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Saturday, April 30, 2011

5 Strategies to Rebuild Your Credit after Foreclosure

5 Strategies to Rebuild Your Credit after Foreclosure
By Pamela Yip

RISMEDIA, April 22, 2011—(MCT)—If you’ve been through a foreclosure, you may wonder if there is hope for you to become a homeowner again. The answer is yes, but it will take a while. “It doesn’t mean you’ll never be a homeowner again,” said Linda Davis-Demas, director of housing at Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Dallas.

But you’ll need to examine what caused you to fall behind on your mortgage and take steps to fix the problem. “You have to look at what were the reasons you didn’t make the payment,” said Davis-Demas. “Was it budgeting? You can modify that type of behavior.”

A foreclosure is a major hit to your credit history and stays on your credit report for seven years.

“Foreclosure is one of the FICO seven deadlies,” said credit expert John Ulzheimer, referring to the dominant FICO credit score. “It’s considered a major derogatory item, regardless of the back story”— whether it’s a job loss, rate reset, underemployment or other reasons.

Your credit score will also suffer “the minute the foreclosure process begins,” said Ulzheimer, founder of, a credit education website. “It doesn’t have to be completed for it to be very damaging,” he said. “The damage will vary based on your scores, but it can damage the score as much as 200 points, especially if your scores are very strong to begin with.”

So, after a foreclosure, your priority has to be rebuilding your credit. You’ll have some time to do so, because mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac impose strict rules on how long it will take before you’re eligible for another mortgage.

For example, borrowers with a prior foreclosure and extenuating circumstances—such as a job loss, divorce or medical issues—must wait three years before they can qualify for a Fannie Mae-backed loan, said spokeswoman Amy Bonitatibus. For all other borrowers, the waiting period is seven years.

At Freddie Mac, those who can prove extenuating circumstances must wait three years before applying for a new mortgage; everyone else must wait five years. But that will change in February, when the waiting period for those whose foreclosure was caused by their own financial mismanagement will increase to seven years.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also have strict rules on the credit score and the size of the down payment required of borrowers with a prior foreclosure.

Here’s what you need to do to rebuild your credit to qualify again for a mortgage:

Pay your bills on time: The FICO score, the dominant credit score used by lenders, gives the greatest weight to payment history, so make sure you consistently pay your bills on time. “Stability is the key,” said Craig Jarrell, president of the Dallas region of IberiaBank Mortgage Co. “Have you demonstrated that you are now capable of owning a home and paying the bills, and have recovered from whatever circumstance caused the original foreclosure?”

Review your credit report: You’re entitled to a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the three national credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. You should get a copy and check it for any inaccuracies.

To get your free credit report, go to “Make sure it is about you and only you,” said Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. “If you find errors, dispute them. If you discover old debts, it will weigh in your favor to satisfy them. Paid late looks better than not paid at all. Make sure that debts older than seven years have rotated off your report, as these could be dragging your score down unnecessarily.”

Check your mortgage: You want to be sure that you don’t still owe anything on your old mortgage. Sometimes proceeds from a foreclosure sale aren’t enough to cover what’s owed on the mortgage, which would leave you owing the difference.

“Make sure there is a zero balance reflected, and if you are responsible for a shortfall, make arrangements to repay the remaining balance,” Cunningham said.

Many lenders are willing to settle that “deficiency judgment” for less than what’s owed because “it’s better than getting no money at all,” Jarrell said.

Apply for credit: In particular, apply for different varieties of credit. “Credit scoring models value having different types of credit,” Cunningham said. “Having some revolving accounts, typically credit cards, and some installment fixed-payment loans, such as a car payment, can improve your score.” But don’t apply for too much credit at once. “This can appear as though you’re desperate for credit and perhaps make lenders less inclined to extend credit to you,” Cunningham said. “Further, too many credit inquiries can have a negative impact on your credit score.”

Don’t fall prey: Watch out for credit repair companies that promise to clean up your credit report so you can get a car loan, a home mortgage, insurance, or even a job—after paying a fee for the service. “The truth is, that no one can remove accurate, negative information from your credit report,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. “It’s illegal.” Only the passage of time can assure that negative, but accurate, information on your credit report will be removed.

When it comes to repairing your credit, there are no quick fixes, the experts say. What lenders want to see is responsible financial behavior over time.

“Know that time is your friend, as the farther you move away from the financial distress, the less negative impact it has,” Cunningham said. “Follow with responsible behavior with your new credit, and you’ll soon have a solid credit file.”

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Friday, April 29, 2011

Selling Your Home in Today’s Market? Focus on the Overlooked

Selling Your Home in Today’s Market? Focus on the Overlooked
By Kim Palmer

RISMEDIA, April 22, 2011—(MCT)—Taniya Nayak of “Designed to Sell” fame is sharing her secrets, tips and behind-the-scenes tales for home sellers who are looking to get their home sold in today’s market.

Q: What do people need to do to sell a home in this market?
A: For starters, you need to figure out what you’re overlooking, what I call forgotten fixer-uppers—things you don’t notice anymore. Use a digital camera to take photos, upload them on your computer and look at fresh images. You might be pleasantly surprised. You might be horrified. New hardware on cabinets and new faucet fixtures can make a big difference. They’re short budget items but have a big impact. And I could talk for hours about paint. There are a million paint colors out there for homeowners to choose from.

Q: Do you buy the idea that everything has to be painted neutral to sell?
A: Neutrals are good, but neutral doesn’t always mean beige. I try to show people how to accessorize in a way that adds life to your space.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have a new show in production. It’s a “House Hunters” spinoff—”House Hunters on Vacation.” We’re going to awesome vacation spots and seeing luxurious, decadent vacation homes.

Q: What’s your favorite spot in your home?
A: I love every single spot, but my favorite is the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the river. It’s so serene and peaceful. I kept the colors muted to highlight the colors outside, the changing seasons. I put my Wassily chairs right in that little opening. I sit there and stare out the window.

Q: You’ve said there should always be something that doesn’t fit, a random object that you love—what are some examples in your home?
A: My decor is very modern. The one thing that doesn’t fit is an old riddling rack, made of beat-up wood, for holding Champagne. It’s the most un-modern thing you can imagine. We cut it in half, refinished it and put it on the wall. My husband is a restaurateur, and it’s from the place we met—I was a bartender and he was a manager. So it’s personal to us, and something people always talk about.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

(c) 2011, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Canceled debt's tax impact

Daily Real Estate News

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011

How to Complete Home Renovations on a Budget

How to Complete Home Renovations on a Budget

RISMEDIA, April 18, 2011—As the interest in home renovations continues to grow, homeowners are constantly looking for ways to get the job done without depleting their bank account. With numerous steps and details involved in the process, it is easy for homeowners to become overwhelmed and spend more money than is truly necessary.

The following tips from the April 2011 Issue of HOLMES: The Magazine To Make It Right provides useful information that will keep homeowners from going over budget as they take on renovation projects this spring.

1. Work in the off-season. Some jobs like pouring concrete and applying stucco, are best done in good weather, but if your job doesn’t require it, postpone it until the off-season to save on labor costs.

2. Avoid structural changes. Moving walls and adding foundations also raise the bill. If you must have more space, steal it instead of adding on; grab it from an adjoining closet or room, or even the hollow between studs.

3. Work with what you’ve got. Unless you’re dealing with structural issues or water damage, it’s likely that not everything needs to be replaced. If you’ve got a good set of cabinets, why trash the boxes when just replacing the cabinet doors will do?

4. Leave appliances, fixtures and outlets in the same locations. Running new lines drives up costs. Only when you’ve planned for such changes is it the right time to go to the trouble of rewiring and plumbing so that a range can sit where the fridge once stood.

