Monday, December 28, 2009

5 Home Remodeling Trends for the New Year

Remodeling and decorating trends in 2010 are likely to reflect the fact that many home owners are settling in for the long haul. Here are some ideas for updating homes and gardens from decorators and leading real estate practitioners:

Environmentally sensitive furniture. Natural fibers, sustainable woods, and recycled products are key to attracting environmentally concerned buyers.

Classic neutral colors. Deep gray browns and gray blues, muted beige, and chalky white will be particularly popular shades, Pittsburgh Paints predicts.

Backyard gardens. First Lady Michelle Obama led the way in 2009 when she installed one at the White House.

Backyard living. Wood-deck additions offer an 80.6 percent payback, according to the annual Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling magazine and REALTOR® magazine. Simple fire pits and outdoor fireplaces also will be popular, trend-watchers say.

Made in America. As more people feel compelled to support local employment, U.S. manufactured products and antiques will become more popular, says Patricia Shackelford, author of design blog, Mrs. Blandings.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, Jean Patteson (12/26/2009) and Kansas City Star, Stacy Downs (12/27/2009) Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Google Maps Expands Real Estate Info

Google has been improving the usability of real estate information in its Google Maps function.

Users can now select the “real estate” option from the “more” button on the top right of any Google Map. They’ll automatically see balloons on the maps of listings, as well as a pop-up real estate refinement panel on the left.

From there, they can refine what they are searching for by checking the boxes for renting or buying, apartment or house, as well as price range, square footage, numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms, and foreclosure listings. Google is also inviting real estate practitioners to list homes on Google Maps.

Source: eWeek, Clint Boulton (10/30/2009)
New Rules to Clarify Fees

New regulations from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will require that closing costs be spelled out on a revised and consumer-friendly version of the good-faith estimate form that borrowers are supposed to receive within three days of applying for a mortgage.

These rules will take effect Jan. 1, 2010.Fees are divided into three categories:

  • Fees that cannot increase from upfront estimates to closing, including lender or broker's mortgage origination, processing, and underwriting charges, as well as lender or broker’s “points” based on the interest rate quoted and local transfer taxes.

  • Fees that can increase as much as 10 percent from upfront estimates, including services such as appraisals, title insurance, and recording fees from local governments.

  • Fees that can increase without limit because the amount is difficult to predict in advance, including home owners insurance, daily interest charges on the loan, and initial deposits by the borrower into an escrow account.
The new HUD-1 form will allow the borrower to easily compare what they were told the settlement fees will be with what they actually are at closing.

Source: The Washington Post Writers Group, Kenneth R. Harney (11/06/2009)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Senate Dems on Board with Credit Extension

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) says Senate Democrats have agreed to extend the first-time home buyer tax credit. The latest version extends the program to home sales signed — not closed — by April 30. Purchasers would have another 60 days to close the sale. The credit will also be expanded to include so-called step-up buyers who have lived in their current home for at least five years.

The credit would be cut nearly 10 percent to a $7,290 cap. Income eligibility for first-time home buyers would stay the same, but it would rise for step-up buyers to $125,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

Source: Bloomberg News, Dawn Kopecki and Ryan Donmoyer (10/27/2009)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Things Condo Buyers Should Consider

Buyers who are considering the purchase of a condominium should inspect the health of the home owner’s association before they close.

The seller should provide the buyer all financial documents relating to the association in time for an attorney for the buyer to review them before closing.Here’s some advice from Leonard Baron, professor of finance at San Diego State University, about the information that the seller should consider:
  • Does the association budget include money for operating expenses such as water, lights, elevator maintenance, and landscaping?

  • Is there extra money set aside in a reserve fund for long-term maintenance? If there is an outside reserve study, that should be provided. If not, there should be adequate money in the reserves right now to cover 50 percent of the estimated cost of repairs over the next 30 years.

  • Do the condo’s expenses exceed revenues due to a high foreclosure rate or other reasons that owners’ debts go unpaid?

  • If there is a shortfall, does the association have a plan besides cutting back on services for making it up?

Source: The Wall Street Journal, June Fletcher (10/17/2009) Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Construction Should Pick Up in 2010

If mortgage rates stay low and the home buyer tax credit is extended, single-family housing starts should increase 30 percent in 2010, predicted the McGraw-Hill construction forecast released Friday. The overall value of construction starts is expected to rise 11 percent to $466.2 billion in 2010, according to the survey.

This year has been a tough one for the industry, with the value of starts expected to decline 25 percent to $419 billion through December.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Dawn Wotapka (10/16/2009)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Banks Making Short Sales Tougher

Banks are backing away from short sales, forcing sellers to pay extra at closing or demanding a promissory note for the amount due. One-third of borrowers owe more on their mortgages than their properties are worth, according First American CoreLogic.

