another is less functional and would require an adjustment.

And then there is a final adjustment that may need to be made. I call this the “market savvy” adjustment. Because of market knowledge and expertise a professional will know if there would be a reason to make a final adjustment. If you are not a professional who is in the market on a regular basis you will probably not know to make this type of adjustment.

Valuing your property is not always the easiest thing to do. Hopefully now you will have a basic understanding of how the process works.