5. Value-engineer. Your architect and contractor are trained to know all types of materials. Ask them to make recommendations for thrifty alternatives.

6. Buy all appliances or fixtures at one time and on sale, if you have a place to store them. Purchasing items in bulk can often garner you a discount from the retailer.

7. Stick with normal colors. By that we mean choose standard color wheel options or neutrals, which are manufactured in the greatest numbers, and the efficiency is passed on in the price.

8. Opt for factory finishing. Cabinets, floors and even entire houses are now available factory finished, allowing for faster installation.

9. Make decisions based on quality, not just price. It’s still cheaper to have the same item over a longer period than to replace it a few years later—and pay for labor again, too.

10. Plan for energy efficiency. This can be as simple as buying Energy Star appliances that draw less energy over their operating lifetime, or installing a Solatube that uses reflective materials to capture and amplify natural light, negating the need for an electric light in a windowless room. Investigate these options before you complete a contract.

11. Prioritize and don’t budge. Once you have your list, refine it by dividing it between what you want and what you need. Ask yourself again why you are doing this project. Do you crave a more efficient space? An attractive and up-to-date room? Are you doing it for yourself or for resale? If the latter is the case, consult with your designer and a REALTOR® to see where your money will count the most.

12. Go with the standard model whenever possible. There are low-cost alternatives to just about everything, and you don’t have to compromise quality. This means weighing standard appliances versus commercial grade, stock versus custom cabinetry. Labor-intensive tile and woodwork can dramatically bump up cost. Talk to your builder about how to achieve a custom look for less. “Spend money on your priority pieces,” says Melissa Paulson, owner of Brillo Home Improvement in Milwaukee, “and cute back in areas that are not as important.”

13. Rule out thoughtless change orders. Nothing busts a budget faster than changing a floor plan or materials after work is underway. The time you invest in planning now will pay off as work gets underway. If you do run into any changes, minimize them. At this point, it will not only cost you money, it could also temporarily disband your construction team while you wait for new materials to arrive. And don’t forget to request a copy of the change order from your contractor, detailing the new timeline and payment due date.

14. Use an architect, your paid advocate in directing the contractor and subs. And when you can’t be on-site to stop waste and overspending or curb unauthorized changes, he or she can. The peace of mind is worth the money.

15. Have the architect itemize everything. Sounds tedious, but that’s the thoroughness you are paying for. You’ll want to see a detailed work scope document with sketches outlining the following: demolition, construction, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, tile and stone work and finished. “Itemize absolutely everything,” says Collette Whitney of Whitney Interiors in New York City. “This will give you an accurate basis from which contractors can bid, and from which you can compare bids.” That includes specifications, which list every material thing going into the project, right down to the doorknobs. Don’t forget to ask for a floor plan and elevations. “People tend to hear only 65-70 percent of any conversation,” says Rory McCreesh, owner of Duce Construction Corp. in New York City. “You want to be sure you and your contractor completely understand the finished project. Detailed, comprehensive drawings give your contractor the tools to understand exactly what he needs to build for you.” These drawings become the basis of your contract and the construction documents.

16. Seek multiple bids. Once you have the architect, pursue the best possible bids for the job. Have more than three licensed and insured contractors provide a detailed bid, including labor and materials, so you can really compare and analyze each. “When interviewing, you might want to ask the contractors about their worst experience and how they handled it,” says Jason Yowell, owner of Metropolitan Design and Construction, Inc. in Atlanta. “That’ll give you insight as to how they handle adversity.”

17. Itemize within the contract. Once you’ve picked your general contractor, he’ll create a contract that includes a progress payment schedule. This is based on certain milestones of completed work, such as cabinet installation. It tells you how much money you have to pay and when, and what should happen when. Plus, realistically, snags do come up, no matter how well you organize and plan. Make sure the contractor includes at least a 10% cushion for the unexpected. Of course, review the contract in person with your architect and contractor, item by item, to make sure all are in agreement before singing.

18. Memorize the change order policy. Then try your hardest to avoid the need for any. You don’t want them. But even we acknowledge they sometimes happen for legitimate reasons. In case you must make a change, make sure in advance that the contractor has a policy whereby he advises you of the cost and writes a change order immediately, which you then sign. Be informed of the procedure. Anything out of step with the contract at this point puts the project at risk.

19. Ask for pricing. You thought you did this when you went over specifications, right? But when you build anything, you have a minimum of 16 categories of pricing. “There’s masonry work, millwork, cabinetry, framing, drywall, doors, windows, plaster, stone and tile, electrical audio and video,” says Steve LeBlanc, president of Tranquility Homes in Nova Scotia. “The more information the contractor gives you in terms of what something costs—and individual breakdown, item by item—the more likely you are to stay on budget.”

20. You can benefit by purchasing materials through a professional. Architects and contractors have relationships with suppliers who offer purchasing efficiencies that save time. A big upside in using this service is that whoever orders the products also assumes responsibility if something goes wrong or is damaged or missing—not you. Any upcharge in materials takes into account the contractor’s time, responsibility and experience; it’s worth it.

21. Have all materials on-site before they’re required. It’s called the “preconstruction period” when everything gets ordered. This way no time is wasted—on your dime—while workers wait or miss a day because the materials they’re working with have not arrived. The architect or contractor’s project manager should be designated to monitor delivery times.

22. Hold pre-construction meetings. The people on your construction teams need to thoroughly understand the job prior to starting. Your contractor can see to this, possibly with a project or field manager, at this special meeting. You as the client won’t attend; talks will be mostly technical. Prior to demolition, though, you should meet the crew. “Get together with your contractor’s construction team to go over all aspects of the job, from introductions to phone numbers to a brief recap of the whole job,” says Tom Sertich, president of Kirk Development Co. in Phoenix. “You, the client, may have further questions, such as scheduling, and they can all be addressed in person then by the team on-site.”

23. Check materials as they arrive. Sounds obvious, but you must see everything out of the boxes to ensure things arrive undamaged and intact. Your contractor should review all materials as they arrive so the subcontractors aren’t waiting for an indispensable item. This helps maintain productivity, too.

24. Let the pros do their jobs to avoid confusion. Ask questions if something concerns you, but don’t get involved in the day-to-day management and give conflicting directions to subcontractors. This risks creating miscommunication. “The architect is your representative to the contractor and can walk through the site with you, get notes and then take that direction back to the contractor,” says Dan D’Amelio of D’Amelio Porter in New York City. Since each knows the technical aspects of construction, they will speak the same language fluently. The architect can also approve the completion of each stage.

25. Prepare a punch list, or post-job list of to-do items you feel may still need attention. When the job appears done, it’s customary to do a walk-through with the contractor or project manager and your architect. “Before the walk-through,” says Jason Yowell, “get some Post-its and use them to write notes for anything that concerns you, and then attach it to that item.” Bring the punch list to the meeting.

26. Space out the payments. You should have been doing this throughout the project with the help of your written contract that includes an incremental pay schedule worked up beforehand. Now is the time to be ready with the final payment. This schedule is your insurance that the contractor will be with you until the end. Only when the project is completed—and any lien period has expired—and you are happily surveying a job well done, shake hands and hand over that check.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Simple Tips to Downsize Your Lifestyle

Simple Tips to Downsize Your Lifestyle
By Kristin Tillotson
RISMEDIA, December 7, 2010—(MCT)—David, Christy and Noah Swindlehurst are practicing new math at their Eden Prairie, Minn., town home—minimal addition, maximum subtraction.

While the tradition for most young American families is to acquire more, the Swindlehursts are determined to get rid of as much stuff as they can spare.