When their situations were really tough, most banks preferred short sales because they were their best opportunity to get the most money back. But with an improving economy, and because the losses on many of these properties have already been written off the books, banks are increasingly reluctant to negotiate a short sale.

Today, banks demand 9.5 weeks to respond to a short-sale request, compared to 4.5 weeks a year ago, according to research firm Campbell Communications. Their reluctance is frequently stymieing sales and frustrating real estate practitioners.

"It drives me up a wall," says Robert G. Hertzog of Summit Home Consultants in Phoenix. "[The bank is] holding my client hostage.

"Source: BusinessWeek, Christopher Palmeri (10/09/2009)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bathroom upgrades pay-off

More than 80 percent of new single-family homes have at least two bathrooms, which occupy an average of 300 square feet of floor space, or 12 percent of the total area, according to a study by the National Association of Home Builders.

The home builder's study reports a major return on value for extra bathrooms: "When the number of bathrooms is approximately equal to the number of bedrooms, an additional half-bath adds about 10 percent to the home's value and one additional bath adds about 19 percent."

A mid-range bathroom remodel, which costs $10,500 on average nationwide, repays a homebuyer at least 100 percent of the outlay when the property is sold, the home buyer study concludes.

Source: Chicago Tribune. Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Buyers Are Cutting the Fluff, Architects say

Home buyers are scaling back, according to a quarterly survey by the American Institute of Architects, choosing energy-saving amenities over recreational ones.

Two-thirds of architects say their clients want better insulation, including double- and triple-glazed windows, water-saving devices, and solar panels. The most popular bonus room is a home office, with 46 percent of architects saying these rooms are gaining in popularity.

The architects identified a sharp decline in the demand for high-end kitchens and baths and said that there was also less interest in game and media rooms and in-law suites.

The AIA said residential billings, a leading indicator of activity, rose to 38 in the second quarter, up 20 points from the first quarter of 2009.

Source: Reuters News (10/06/2009)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A Historic Time to Buy

Young people just starting to invest and buying their first homes are potentially the winners in this recession.

First-time homebuyers, most between the ages of 25 and 45, accounted for about 45 percent of home sales from January through July 2009, according to the National Association of REALTORS®

"This is a historic time," says George Jaramillo, a 35-year-old business analyst in Atlanta, who recently bought three homes, two of them foreclosures. "It's a great opportunity to make some great gains in the future."

A study by investment company T. Rowe Price points out that investing when prices are low can result in amazing gains. For instance, between 1970 and 1990, the annualized rate of return for the S&P 500 was 11.5 percent.

"We need to be shouting from the rooftops that this is not the time to get out of the market if you're young," says Christine Fahlund, a senior financial planner with T. Rowe Price. "This is the time to be in the market."

Source: The Associated Press, Chip Cutter (10/05/2009). Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Builders Cut Back on Incentives

Home builders are cutting back on the freebies they’ve been tacking on new homes for the last couple of years to woo buyers.

The reason is simple: Demand is almost back in sync with supply. According to Jeffrey Laverty, analyst with research firm Oscar Gruss & Son, new-home inventory has declined from 12.4 months in January to 7.3 in August, close to the six-month mark considered standard.

While eliminating incentives like free cars and free pools, some builders are continuing to offer to pay points on mortgages and discounts on upgrades—“Incentives that make sense,” says Laura VanVelthoven, Hovnanian's corporate vice president of marketing and sales.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, Dawn Wotapka (10/05/2009)
Bathroom Upgrades Pay Off

More than 80 percent of new single-family homes have at least two bathrooms, which occupy an average of 300 square feet of floor space, or 12 percent of the total area, according to a study by the National Association of Home Builders.

The home builder’s study reports a major return on value for extra bathrooms: "When the number of bathrooms is approximately equal to the number of bedrooms, an additional half-bath adds about 10 percent to the home's value, and one additional bath adds about 19 percent."

A mid-range bathroom remodel, which costs $10,500 on average nationwide, repays a home buyer at least 100 percent of the outlay when the property is sold, the home buyer study concludes.


Source: Chicago Tribune, Mike McClintock (09/21/2009). Photo ©Teresa Butler 2010. All rights reserved.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Weekend home upgrades: fast, affordable fix-ups

(ARA) - With today’s falling home prices, one family’s well-worn dwelling can quickly become another’s dream “starter” home. Interest rates are at historic lows, meaning buyers can get more house than they could a year ago for the same monthly mortgage payment, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

But affording a new home is one thing; affording to remodel it is another. Here are some cost-efficient upgrades that are easy enough to accomplish in a single weekend.

Start at the front door

Whether you’re fixing up a newly purchased home or upgrading your current home to attract a buyer, nothing creates a better first impression than a new front entry door. Installing a new entryway door increases the perceived value of a home by up to $24,000, according to a national valuation study conducted by Therma-Tru and TNS, an independent research organization.