“We just worked our way through four dressers, and now we’re down to two,” Christy said, as David reluctantly parted with some T-shirts that held sentimental value.

The Swindlehursts are part of a growing national movement of personal downsizers, people who are simplifying their lives—and spending habits—by paring down their possessions and resisting the urge to buy more.

A natural spinoff of the trend toward living green, replacing the desire to acquire with an urge to purge is catching on everywhere from the blogosphere to progressive-minded neighborhoods.

One subset, “The 100 Things Challenge,” was Christy Swindlehurst’s initial inspiration. By daring people to keep only 100 things, the challenge gives would-be downsizers a solid, if rather drastic, number to shoot for.

Launched by a San Diegoan named Dave Bruno three years ago, the grass-roots effort has picked up a Facebook fan following and a book deal—and yes, there’s a discussion on Bruno’s website about the validity of a guy who advocates shedding everything now producing thousands of books.

“Our consumer culture makes stuff very easy to acquire, but hard to get rid of,” said Bruno, who isn’t a hard-liner on the exact number of things others decide to keep. “Changing your behavior is not going to happen after one weekend of intense purging. The goal is to eventually free yourself from the demands of consumerism, from being stuck on stuff.”

In the Twin Cities, for example, a recent indicator that paring-back fever is growing was the turnout—despite the season’s first sloppy snowstorm—of 250 people at a “Transition Town” event hosted by the Minneapolis nonprofit Alliance for Sustainability earlier this month. A term that originated in Britain five years ago, “transition towns” are a way of bringing together people interested in cutting back on stuff and living greener.

Downsizing has benefits beyond the environmental, from practical, like making housecleaning easier, to psychological—being literally less anchored to material goods is freeing to the spirit as well. The motivation to downsize is usually a combination of reducing carbon footprints, saving money, feeling more organized and passing on these values to future generations.

For Dr. Sheryl Grassie of southwest Minneapolis, the idea is to take up less space in the world. With the three kids she raised now out of her 3,000-square-foot home, she plans to move to a space less than one-third that size. Not unusual for middle-aged empty nesters, but Grassie is taking things much further.

She has sold or given away the majority of her furniture and household goods, including former keepsakes like the good dishes she only used a couple of times a year. She’s gotten rid of three-fourths of her clothes, and no longer needs her huge walk-in closet. “We’ve been so conditioned to buy more, to go bigger,” she said. “I’m not feeling that call anymore.”

Life coach Nicole Lynskey of Minneapolis, who teaches a downsizing seminar called “Overstuffed,” downscaled her possessions primarily for environmental reasons. She says the stress-reducing effect can be equally uplifting.

The same holds true for Christy Swindlehurst, a nurse, who wants to use her family’s downsizing as a lesson for her son. “The clutter stresses me out, and I want to stop making those quick runs to the store that turn into $200 worth of impulse buys,” she said “But I also want my son to learn that you can’t just buy something because you want it. I don’t want him getting into financial trouble down the road.”

While downsizers are nowhere near approaching a majority—retail sales did climb in October, after all—their goals are catching on. Many young adults who grew up sandwiched between two economic downturns are showing signs of feeling very different about what defines success than their parents and grandparents did.

Generation Y is more into making friends than amassing objects, according to a 2010 Study of the American Dream by MetLife.

Nearly 40% of millennials (people born in the 1980s and early ’90s) say they already have what they need, up from 26% in 2008. And the number of them who feel growing pressure to buy more and better material goods has dropped almost 20 percentage points since 2006, from 66% to 47%.

But young adults aren’t the only ones changing priorities. The same study found that 77% of all ages surveyed now see improving quality of life as being less about money than about improving personal relationships. In addition, 58% say they define the American dream as family and children, up from 42% in 2006. That’s a good thing, some advocates say, because future generations may not have a choice in the matter.

“Everybody will be simplifying their lifestyles over the next 20 years, whether we like it or not, so we might as well get ready for it,” said Alliance for Sustainability’s program director Sean Gosiewski. “Our overconsumption has been based on the easy availability of petroleum,” which is not an indefinite given, he said.

Meanwhile, the pioneer downsizers of America continue slogging through their piles of stuff, telling themselves, no pain, no lack of gain. But the art of de-acquisition is not without its challenges.

Downsizing tips

From Dave Bruno, the “100 Things Challenge” guy:

-Start with your closet. Everyone has too many clothes. The process of downsizing your wardrobe is cathartic and empowers you to tackle other areas of the house.

-It’s going to be hard to make a prolonged commitment to refuse to get more stuff. It will take a while to reduce your belongings and it’s going to take a few months of refusing to get new things before you change your habits.

-Most people around you will not be doing this and may react negatively or defensively. Be gracious to them. Set a good example. Whatever you do, stick to it.

From Nicole Lynskey, “Overstuffed” workshop:

-Assess the impact your clutter or your consumption has on you. Think of the size of your home, how much you spend on new stuff, the energy put into acquiring, maintaining and storing your stuff, the time you spend searching for things.

-Get in touch with what you really long for in life. Do you really want to work part-time? Would changing your purchase habits or moving into a smaller space make these things possible for you?

-Start with small areas. The more you declutter, the more momentum you will get and the more you will notice things you don’t really need.

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Suzanne O'Brien
(313) 516-6644

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Now Is the Time to Get Your Home’s Exterior in Tip-top Condition

Now Is the Time to Get Your Home’s Exterior in Tip-top Condition

RISMEDIA, March 31, 2011—According to DIY shopping and support website Trades Supermarket, the improved spring weather means more than giving the lawn a trim for homeowners; it signifies the time to undertake necessary repair and maintenance checks, not only to make sure the house and garden look good and are safe for summer but also to save expenditure on major improvements in the long run.

The strong winds over the winter months may have impacted the safety of areas in and around the home, notes Tommy Walsh, TV favorite and member of the Trades Supermarket team. These impacted areas can include roofs, guttering and fences. Walsh suggests that homeowners ensure wooden fence posts are still intact and embedded properly in the ground, and consider treating them by applying a new coat of preservative. Checking guttering, fascias and roof tiles for damage and movement, as well as clearing out any leaves and debris that have built-up over the winter, are must-do jobs. Walsh adds that ladder work is always a two person job, and that people who are not confident should consult professionals.

According to Walsh, checking for the onset of rot in wood is another important safety check, especially on sheds and decking, which could cause serious injury to people if they collapsed. With decking, Walsh suggests looking at the condition of the posts and making sure the planking is nailed or screwed firmly in place. Shed owners should not only inspect the wood but also make sure the roofing felt has not shrunk or ripped—replacing it if necessary to prevent leaks—therefore avoiding further damage to the wood or the shed’s contents. If decking or sheds are due for a fresh coat of a preservative treatment, Walsh advises making sure the timber is washed down using a stiff brush and lightly sanding before application.

“Doing maintenance checks around the home are jobs that are often put off until ‘next weekend’ but many of these checks are for safety reasons,” says Walsh. “You don’t want to risk any accidents or end up spending more money having to replace things, like your fascias or decking, in the long run.”

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do Your Part: Slash Your Grocery Bill while Going Green

Do Your Part: Slash Your Grocery Bill while Going Green

By Terri Bennett

RISMEDIA, March 31, 2011—(MCT) —We’re all looking for ways to cut down on our bills. Grocery shopping is a necessity, but there are ways to lower your costs each week while also lowering your eco-footprint. Here are my top five ways to do your part for both the planet and your pocketbook.

No. 1: Stock Up On Green Cleaners
When you create a green cleaning kit with baking soda, white vinegar, Borax, and hydrogen peroxide, you have all you need to clean everything in your home. Plus, this cleaning kit is just a fraction of the cost of store-bought household cleaners. For instance, a 76-ounce box of Borax can produce 19 gallons of mold and mildew cleaner. You would need to buy more than a 150 16-ounce bottles of store bought cleaners to produce the same amount.