Beyond adding curb appeal to your home, installing an energy-efficient door is an important consideration, if you’re fixing up an older home. Houses built before 1939 use about 50 percent more energy per square foot than those built after 2000, according to a Time magazine report. The main culprit is tiny cracks and gaps that can expand over time and let in more outside air.

One way to get both beauty and energy efficiency is to choose a door from the Therma-Tru Fiber-Classic Mahogany Collection. The collection includes new styles perfect for homes with popular architectural designs including Craftsman, bungalow, arts and crafts, mission and cottage motifs, and offer the high style, rich look and warmth of Mahogany hardwood, but at a value price compared with premium wood doors. Each door is constructed of durable fiberglass, is ENERGY STAR qualified, provides five times the insulation of a wood door and will not rot, split, crack or rot like wood, or rust, dent or ding like steel. The doors create the tightest seal possible, creating an energy efficient envelope that stabilizes interior temperature and helps you decrease your home’s energy costs.

As an added value, homeowners who purchase and install certain styles of Therma-Tru doors may be eligible for a tax credit of up to $1,500 per household through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (also known as the Economic Stimulus package). Visit www.thermatru.com for more information.

Set the stage with lighting

Upgrading the interior lighting can also make a big difference in your home. Designers often use “layered” lighting -- a combination of ambient, task and accent lighting -- to create a quality of light that not only looks and feels better, but is also better-suited to activities that can take place in any given room.

While you may not be in a position to install an entirely new lighting system in your home, there is a simple and affordable upgrade within easy reach. Light dimmers are available for as little as a few dollars at local home centers and hardware stores and can be installed by any do-it-yourselfer in minutes. (Just remember to turn off the circuit breaker before starting.) Lutron Electronics offers a variety of models to suit any decor or budget, and the manufacturer’s technical support team is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to walk you through the installation process. Just go to lutron.com or call (800) 523-9466.

According to the Department of Energy, artificial lighting consumes almost 15 percent of a household’s electricity use. Dimming an incandescent bulb by just 15 percent reduces energy use by 15 percent and doubles the life of the bulb. The more you dim the light, the more energy you save.

Make a splash with color

Adding a new coat of paint is another easy, inexpensive upgrade. Depending on the shade you select, your room can be dramatically different or simply refreshed.

The paint you choose can also keep your home looking fresher over time. For example, Duration Home Interior Latex from Sherwin-Williams is perfect for high-traffic hallways, bathrooms, kids’ rooms and anywhere long-wearing durability, antimicrobial properties and stain resistance is a must. It’s tough enough to withstand repeated cleanings without visible wear, no matter what shade is selected (choose from 1,200 colors, including deep accent shades).

As you add color, add a splash of sustainability, too. A low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) and low odor paint such as Duration Home can help ensure better indoor air quality, and it’s manufactured using sustainable processes. For paint tips and ideas visit sherwin-williams.com or your neighborhood Sherwin-Williams store.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

6 Reasons Why Some Homes Sell

Why do some houses sell and others don’t?There’s no ultimate answer to this question, but Tribune Media Services columnist Ilyce Glink has a theory. Here are her six top reasons properties linger on the market:

*Lousy pictures on the Web.
*Priced too high for the neighborhood.
*Blah interior; ho-hum landscaping.
*Little online marketing and hard-to-find MLS listings.
*Low commissions. Practitioners make sure their customers see properties that offer a payoff.
*Miserable maintenance, including ceiling stains, leaky faucets, and ancient furnaces.


Source: Tribune Media Services, Ilyce Glink (08/02/2009)

Friday, July 31, 2009

Top Ways to Improve Curb Appeal

When a potential buyer is in the neighborhood, it’s important for your home to look the best on the block. Here are some tips for boosting curb appeal and capturing the attention of passersby.

1. Mow the lawn and plant sod where grass is sparse.
2. Trim tree limbs that are close to the roof and power lines.
3. Weed flower beds and lay mulch.
4. Store tools and equipment in a shed or garage.
5. Add color by planting flowers.
6. Clean your windows.
7. Install lighting that illuminates the driveway and entrance of your home.
8. Wash sidewalks and driveways with a pressure washer.
9. Apply a fresh coat of paint to the front door.
10. Clean siding and apply neutral paint to the exterior of your home.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Smart strategies to increase home sale profits

(ARA) - The proposition of selling a home is getting better with each passing day according to a recently released report from the National Association of Realtors. If you need to sell your home, a few smart strategies can help you increase your profits.

A number of real estate pundits are pointing to the recent decline in home inventory and the fact that interest rates have increased on the 30-year fixed mortgage as a positive endorsement of a healthier housing market.

Joanne Sebby, a licensed real estate broker in Chicago, and operator of a local Two Men and a Truck moving franchise, believes she’s benefitting from what could be the start of a real estate "bloom," if not a full "boom."