No. 2: Do The Prep Work Yourself
A few extra minutes in the kitchen really can save you a few bucks each week. If your family eats a lot chicken, buying the chicken whole or with the skin on will bring immediate savings. Boneless and skinless chicken breasts cost about $4.99 a pound; compare that to chicken sold with bone and skin that’s priced around $1.99 a pound, and you can clearly see the amount you will be saving. You could use the saved money to buy organic chicken, and feel good about serving your family a healthier piece of poultry. Also, instead of buying fruits and veggies that have been cut and peeled for you, do the work yourself and pay half the price.

No. 3: Buy in Bulk
You know those individually packaged crackers, cookies and snacks? You’ll probably want to ban them from your home after learning the true cost of convenience. Plus, the packaging on those small items is usually tough to recycle. Your best bet is to go big when it makes sense. My family loves those popular cheese crackers. A big box of them costs $3.79, or $0.28 an ounce. If you get them in the individual size, it costs $0.40 per ounce! That’s a $0.12 savings on every ounce. Instead, put the crackers from the large box into a small reusable container that your child can bring to school.

No. 4: Shop in Season
Shopping in season for produce is smart for you, your pocketbook, and the planet. When you buy foods at their peak, they aren’t being shipped around the world to arrive at your grocery store. That means they’re usually much more affordable than at other times of the year.

No. 5: Do What Grandma Did
When you spot organic fruits and veggies on sale—buy up! Then, you can do what our grandmothers did by preserving them. Whether you freeze, can, or dehydrate your foods—you’ll have the next best thing to fresh, organic produce for a time when you’ll want them and they are no longer in season.

Terri Bennett is a veteran TV meteorologist, syndicated columnist, and host of

If you would like expert advise and representation in your next move, please contact me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Homeowners Reuse Materials for Environmental and Aesthetic Reasons

Homeowners Reuse Materials for Environmental and Aesthetic Reasons

By Kathleen Lynn Print Article

RISMEDIA, March 18, 2011—(MCT)—Renovating? You could just rip up the old room and sweep everything into the trash bin. But a growing number of homeowners, architects and builders are trying to reuse or recycle construction materials whenever possible—for reasons both environmental and aesthetic.

Architect Anthony Garrett went this route with the gut renovation of a Hoboken, N.J., building. Its wooden floor joists, more than a century old, were reclaimed and trucked to Montville Township, N.J., to be reused as flooring and exposed beams in a planned mixed-use development.

“It’s dismantling, as opposed to demolition,” said Garrett, of the Bilow Garrett Group in Ridgefield Park, N.J. “I can’t think of anything more sustainable than that; there’s an embedded energy in that material that we salvage, and we don’t have to cut any more trees down.”

With construction waste making up as much as 25-50% of the junk in landfills, the push to salvage building materials is “gaining a huge amount of momentum,” said Anne Nicklin, executive director of the Building Materials Reuse Association, an Oregon-based trade group. Reused materials are not just better for the environment; they also can be higher quality, she said. “You can’t buy old-growth timber at home improvement stores, but you can find it in a building that’s coming down,” Nicklin said.

Municipalities, worried about scarce landfill space, are offering cheaper or faster permits for deconstruction, rather than demolition, Nicklin said. And federal agencies offer training to workers on how to salvage building materials. She estimates that 75% or more of most buildings can be reused or recycled.

A number of nonprofit retail outlets offer a marketplace for old building materials. They include Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore in Mine Hill, N.J., Build It Green NYC’s store in Queens, and Connecticut-based Green Demolitions, which has a store in Riverdale occupying space donated by Bograd’s Fine Furniture. Green Demolitions targets affluent homeowners who decide that their kitchens aren’t quite right, but who feel guilty about dumping cabinets and appliances that are sometimes only a few years old.

It might be hard to believe that homeowners would replace kitchens that are in good shape, but “they want the kitchen they want,” said Green Demolitions founder Steve Feldman. His pitch: By donating the old kitchen to his company, homeowners can save the disposal costs, plus get a tax deduction because Green Demolitions’ profits go to support addiction treatment programs.

“Why throw out something that’s perfectly good and totally usable?” said Alan Asarnow, sales manager at Ulrich Inc. in Ridgewood, N.J., a home renovation company that encourages clients to recycle their old kitchens. Many of the kitchens his clients donate are only about 10 years old, he said.

Green Demolitions sold 600 kitchens last year in its three stores; most were donated by homeowners, but about 100 were store displays donated by kitchen remodeling contractors.

“When you think about something being thrown out, sometimes that’s where the opportunity is,” Feldman said. He estimates his company keeps two million pounds of debris out of landfills each year.

Those who buy the old kitchens and other materials at Green Demolitions or the ReStores find discounts of 50-80%.

Stephanie and Vincent Gurnari of Oakland, N.J., visited the Green Demolitions store recently, looking to add a few cabinets to their existing kitchen, but spotted a full kitchen—including appliances—for just under $6,000. “We just kind of jumped on the opportunity,” Stephanie Gurnari said. “It was too good of a deal to pass up. We’ve got champagne tastes, and we wouldn’t have been able to get some of the features we got with the budget we had.”

Of course, this kitchen was built for someone else’s home, so the Gurnaris are going to have to be a bit creative about fitting it into their space. But Vincent Gurnari, a teacher, used to work in a cabinet shop, and they have some handy relatives, so they’re pretty confident about making it work.

“Kitchens are modular. They’re boxes,” Feldman said. Green Demolitions usually recommends buying a kitchen that’s a little bigger than your space to provide flexibility.

Reusing or recycling materials can help builders get the environmental stamp of approval known as LEED, for Leadership in Energy and Environmental design. The LEED certification is awarded by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council, which gives builders credit for keeping materials out of landfills.

A decade ago, “the marketplace was unsophisticated in its ability to effectively divert a large amount of materials from the landfill,” said Daniel Topping, an architect with NK Architects in Morristown, N.J. But it’s a lot easier these days to find a new home for old materials. “It’s just a little more legwork,” Topping said.

Because reusing materials requires careful deconstruction of a room or building, it is usually more time-consuming and can be more expensive than simple demolition. But it also doesn’t create the clouds of dust—potentially laden with asbestos or lead paint—created by demolition, Nicklin pointed out.

“There’s a steep learning curve for a lot of contractors,” said Petia Morozov of the architecture firm MADLAB in Montclair, N.J., who takes a “surgical” approach to deconstructing a house.

Morozov and her partner, Juan Alcala, recently worked on Alcala’s brother’s home, a ranch house that was taken down to the foundation and rebuilt. They reused a lot of the wood and brick, for aesthetic as well as environmental reasons. Cypress wood paneling and some flooring from the home’s interior weren’t needed in the new design, but were salvaged and resold, helping to offset the costs of the project.

Homeowner Carlos Alcala said he and his wife, Vicki, were motivated partly by a desire to be green, but also by their feeling that the re-used brick is more attractive, and preserves some of the house’s history. Saving money was also part of the equation. “When it makes sense, especially from an economic perspective, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t reuse materials,” he said.

If you would like expert advise and representation, please contact me.

Monday, April 18, 2011

How to Manage Unexpected Home Expenses

How to Manage Unexpected Home Expenses

By Al Heavens Print Article

RISMEDIA, April 15, 2011—(MCT)—Homes are more affordable these days, the selection is abundant, and interest rates are still fairly low. For some people, it could well be a great time to buy.