"Bargain hunters are beginning to make moves on homes that are still way undervalued’’ Sebby says. "The key for sellers is to get creative in marketing your home’s offerings so you can become one of those homes that get a look, and hopefully sell your house in a reasonable amount of time."

While the real estate outlook is the best it’s been in recent memory, home loans are still more difficult to come by and home values are down an average of 20 percent, according to the NAR. It’s likely that if you are selling your house today, you’ll likely do so at the cost of higher profits that you may have realized in healthier markets.

Regardless, Sebby suggests there are a number of creative ways home sellers can mitigate their losses on the sale.

Sebby suggests sellers need to think of their bottom line when selecting service companies in order to maximize profits on their home, and consider pitching in to keep costs down.

"Determine what budget you have to work with and be up front with the people providing you with estimates," Sebby says. "I’ll often counsel people who call our moving company to maybe box and label everything themselves, or have all the boxes collected in the room closest to the front door. If there’s a number we have to work with, we’ll make suggestions on how to make it work to suit their needs."

Sebby suggests using the same tactics with home inspectors, painters or other service personnel.

"Do a little research and find what portion of the work you can comfortably do yourself. If you’re saving money along the way it’s going to impact your profit on the house. A little bit here and there can really add up."

Brig Sorber, president and chief executive officer of Two Men and a Truck -- the nation’s largest franchised moving company -- believes the current housing market provides more opportunity than risk.

"As a business owner, you look at your operations a little closer and ideally come away with a clearer understanding of what your company needs to do to stay competitive," Sorber says. "The same principle applies to homeowners looking to sell. In an optimal market, a buyer may just scan the Internet, find a local mover and sign on the dotted line. Today’s customer is more aware; they’ve done competitive research on what to expect from a legitimate moving company, and that benefits those of us who value long-term relationships with our customers."

Chances are, even sellers with the best intentions won’t realize the full value of their home in today’s market. However, as Sebby suggests, there’s no harm in optimizing your profits with a little extra effort and a do-it-yourself approach.

Courtesy of ARAcontent

Selling a Home

If you are considering selling a home in the Central Ohio area be sure to see this presentation.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Housing Experts: Now Is a Perfect Time to Buy

Don’t forget to remind potential buyers of something that is obvious to real estate professionals:

Now is the time to buy, but that opportunity may be slipping away. For people who have a job and money, a dream house is within reach, writes Marc Roth, founder of Home Warranty of America and a columnist for BusinessWeek. He points out that mortgage rates remain low, prices are still at historic lows, and the government is offering incentives for first-time homebuyers.

He also adds that the inventory of homes to buy is still large, but it is shrinking. According to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®, the housing inventory peaked in November 2008 at an 11-month supply. At the end of May 2009, it had fallen to a 9.6-month supply.

Roth says anyone who dallies will miss a good opportunity to buy a first home at a terrific price or go shopping for a move-up property that is a great buy.

Source: BusinessWeek.com, Marc Roth (11/17/2009)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Walk-in Showers Gain in Popularity

Home owners are choosing showers over tubs, despite the long-standing notion that it is important to have a tub for resale value.

"We're definitely seeing a trend toward walk-in showers versus tubs," says Katie Campbell, sales manager for the Heritage of Palatine, a Chicago-area development where homes are priced from $221,900. "We used to do a lot of big soaking tubs with shower stalls in the master bathroom, but we had a lot of people eliminate the tub because they wanted a bigger shower.

"Having at least one tub in the house is still important because some buyers want them, insists Kathy Dames-Mattox, an associate with ReMax of Joliet. But she advises homeowners not to spend a lot of money on whirlpool tubs. "I don't see whirlpool tubs as being a big deal anymore," Dames-Mattox says. "Everybody who adds one says they never use it.

"Source: Chicago Tribune, Allison E. Beatty (07/03/2009)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Five Maintenance Issues Owners Shouldn't Ignore

Consumer Reports magazine advises home owners not to put off important maintenance projects, noting that waiting until the economy rebounds could end up making the repairs more costly while putting a family's health at risk. The magazine identifies five crucial maintenance issues:

Check the gutters: Clogged gutters, broken fasteners and separations where the gutters meet the fascia board will lead to roof leaks if they haven’t already.

Inspect the roof: Cracked, curled and mussing shingles mean a roof is nearing the end of its useful life. Cracks around chimneys, skylights, and roof valleys can also suggest the roof might be leaking.

Look for bugs: Termites and carpenter ants can bore through a home in a few short years. Probe the sill plate on top of the foundation with a screwdriver to check for rotten wood. Also look for carpenter ants and termites along windowsills and walls.

Avoid mold: Mold and mildew can cause musty odors, dank air, and make residents sick. Check under carpets and around windows for visible mold or mildew.

Don’t ignore cracks: Foundation cracks wider than 3/16 of an inch can be a problem. These require examination by a structural engineer.

Source: Consumer Reports (05/04/2009)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Fast Fixes Can Help Sell a Home

It’s not rocket science: Houses that look fresh and attractive sell faster than beat-up homes.

Here are some cheap tricks from Money Magazine for boosting appeal:

● Buy a new mailbox, house numbers, doorbell, and knocker: $200
● Green the grass with nitrogen-rich fertilizer: $50 to $200, depending on the lawn size
● Edge and mulch the flowerbeds: $300 to $600, depending on the number of beds
● Replace the bathroom faucet: $300
● Install beadboard over dated bathroom tile: $800 to $1,000
● New paint: $60 to $100 per room, if homeowners do it themselves
● Replace switchplates and outlet covers: 50 cents each
● Install stone tile over existing Formica countertops: $500 to $1,000

Source: Money Magazine (05/04/2009)

Monday, May 04, 2009

What's Your Home Worth?

Market value is the main concept you must understand when determining the value of your home. But what is it and how it can help you price your home?

What is market value?
Market value is the amount prospective buyers are willing to pay at the time homeowners are ready to sell. The best way to find out the market value of your home is to ask me for help. I can ensure that you get the best price by providing and discussing with you the Comparative Market Analysis (CMA).

What is a CMA?
The CMA will include homes in your area that are currently on the market, expired from the market, pending a sale and already sold within the last three to six months. Of course, the best indicator of your home's value is the price for similar homes in your area that have already been sold. The comparison is based on the proximity to your home and the similarity of characteristics such as lot size, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, etc.

It's a good idea to sit down with me to discuss how each factor of the market analysis affects your home's value. You can consider the current listings to identify the competition, recently sold homes to indicate what buyers are willing to pay, homes with a sale pending to show the current demand and expired homes to suggest what buyers are unwilling to pay.

What are the dos and don'ts?
Do obtain the CMA and discuss the findings with me. Don't price your home based on factors not affecting the market value. Those factors include how much money you need to buy your next home, how much you paid for your current home, how much you paid for home improvements, the value of similar homes in different communities, area appreciation statistics, the cost to build the same home today and personal attachment.

Discovering how much your home is worth is the first step to ensure that your home is priced correctly. So, take the time, do the research, talk with me, and together we can decide what the best price is in today's market.

Contact me for more information.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

7 Tips to Avoid the Vacant Home Look

Selling a home that is vacant can be harder than selling a lived-in home, experts say. Here are some ideas from Pam and Dave Pettigrew, certified residential specialists with Prudential Rocky Mountain in Fort Collins, Colo., on what practitioners and sellers should consider to protect an empty property and get it sold.

Give the house a lived-in look.
Get a neighbor or family member to make the house look occupied by parking a car in the driveway, opening and closing the drapes and taking in any mail.

Groom the yard.
Use a lawn service during the summer to keep the grass cut and a snow removal service in the winter to scrape the walks and driveway.

No outstanding nicks.
Hide the effects of missing furniture. Paint and replace rugs so there are no faded spots or blemishes on the walls. Cover accent paint that alone looks odd.

Leave some furniture.
A few chairs, tables, lamps and beds (or empty mattress boxes with spreads) give buyers a sense of space.

Keep the utilities on.
Set the thermostat at a comfortable level during the winter and summer.

Hire a maid.
Make sure the home remains spotless.

Check the homeowner’s policy.
Understand the coverage when the home is vacant.

Source: Coloradoan, Pam and Dave Pettigrew (04/12/09)

Monday, March 30, 2009

6 Reasons Why It's Still a Good Time to Buy

The housing market is looking healthier. Here are six reasons why now is the time to jump into the market.

1. Uncle Sam is willing to help. First-time buyers (defined as anyone who hasn’t owned a home in the last three years) are entitled to a maximum $8,000 tax credit; interest rates are at record lows; and the Federal Reserve is doing its best to make mortgage loans available. (Sign up for a Webinar to learn more about the home buyer tax credit)

2. People have to live somewhere. About 800,000 new households are formed each year in this country, ensuring that the housing market will tighten, even if the economy doesn’t soar.

3. Borrowers leverage their investment. If you put $10,000 into the stock market and it earns 10 percent, you’ve earned $1,000. If you put $10,000 down on a home and its values increases 10 percent, you’ve made $10,000.

4. When prices come back up, you’ll have instant equity. In parts of the country where foreclosures have driven down prices, better times will mean the price of the home you buy will rise rapidly.

5. Mortgage costs stay the same. If you get a fixed-rate mortgage, the monthly payment stays the same – while everything else, including rent, goes upward.

6. You own it. There is something comforting in the notion that your home is your own. You can paint it any color you want, let the dog run in the back yard and hang a swing for the kids in the front.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, June Fletcher (03/27/2009)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

First-Time Homebuyers are in Luck

With Spring right around the corner, you may feel like it's time for a change. Have you recently considered transitioning to a new home? This is one of the best times to purchase the home of your dreams. Interest rates are low and first-time homebuyers are in luck. Congress recently passed an act which includes a tax credit for first-time homebuyers of up to $8,000.