But as too many struggling borrowers now realize, the cost of owning a home is hardly limited to paying the mortgage. There are a host of other checkbook-sapping details—both recognizable and unexpected—that can get overlooked in the excitement of buying a house, especially if it’s your first.

Ultimately, those things might mean the difference between home sweet home and foreclosure.

“It is extremely important to explain to all buyers, but especially first-time buyers, that there are additional expenses other than their monthly mortgage payment,” said Philadelphia-area real estate agent John Duffy.

Just because a lender has qualified you for a certain size mortgage doesn’t mean you have to spend that much on a house, Duffy said his agents caution buyers. “There will be additional, unforeseen costs, such as repairs, decorating, improvements, utilities and the like,” Duffy said. “We like to tell them that we want them to enjoy their new home and not be house-poor.”

Through the loan-qualifying process, some buyers, especially first-timers, become aware of the concept of spending only a certain percentage of their income on what is called PITI—principal, interest, taxes and insurance—”maybe 33 percent of income,” said Jerome Scarpello of Leo Mortgage in Ambler, P.A. The reason that percentage isn’t higher is that other expenses will be incurred with homeownership, he said.

“Of course, there are some folks who really need to be taught this,” Scarpello said, recounting a story he heard of borrowers who brought their electric bill to the bank when paying their mortgage. “They were surprised to learn,” he said, “the mortgage did not include electric, as their rental payment had.”

The “T” in PITI—taxes—can be extraordinarily expensive, depending on where you live. If you buy into a condo complex or a new-home development, you will have to factor in monthly homeowners association fees, as well. PITI and association fees are fixed costs, for the most part, although homeowners insurance rates and taxes can rise. Mortgage interest can change, too, if you don’t have a fixed-rate loan.

“I generally estimate high,” said Jeff Block of Prudential Fox & Roach in Philadelphia, “because I feel it is really important for buyers to have a conservative estimate and a detailed understanding of what their costs will be.”

Bruce Hahn, president of the grass-roots American Homeowners Association in Arlington, V.A., said home listings typically include historic costs for utilities, condo fees and taxes, “so it should not be hard for buyers to anticipate how much extra cash flow they’ll need to cover them.” If that information isn’t provided, Hahn said, buyers should use all other possible means to determine or estimate them in advance. He urged buyers to set aside a “rainy-day fund” for unanticipated major expenses, such as a broken heat pump or air conditioner or a roof leak. “Homeowners’ insurance plans often have lots of gaps, so there are many things they don’t cover.”

For example, Hahn said, he was glad his homeowners’ insurance included flood coverage “when our basement stairwell drain was clogged with leaves and water backed up in our basement.” However, “our insurance agent explained that flooding is what happens when the river rises, but what we had was ‘seepage,’” which the homeowners policy did not cover.

As Hahn cautioned, you need to be intimately familiar with deductibles as well as coverage limits, so your annual premium will likely be much higher than the state average when you finish crafting your policy.

You certainly can shop around for the best rates, and, in many cases, save money on the premium with a policy that covers your automobiles as well as your house.

But you should also allow for simultaneous unanticipated expenses, such as a car transmission failure and a fridge on the fritz. If you are living on the economic edge, enough of these disasters can push you over it.

“We believe that $10,000 in liquid savings (a money-market account or the like) that can be turned into cash anytime with very little risk of capital loss is not too much,” Hahn said, adding that $5,000 was the recommended minimum. Hahn’s group doesn’t advise using credit cards to meet emergency expenses, because their interest rates are high compared to what savings accounts pay today. “It is better,” he said, “to liquidate a savings account that is only paying 1 percent to pay for emergency costs than put them on a credit card and pay 15 percent.”

Among expenses to factor into a home-buying decision:
-Utilities: Heat, electricity, water and sewer, telephone, cable television, Internet and cell phones. You also may have to pay a fee for trash collection and recycling.
-Food/entertainment: Dining in and out, movies, hobbies.
-Children: Day care, tuition, lunch money, supplies, clothing, sports gear.
-Health costs: Braces, eyeglasses, medicine.
-Debt: Credit-card payments, car/student loans.
-Maintenance/repairs/decor: Furnishings and appliances, landscaping, snow removal.
-Job expenses: Transportation (gasoline or transit costs), auto maintenance.

If you would like expert advise and representation, please contact me.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

5 Things Home Buyers Do That Turn Sellers Off and Will Prevent You From Buying the Home You Want:

5 Things Home Buyers Do That Turn Sellers Off and Will Prevent You From Buying the Home You Want:

On today’s market, every savvy seller wants to know what turns buyers off, so they can get their homes sold as quickly as possible, for as much as possible. But buyers, take note – there is a minefield of seller turn-offs you can trigger that hold the potential to keep you from getting the home you want at the best price and terms, or to unnecessarily complicate dealings with your home’s seller.

Lest you think all of today’s sellers are under the gun and will just put up with whatever behavior buyers dish out, be aware that there are still many multiple offer situations in which buyers have to compete with each other to get a home – buyers who trigger these turnoffs tend to lose in those scenarios. Also, avoiding these seller turnoffs can create a transactional environment of cooperation and avoid things turning adversarial. That, in turn, can empower you to score a better price, get extra items you want thrown into the deal, and even negotiate more flexibility around your escrow and move-in timelines – all perks that can make your life easier and your budget go further.

For sellers, these turnoffs pose the potential of irritating you out of an otherwise good deal – maybe even the only deal you have!

Here’s a few of the most common buyer-perpetuated seller turnoffs, with tips for sellers on how to keep an emotional (and economic) even keel, even if your home’s buyer makes some of these waves:

1. Trash-talking. Trash-talkers are the home buyers who think they’re going to negotiate the list price down by slamming the house, telling the sellers how little it is really worth, how the house across the street sold for nothing, why the school on the corner should make them desperate to give the place away, etc. This strategy never works; in fact, when you attack a seller and their home, you only cause them to be defensive, and think up all the reasons that (a) their home is not what you say it is, and (b) they shouldn’t sell their home to you!

Sometimes this happens with buyers who actually love a house and just walk around it fantasizing about all the ways they would customize it to their tastes while a seller is there. Sellers: avoid being at home while your home is being shown. Buyers: save your commentary for your agent; if you do encounter the seller in person keep your conversation respectful and avoid critiquing the house or the list price.

2. Being unqualified for mortgage financing. When a seller signs a buyer’s offer, most often the seller agrees to effectively pull the home off the market, forgoing other buyers who might be interested. As such, the only thing worse than getting no offers on your home is getting an offer, getting into contract, then having the whole thing fall apart when the buyer’s loan falls through – especially if that could have been predicted or avoided up front.

Sellers: Work with your agent to vet your home’s buyers’ qualifications, including their loan approval, down payment and earnest money deposit – before you sign a contract. It’s not overkill for your agent to call the buyers’ mortgage pro before you sign the contract and get a level of comfort for how robust their qualifications are. Buyers: Get pre-approved. Seriously. And make sure that you don’t buy a car, quit your job, deposit lottery winnings or do any other financial twitchery between the time you get loan approval and the time you close escrow on your home.

3. Making unjustified lowball offers. No one likes to feel like they are being taken advantage of. And sellers generally know the ballpark amount that their home is worth, as well as what they need to sell it for to get their mortgage paid off. Yes – the price you pay for a home should be driven by its fair market value, rather than the seller’s financial needs, and deals are more available in a market like the current one, in which supply so vastly outpaces demand. But just throwing uber-lowball offers out at sellers hoping one will hit the spot is not generally a successful strategy, especially if you really, really want a given property.