Are you a first-time homebuyer? You may be classified as a first-time homebuyer and not even know it. If you haven't previously owned a home, you fall into the category of first-time homebuyer. But did you know that if you haven't owned a principal residence in the past three years, you also constitute as a first-time homebuyer? It's true. If you fit either of these categories, the government has created a tax credit that you can take advantage of if you choose to purchase between Jan. 1 and Dec. 1, 2009.

The government is offering lesser of 10 percent of the cost of a home or $8,000 to qualifying first-time homebuyers in the form of a refundable tax credit. That means, if you owe $5,000 in taxes, you will receive a check for $3,000. If you don't owe any taxes, you may qualify to receive the full $8,000 credit. If you're lucky enough to have the government owe you money in taxes—let's say $1,000—then you could potentially receive a credit of up to $9,000.

Qualifying for this tax credit may be easier than you think. If you're a first-time homebuyer, here are a few things to consider. First, a qualifying home must be a single-family, primary residence. This can include condos, co-ops and townhouses. Secondly, your income has a bearing on whether you're a fit for this credit. The full amount of credit is available for individuals with gross incomes of no more than $75,000 (single) or $150,000 (married). The credit phases out above those caps.

The best part about this credit is that there's no repayment as long as you don't sell the home within three years of purchase. If you choose to do so, the entire amount of credit is due back to the government at the time of sale. But this only applies to homes purchased in 2009.
If you fit these qualifications, then congratulations! You're on your way to a great real estate deal. Contact me today to take advantage of this great offer.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Create a House Hunt Checklist

The HomeSpace is one of the first things people notice when touring a home. Are there enough bedrooms to accommodate the household? How spacious are storage closets? Square footage and the practicality of the floor plan are elements that demand major consideration. Is there a garage or a basement? These are some standards you should have set in your head before beginning your home search, but it doesn't hurt to add these elements to the checklist.

After you've evaluated the space, take time to note the condition of the home. Some suggest breaking it down further into interior and exterior conditions. Look specifically for dampness and odors in the basement, age and condition of the roof as well as the functionality of gutters and downspouts. Finally, don't forget to make note of extra perks such as a fireplace, great landscaping, fences, a patio/deck, screens and storm windows as well as overall energy efficiency.

The Neighborhood
One of the most common things homebuyers look for in a neighborhood is safety. Individuals want to feel secure in their new surroundings. Other high-ranking aspects include: traffic, noise level, parking and zoning restrictions. How close are you to police and fire stations, the hospital or schools? Does the neighborhood provide snow removal or trash services? Don't forget to investigate these issues by creating a physical or mental checklist.

Schools
For those who have children, what school district you choose is an important consideration. Feel free to further research the reputation of the schools, quality of teachers and achievement test scores for students attending these schools. Other considerations include class sizes, busing distance and the age and condition of the buildings that your children could potentially attend. Taking the time to meet with faculty, tour the school and talk with parents of pupils who attend the school will help you make an informed decision.

Convenience
Location is becoming a greater concern for many homebuyers due to increased gas prices. When looking at a home, take the time to figure out how far you would be from the grocery store, schools, child care, shopping, highways, etc. Is there public transportation in your area? How far are you willing to commute each day? These are some things you want to ask yourself as you evaluate the location of a home.

Taking the time to look at all aspects of a home—from the actual structure to the neighborhood, schools and location will help you make a more accurate and informed decision when choosing a home. Make your own checklist or go the Real Living Buyer Checklist for a pre-made list that reflects the aspects previously discussed. For additional questions on your home search, contact me today.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

5 Tips for Homebuyers Seeking a Mortgage

Here’s a warning for potential borrowers: Nervous lenders have tough new rules and are paperwork crazy.

"Borrowers are going to have to prove they are the borrower they say they are," says Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH Associates, a mortgage-industry publisher in Pompton Plains, N.J.

Gumbinger says homebuyers should consider these things before they apply for a loan.

1. Down payments are critical. Borrowers should expect to put down at least 10 percent for a “conforming loan” – a mortgage that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will purchase.

2. Credit scores count. A 720 on the 850-point FICO rating scale will get a borrower access to the best rates. Rich Bira, branch manager of FCM Direct Lender in Chicago, says: "A score between 720 and 739 gets 0.125 percent added to the rate, a score between 700 and 719 gets 0.375 percent added to the rate, and a score between 680 and 699 gets 0.5 percent added to the rate.”

3. Consider VA and FHA. Borrowers without down payments or with less than stellar credit scores should consider these government-insured loans offered through the Federal Housing Administration of the Veterans Administration.

4. Unearth the records. Before applying, borrowers should organize tax, banking and other records that prove income, savings and debts. They should also expect to be patient about what may seem to be endless requests for information.

5. Get rid of debts. Limiting debts, including what borrowers expect to pay for the mortgage, to less than 43 percent of gross income is important.

Source: Chicago Tribune, Mary Umberger (02/15/09)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

HINTS FOR HOME SELLERS


Staging Your Home In

A Down Economy

(NAPSI)- It's a tough time to try to sell a house, but Realtors say there are inexpensive ways to stage your home that might make for a faster sale. In fact, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reports that a staged home will sell at a higher price than an unstaged home. And a recent survey by the Real Estate Staging Association reports that staged homes sell much faster than unstaged homes.

Home staging is the act of preparing your home and its contents for sale, with a special emphasis on presentation and appearance.

According to Realtor.com, the first thing you want to do is clear out the clutter. If your house holds too much furniture, your closets are overflowing, your kitchen and bathrooms are crowded or you have family photos and knickknacks collecting dust, it's time to pack them up. You also might consider donating unused items to charity or even selling them at a tag sale or on eBay for some fast cash.

"This is also a good time to take a close look at your closets," says HGTV and CedarSafe home improvement expert Pat Simpson. "A cedar-lined closet in the foyer, master bedroom or secondary closet will create a great look and provide a relaxing, cedar scent that will make a positive first impression."

Cedar planks or panels will also protect the items you store away. They'll prevent silverfish and moths from damaging your expensive wardrobe or even from eating books or important papers. They work with any closet organization system, or even metal or cedar shelving. It'll cost a few hundred dollars to line a closet during a weekend project. Learn more at cedarsafeclosets.com.

While the cedar will provide a fresh scent, Realtors say be sure to bathe your pets and deodorize their living areas, shampoo your carpets, clean your drapes and always empty trash cans and recycling bins.

Another suggestion: "Curb appeal is critical," says Simpson. "A fresh coat of paint using neutral colors, plus neat landscaping, will go a long way."

Visit http://cedarsafeclosets.com/ for more information.

A cedar-lined closet will make a positive first impression.





Monday, February 09, 2009

HINTS FOR HOMEOWNERS


Tips On Saving Your Home From Foreclosure

(NAPSI)-There's hopeful news for homeowners who fear they may be facing foreclosure on their home.

That's because there are practical steps they can take-such as a new refinancing program from the federal government-to resolve the problem before it gets to the point where the lender takes over their home for nonpayment.

Remember, lenders do not want your house. That's one reason there are options available to help borrowers through difficult financial times.

Here are some tips from the experts at the Federal Reserve Board:

• Don't ignore the problem. The further behind you become, the harder it will be to reinstate your loan and the more likely that you will lose your house.

If you are unable to make your mortgage payment, contact your lender as soon as you realize that you have a problem.

• Open and respond to all mail from your lender. The first notices you receive will offer good information about foreclosure prevention options that can help you weather financial problems. Later mail may include an important notice of pending legal action. Your failure to open the mail will not be an excuse in foreclosure court.

• You can contact a HUD-approved housing counselor in your area. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) can connect you with free or very-low-cost housing counseling nationwide. Housing counselors can help you understand the law and your options, organize your finances and help you in negotiations with your lender if you need this assistance.

One option may be to participate in a new program, created by Congress, that is intended to help borrowers at risk of default and foreclosure to refinance into more affordable loans. It's called HOPE for Homeowners, or H4H.

If you are having trouble making your mortgage payments, this program may allow you to refinance your loan into a new 30-year fixed-rate loan with lower payments. All HOPE for Homeowners loans are 30-year fixed-rate mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

The program began on October 1, 2008 and will end on September 30, 2011.

To learn more, call (800) 569-4287 or TTY (800) 877-8339, or visit the Web site at www.hud.gov/hopeforhomeowners/index.cfm.

If you are unable to make your mortgage payment, contact your lender as soon as you realize that you have a problem.





Monday, February 02, 2009

Picking the Perfect Neighborhood

Community
Check out the local markets, parks, shops, restaurants and community events. Attending events will allow you to get a feel for the area and your potential neighbors. Ask store owners and community members what they love about the neighborhood.

Crime
Check with the local police department or state Web site for crime statistics in the area. Sites like Family Watch Dog and Spot Crime are great places to start.

Transportation

Consider how you will get around. Is there public transportation? Do most people drive? Is it safe to ride a bike? How far will your commute be to work? Time it during rush hour to make sure. What about grocery stores, restaurants, malls, pharmacies and doctor's offices? You may not want to drive 20 minutes for a loaf of bread or to refill your prescription.

Schools
Research the local school districts. Are public and private schools available? Do they offer extra curricular activities? What is the cost per student? If your child will ride a bus, how long will it take to reach school grounds?

Traffic and Noise
Walk around the community at different times of the day as well as during the evening. Are there railroads, airports or entertainment establishments around? Where are the highways located? Have sound barriers been constructed?