Sellers: Don’t get overly emotional about receiving a lowball offer; counter at the price you and your agent decide makes sense based on the total circumstances, including your motivation level, recent comps and the interest/activity level your listing is receiving. Buyers: Work through the similar, nearby homes that have recently sold (a/k/a comparables) before you make an offer to factor the home’s fair market value into your offer price – also factor in how much you want the place, too. Don’t be amazed if you make an offer far below asking, and don’t get a response.

4. Renegotiating mid-stream. Sellers plan their finances, moves and - to some extent – their lives around the purchase price a buyer agrees to pay for their home. If you get into contract to buy a home, find out during inspections that costly repairs need to be made, then propose a lower sale price, repair credit or even actual repairs to the seller, that’s sensible and fair. But if you were aware that the property needed a lot of work before you made an offer on it, then you come back asking for beaucoup bucks’ worth of credit or price reductions midstream, expect the seller to cry foul. And holding the seller up two weeks into the transaction because you caught a case of buyer's remorse? Not cool, and not likely to foster the spirit of cooperation you may need to get your deal closed.

Sellers: avoid mid-stream price renegotiations by having a full set of inspection reports and repair bids at hand when you list your home. Buyers: try to avoid renegotiating the entire deal unless you get some major surprises at your inspections or inflating small repairs to try to justify a major price cut.

5. Misleading or setting the seller up. Remember when we talked about buyer turn-offs? Being misled by listing photos or very fluffy property descriptions was high on the list. The same goes for sellers.Offering way over asking with the plan to hammer the seller for a reduction when the house doesn’t appraise at the purchase price? #LAME Making an as-is offer planning the whole time to come back and ask for every penny ante repair called out by the inspectors? Lame squared.

Sellers: If you get multiple offers and are tempted to take a sky-high one or one that claims to be all cash, consider requesting proof that the buyer has sufficient funds to make up the difference between what you think the home will appraise for and the actual sale price, and statements showing the cash truly exists. Buyers: Don’t be lame. I’m not saying you have to tell the seller exactly what your top dollar is, but making offers with terms designed to intentionally mislead is really, really bad form – and can result in losing the home entirely if and when your bluff gets called.

If you would like expert advise and representation, please contact me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stop losing homes to higher bidders

Stop losing homes to higher bidders REThink Real Estate

Inman News™

Share ThisQ: My daughter and her husband-to-be, who are both 21, are trying to buy a house and have put many offers in on various homes. They already are preapproved for the amount they need. Every time they put an offer in, even on houses that have no other offers, and that have been on the market for a long time, all of a sudden many offers come in -- sometimes within 24 hours!

Then the bank goes with the higher offer, which confuses them because their agent told them there were no other offers. This has been very depressing for them.

They are getting married in June and would like to purchase a home before then, so they have a home to move into after the wedding (they both still live with their parents). Is there anything they can do to resolve this problem? --Julie R.

Being a buyer in today's market is nearly as frustrating as being a seller. You read and hear all day long about what a strong buyer's market it's supposed to be and what great deals there are to be had via foreclosures and short sales.

But when you start making offers on properties you find that the banks are nowhere near as willing to negotiate as you expected, and that many of the bank-owned homes cannot be bought without prevailing over a sea of other offers.

Depressing and frustrating -- yes. But there are some strategies they can and should put into play to better their chances going forward.

With an individual seller, you can minimize the chances of being outbid unawares in a couple of ways. You can put a very, very short time frame on your offer, eliminating a window of opportunity for other buyers to swoop in on the property.

Also, most listing agents in "regular" sales want their clients to get the highest possible price for their home, so it's common for them to ring up any previous offerors to let them know when additional offers have come in, to give them an opportunity to increase their offers or otherwise make them more competitive.

You can't force a bank to respond to your offer in a very short time frame, or in any time frame at all, for that matter. I once sold a bank-owned property in a transaction where the time frame between when we submitted an offer and when we received the signed acceptance back from the bank was nine weeks.

But what your daughter and future son-in-law can do is go into these transactions with the lessons they've learned thus far.

Whatever it is that caused them to be interested in this property at this point in time could very well be inspiring other buyers to make an offer at the same exact time. So, even when their agent is told that there are no other offers at the time they make theirs, they need to do several things.

First, they need to enlist their agent to stay in very close contact with the listing agent -- as often as two or three times a day is not overkill -- once their offer is submitted.

Your daughter's agent should not only be calling the listing agent frequently to check and see whether other offers have come in -- they should also be asking the listing agent upfront to notify them if additional offers come in. That way, your daughter and her fiancé may at least get the chance to try to compete with the other offers.

Additionally, your daughter should consider changing her approach to formulating the price she offers for a home. She will have a better shot at getting a home if she offers a price more in line with the recent sales in the area, versus just offering something below or even at whatever the list price is on the assumption that she has no competition.

Every time she wants to make an offer, she and her mate should sit down with her agent and get an analysis of the recent sales of similar properties in the area. If she's making an offer on a bank-owned property, she should look at those sorts of sales. It's critical that she not only look at the recent comps' list price, or sale price, but their list-price-to-sale-price ratio.

For example, if a home's list price is $100,000 and it sells for $110,000, the list-price-to-sale-price ratio is 110 percent.

From what you've said, it seems that it's pretty common for these homes to sell over asking. If she can work with her agent to determine how much, on average, over asking these homes typically sell for, then she can apply that ratio to the list price of the home for which she wants to place an offer.

So, for example, if the other homes are selling for 107 percent of their asking price and she is seriously interested in buying a home that is listed for $125,000, she would multiply $125,000 by 107 percent and consider an offer price of $133,750.

Yes, that may mean that she goes in with an offer over the asking price, even in a situation where she has been told there are no other offers. But if the recent comparable sales justify that value, and it is within the price range she can afford to pay, that may be necessary to avoid being chronically overbid and secure the home in which to start her family.

Some buyers get hung up on the idea that they are "overpaying" if they make an above-asking offer, but the reality is that the list price is not the actual price of the home -- it's a starting point for upwards or downwards negotiations, depending on the local market dynamics and how the list price was set vis-à-vis the fair market value of the home.

Getting a great deal is not necessarily the same as paying at or below asking; just think -- if the list price is set too high, then offering to pay it isn't a better deal than if you offer above-asking on a place where the list price is set way too low. This is why it's so critical to rely heavily on an analysis of recent comparable sales to drive your offer price, rather than just on the list price or what the listing agent tells you.

Further, no house is a good deal if you don't get it, which may be the learning that your daughter and her fiancé are experiencing. And given that prices have rolled back to 2003 levels in many areas, whatever they pay will undoubtedly be a great deal, from that perspective. Please pass on my advice, along with my best wishes for their house hunt and their marriage.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website,

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Foreclosures Offer New Twist on Old Game: Flipping Houses

Foreclosures Offer New Twist on Old Game: Flipping HousesBy Adva Saldinger Print Article
RISMEDIA, April 4, 2011—(MCT)— What started as a hobby for Keith Gamble is now a risky, exciting, full-time job: buying properties at the monthly foreclosure sale and flipping them. Gamble, and others like him, are a new generation of property flippers who buy at low prices at a foreclosure auction, clean up a property and sell it for a profit.

“Some people’s bad fortune is other people’s opportunity,” Gamble says. “I know that sounds callous—I know people doing what I’m doing at the courthouse each month are there to take advantage of that opportunity, but I also feel we provide a backstop to the market.”

Today’s flippers differ from those during the real estate boom who took advantage of rapidly increasing prices and were fueled by loose lending regulations, says Tom Maeser, a real estate analyst with the Coastal Carolinas Association of REALTORS®. When the market collapsed, many of those flippers were stuck with properties they couldn’t afford, he notes.