These are all important aspects of a neighborhood to consider. Ask for information from your professionally certified Realtor®, and use the internet as a resource. Your Realtor® should be able to give you great insight into the area, and provide you with the tools you need to make your decision.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Listing Your Home Online

Tech-savvy Generation X and Yers are leading the 87 percent of buyers who use the Internet to search for homes. The Internet is the fastest-growing venue for consumers to learn and gain information about the real estate industry. With 87 percent of the market surfing the Web for a new home – you'll want your listing on there, so ask your real estate agent which marketing tools he or she will use to list your home, and make sure the Internet is at the top of the list. The following tools and strategies addressed in this column are essential in marketing a home, so make sure your agent is using all of these necessary tools.

Let's start with digital marketing and the concepts associated with it: online marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) and permission-based e-mail marketing. Agents who use online marketing strategies will typically post your listing on the brokerage's Web site and on his or her personal site. Look for agents who update their sites often. There are several advantages to Web listings. For example, they offer quality color photos of your home, detailed property information, virtual tours, floor plans and school and community data.

SEO is the process of increasing quality web traffic to a site by way of search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN. Agents that frequently update their Web sites with pertinent content and listings will have better SEO, which increases the number of views of your listing. This important component of digital marketing is worth asking your agent about.

E-mail marketing is another player in the digital marketing game. Qualified agents today stay connected with clients, family and friends by sending them e-newsletters and e-cards. A friendly holiday wish accompanied with your home listing is a great way to attract more potential buyers to your home.

Another growing industry trend is the use of podcasts, which are media files distributed over the Internet. Agents are now able to post podcasts of your home that can be downloaded free from Web sites and viewed on computers and portable devices. This new way of connecting with consumers helps provide more exposure for your home.

With the emergence of the Internet, podcasting and even wireless mobile Internet, the sky is the limit as to how many potential buyers can view your listing. So now, as an informed home seller, talk with your real estate agent about how he or she plans to market your home and get it ready to sell!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Design World Says Gray Is 'In'

Gray is the “cool” color this year, and Grandma’s wingback chairs are fashionable again, especially if they are updated with new fabrics. Even the nail heads are back in style.

The interior design world is embracing traditional more enthusiastically than it has since the time between the Great Depression and World War II, say trend watchers.

"Everything has been about a return to tradition and formality," says Michelle Lamb, a Minneapolis-based trend spotter.

Traditional Home magazine reports that the lines between traditional and modern are being blurred, which makes the new traditional look up to date.

Other design trends include:

*Bare wood, including tree stumps used as end tables or stools.
*Light wood finishes that look raw.
*Decorative LED lighting.
*Owls. These big-eyed predators add charm.


Source: San Jose Mercury News, Stacy Downs (01/10/09)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Photographs Help Sell Homes

It’s important to capture your home in a series of flattering photographs since in real estate, the more photos of a listing, the quicker it will sell. At Real Living, we have the ability to post up to 80 photographs per listing. Teresa knows which types of pictures sell a home, and she follows these rules when it comes to listing photographs.

Listing photos showcase the seller’s home. Opening the blinds and turning on all the lights create an illusion of a larger room. Teresa will take photos from unusual perspectives to make your home look its best and most inviting on the Web.

Teresa understands that it’s important to keep family members and pets out of listing pictures. They are distracting to prospective buyers and hinder their impressions of the actual home.

If a seller has valuables, they shouldn’t be in listing photographs. Displaying expensive pieces of artwork or heirlooms can increase a breach of security in a seller’s home.

Rooms need to be clean and void of clutter when photographed. Ceiling fans, televisions and kitchen appliances should to be turned off to eliminate distraction.

Hoses, lawn maintenance tools like rakes and spades, as well as cars and bikes shouldn’t be in outdoor listing photographs. Teresa's goal is to take outdoor photographs on sunny days. Colors will appear more vibrant and the home may look more inviting.

Teresa can help promote your listing through professional photographs, contact her today at 614-565-8161 or teresabutler@columbus.rr.com


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

4 Things to Consider When Picking a Floor Plan

Factors that dictate what floor plan will work best for a home buyer include how old their children are, how they entertain, and whether they have pets, says Jeff Benach, a principal with Lexington Homes in the Chicago area.Here are some issues Benach suggests considering when buying a home:

Mudrooms. A spacious mud-room can make managing a young family’s comings and going much easier. They are also good for pet owners.

Over-sized kitchen/family-room combinations. These rooms work for some people, but they aren’t good for party givers because large spaces are noisy and don’t lend themselves to intense cooking and food staging.

Fireplaces and windows. Filling more than one wall with windows and occupying another with a fireplace makes it difficult to position furniture.

Consider that things change. Designing areas so they can be retooled to meet new and different needs down the road is a smart approach.

Source: Chicago Tribune, Allison E. Beatty (01/02/09)