“That really irritated a lot of people and caused problems,” Maeser continues. The flippers during the market peak would often buy a property before construction, wait for it to be built, hold onto it for a few months and then sell it for a profit. Today the flippers are buying at low prices, doing some minor repairs and then trying to sell the properties quickly. The profits aren’t as large but the flippers may be selling more properties in a year, says Penny Boling, the broker-in-charge of Century 21 Boling and Associates in Myrtle Beach.

Flipping properties isn’t something new, she comments; it’s just taken different forms over the years, and it hasn’t always had that name. Boling says she sees some differences between today’s flippers and those during the boom, including their knowledge of the market.

“They are really doing their homework on what prices are,” she said. “Before, the market was going so fast no one was looking.” Many of the foreclosure flippers will attest to the hours of work they put in; several said they spend upwards of 60 hours leading up to the auction doing research and trying to see properties they might want to buy. Unlike a typical property purchase where a buyer can see the property and get a home inspection, often a buyer of a foreclosure at auction has little access to a property and sometimes must bid without seeing the inside of it.

“There’s just a lot of research involved in it,” says Johnny Buxani, a Realtor® who also flips foreclosure properties. He will look through a list of properties for sale, identify the ones he is interested in and then try to drive by them to see them. Once he narrows down the list, he looks at the market value and establishes how much he would be willing to pay and how much he thinks he could make on each property.

It’s important to know about the real estate market to know about any problems with developments or buildings and to be up to date with how prices are changing, Buxani said.

Armed with those papers and a budget, he heads to the monthly foreclosure sale and tries to be the winning bidder. “It’s really gambling,” Buxani says. “It’s a rush.”

There is often competition among bidders on the best properties, but most have a set cutoff price. The winning bidder has to pay a 5 percent down payment within 24 hours and the remainder of the price within 30 days. Unlike flippers during the boom, these buyers aren’t piling up loans that they can’t pay back. Instead they’re paying cash either from their own money or with the backing of investors.

Most of the time, the flippers won’t make any major repairs but typically might repaint, replace appliances and improve landscaping. Some properties need more work, such as new countertops, flooring or new heating and air conditioning systems.

Gamble explains most flippers have a set number of properties they want to have at one time and know how many they’re willing to bid on each month. For him, he’s willing to have about four properties at a time and will wait until one sells before bidding on another.

Gamble says he’s careful not to overextend himself and knows that even if he gets stuck holding some of the properties, he would be able to cover the expenses.

That caution is warranted because it’s rarely a smooth path from the purchase to the sale. It is a risky business and most foreclosure flippers have at least one story of a property that didn’t work out as they had expected. For Buxani, that was an oceanfront condo with a serious mold problem that required thousands of dollars to fix. One of Gamble’s deals fell through when he turned down one offer on two of his properties, only to see the other potential buyer back out at the last minute. For David Galfetti, another REALTOR® and real estate investor, it was a problem with a mortgage that held up a deal for several months.

“I’ve gotten stuck a few times,” says Galfetti, who represents a group of investors and typically buys two or three properties each month, depending on how quickly the ones he bought previously are selling.

Like the others, he tries to get a property on the market as quickly as possible and tries to sell it within the first couple months. “The main thing is people are sometimes amazed at how we get them resold,” Galfetti says. The trick, he explains, is to know before he buys how much he can get for a property.

Unlike Gamble and Buxani, who have been flipping foreclosures for less than a year, David Galfetti is not a newcomer to the foreclosure sales. He has been buying at the foreclosure auctions for about six years, though he’s bought more in recent years. When he started going to the foreclosure auctions, there were far fewer properties for sale and a much smaller crowd, Galfetti says.

The flippers are helping fix up foreclosure properties that are often left in bad shape and hard to sell, which is good for the market, Maeser says. “Anyone who depletes the foreclosure inventory is helping the marketplace because we will not see appreciation or increases in values until foreclosures go away,” he notes. Galfetti and the others say that they know the volume of foreclosures and current opportunities won’t last forever, but that they are an important part of the market. “It’s unfortunately the whole state of the union but we’re doing a favor to the lowest end of the market, which has to get cleaned up before the regular stuff can sell,” Galfetti says.

Boling agrees that their ability to pay cash and get rid of foreclosures is helping the overall real estate market. “They’re kind of like the street sweepers,” she comments. “They’re part of the cleanup committee of this marketplace.”

Maeser says that it’s unclear what impact the foreclosure flippers will have on prices. Flippers could help improve property values in a neighborhood if they price properties fairly, but if they are selling properties below the lowest price in the neighborhood it could have a negative impact. The properties flippers sell are typically priced at market value, though they try to be among the best priced in an area, Galfetti says.

“I don’t feel we are contributing to lower prices,” Gamble notes. “I feel more we are getting inventory out of the banks’ hands.” If banks were lending more, there would be less of a market for flipping foreclosures, he says. “In a couple years, these opportunities will dry up, banks will be lending more and inventory is getting depleted,” Gamble continues. “This niche market might disappear or get very limited.”

Boling says that sales activity is starting to pick up, and she expects foreclosures to decrease as the market improves.

Galfetti and Buxani say they’d change their focus once the opportunities to flip foreclosures dwindle. “I obviously hope it does dry up and the whole market and whole economy turns around, (but) I don’t see it happening anytime soon,” remarks Galfetti.

(c) 2011, The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, S.C.).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

7 Tips for Staging Your Home

7 Tips for Staging Your Home
By: G. M. Filisko

Published: March 19, 2010

Make your home warm and inviting to boost your home’s value and speed up the sale process.

1. Start with a clean slate
Before you can worry about where to place furniture and which wall hanging should go where, each room in your home must be spotless. Do a thorough cleaning right down to the nitpicky details like wiping down light switch covers. Deep clean and deodorize carpets and window coverings.

2. Stow away your clutter
It’s harder for buyers to picture themselves in your home when they’re looking at your family photos, collectibles, and knickknacks. Pack up all your personal decorations. However, don’t make spaces like mantles and coffee and end tables barren. Leave three items of varying heights on each surface, suggests Barb Schwarz of in Concord, Pa. For example, place a lamp, a small plant, and a book on an end table.

3. Scale back on your furniture
When a room is packed with furniture, it looks smaller, which will make buyers think your home is less valuable than it is. Make sure buyers appreciate the size of each room by removing one or two pieces of furniture. If you have an eat-in dining area, using a small table and chair set makes the area seem bigger.

4. Rethink your furniture placement
Highlight the flow of your rooms by arranging the furniture to guide buyers from one room to another. In each room, create a focal point on the farthest wall from the doorway and arrange the other pieces of furniture in a triangle around the focal point, advises Schwarz. In the bedroom, the bed should be the focal point. In the living room, it may be the fireplace, and your couch and sofa can form the triangle in front of it.

5. Add color to brighten your rooms
Brush on a fresh coat of warm, neutral-color paint in each room. Ask your real estate agent for help choosing the right shade. Then accessorize. Adding a vibrant afghan, throw, or accent pillows for the couch will jazz up a muted living room, as will a healthy plant or a bright vase on your mantle. High-wattage bulbs in your light fixtures will also brighten up rooms and basements.

6. Set the scene
Lay logs in the fireplace, and set your dining room table with dishes and a centerpiece of fresh fruit or flowers. Create other vignettes throughout the home—such as a chess game in progress—to help buyers envision living there. Replace heavy curtains with sheer ones that let in more light.

Make your bathrooms feel luxurious by adding a new shower curtain, towels, and fancy guest soaps (after you put all your personal toiletry items are out of sight). Judiciously add subtle potpourri, scented candles, or boil water with a bit of vanilla mixed in. If you have pets, clean bedding frequently and spray an odor remover before each showing.

7. Make the entrance grand
Mow your lawn and trim your hedges, and turn on the sprinklers for 30 minutes before showings to make your lawn sparkle. If flowers or plants don’t surround your home’s entrance, add a pot of bright flowers. Top it all off by buying a new doormat and adding a seasonal wreath to your front door.

If you or anyone you know would like expert advise and representation in marketing a home, please contact me.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale

5 Tips to Prepare Your Home for Sale
By: G. M. Filisko

Published: February 10, 2010

Working to get your home ship-shape for showings will increase its value and shorten your sales time.

1. Have a home inspection
Be proactive by arranging for a pre-sale home inspection. For $250 to $400, an inspector will warn you about troubles that could make potential buyers balk. Make repairs before putting your home on the market. In some states, you may have to disclose what the inspection turns up.

2. Get replacement estimates
If your home inspection uncovers necessary repairs you can’t fund, get estimates for the work. The figures will help buyers determine if they can afford the home and the repairs. Also hunt down warranties, guarantees, and user manuals for your furnace, washer and dryer, dishwasher, and any other items you expect to remain with the house.

3. Make minor repairs
Not every repair costs a bundle. Fix as many small problems—sticky doors, torn screens, cracked caulking, dripping faucets—as you can. These may seem trivial, but they’ll give buyers the impression your house isn’t well maintained.

4. Clear the clutter
Clear your kitchen counters of just about everything. Clean your closets by packing up little-used items like out-of-season clothes and old toys. Install closet organizers to maximize space. Put at least one-third of your furniture in storage, especially large pieces, such as entertainment centers and big televisions. Pack up family photos, knickknacks, and wall hangings to depersonalize your home. Store the items you’ve packed offsite or in boxes neatly arranged in your garage or basement.

5. Do a thorough cleaning
A clean house makes a strong first impression that your home has been well cared for. If you can afford it, consider hiring a cleaning service.

If not, wash windows and leave them open to air out your rooms. Clean carpeting and drapes to eliminate cooking odors, smoke, and pet smells. Wash light fixtures and baseboards, mop and wax floors, and give your stove and refrigerator a thorough once-over.

Pay attention to details, too. Wash fingerprints from light switch plates, clean inside the cabinets, and polish doorknobs. Don’t forget to clean your garage, too.

If you would like expert advise and representation to market your home, please contact me.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Find the Best REALTOR® to Sell Your House

Find the Best REALTOR® to Sell Your House
By: G. M. Filisko

Published: March 11, 2010

Ask detailed questions about their experience and skills to help you find the right agent for your home sale.

1. How long have you been selling homes?
Mastering real estate requires on-the-job experience. The more experience agents have, the more likely they’ll be able to handle any curveballs thrown during your home sale.

2. What designations do you hold?
Designations like GRI (Graduate REALTOR® Institute) and CRS® (Certified Residential Specialist), which require that agents complete additional real estate training, show they’re constantly learning. Ask if agents have designations and, if not, why not?

3. How many homes did you sell last year?
Agents may tout their company’s success. An equally important question is how many homes they’ve personally sold in the past year; it’s an indicator of how active and aggressive they are.

4. How many days on average did it take you to sell homes?
Ask agents to show you this data along with stats from their local Multiple Listing Service (MLS) so you can see how many days, on average, their listings were on the market compared to the average for all properties in the MLS.

5. How close were the asking and sales prices of the homes you sold?
Sometimes sellers choose their agent because the agent’s suggested listing price is higher than those suggested by other agents. A better factor is the difference between listing prices and the amount homes actually sold for. That can help you judge agents’ skill at accurately pricing homes and marketing to the right buyers. It can also help you weed out agents trying to dazzle you with a lofty sales price just to get your listing.

6. How will you market my home?
The days of agents putting a For Sale sign in the yard and hoping for the best are long gone. Look for an agent who does aggressive and innovative marketing, especially on the Internet.

7. Will you represent me exclusively?
In most states, agents can represent the seller, the buyer, or both in a home sale. If your agent will also represent buyers, understand and consent to that dual representation.

8. How will you keep me informed?
If you want weekly updates by email, don’t choose an agent who plans to contact you only if there’s an offer.

9. Can you provide references?
Ask to talk to the last three customers the agent assisted. Call and ask if they’d work with the agent again and if the agent did anything that didn’t sit well with them.

10. Are you a REALTOR®?
Ask whether agents are REALTORS®, which means they’re members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (NAR). NAR has been an advocate of agent professionalism and a champion of homeownership rights for more than a century.

If you would like expert advise and representation to market your home, please contact me.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

How to Use Comparable Sales to Price Your Home

How to Use Comparable Sales to Price Your Home
By: Carl Vogel

Published: August 5, 2010

Before you put your home up for sale, use the right comparable sales to find the perfect price.

Knowing how much homes similar to yours, called comparable sales (or in real estate lingo, comps), sold for gives you the best idea of the current estimated value of your home. The trick is finding sales that closely match yours.

What makes a good comparable sale?
Your best comparable sale is the same model as your house in the same subdivision—and it closed escrow last week. If you can’t find that, here are other factors that count:

Location: The closer to your house the better, but don’t just use any comparable sale within a mile radius. A good comparable sale is a house in your neighborhood, your subdivision, on the same type of street as your house, and in your school district.

Home type: Try to find comparable sales that are like your home in style, construction material, square footage, number of bedrooms and baths, basement (having one and whether it’s finished), finishes, and yard size.

Amenities and upgrades: Is the kitchen new? Does the comparable sale house have full A/C? Is there crown molding, a deck, or a pool? Does your community have the same amenities (pool, workout room, walking trails, etc.) and homeowners association fees?

Date of sale: You may want to use a comparable sale from two years ago when the market was high, but that won’t fly. Most buyers use government-guaranteed mortgages, and those lending programs say comparable sales can be no older than 90 days.

Sales sweeteners: Did the comparable-sale sellers give the buyers downpayment assistance, closing costs, or a free television? You have to reduce the value of any comparable sale to account for any deal sweeteners.

Agents can help adjust price based on insider insights
Even if you live in a subdivision, your home will always be different from your neighbors'. Evaluating those differences—like the fact that your home has one more bedroom than the comparables or a basement office—is one of the ways real estate agents add value.

An active agent has been inside a lot of homes in your neighborhood and knows all sorts of details about comparable sales. She has read the comments the selling agent put into the MLS, seen the ugly wallpaper, and heard what other REALTORS®, lenders, closing agents, and appraisers said about the comparable sale.

More ways to pick a home listing price
If you’re still having trouble picking out a listing price for your home, look at the current competition. Ask your real estate agent to be honest about your home and the other homes on the market (and then listen to her without taking the criticism personally).

Next, put your comparable sales into two piles: more expensive and less expensive. What makes your home more valuable than the cheaper comparable sales and less valuable than the pricier comparable sales?

Are foreclosures and short sales comparables?
If one or more of your comparable sales was a foreclosed home or a short sale (a home that sold for less money than the owners owed on the mortgage), ask your real estate agent how to treat those comps.

A foreclosed home is usually in poor condition because owners who can’t pay their mortgage can’t afford to pay for upkeep. Your home is in great shape, so the foreclosure should be priced lower than your home.

Short sales are typically in good condition, although they are still distressed sales. The owners usually have to sell because they’re divorcing, or their employer is moving them to Kansas.

How much short sales are discounted from their market value varies among local markets. The average short-sale home in Omaha in recent years was discounted by 8.5%, according to a University of Nebraska at Omaha study. In suburban Washington, D.C., sellers typically discount short-sale homes by 3% to 5% to get them quickly sold, real estate agents report. In other markets, sellers price short sales the same as other homes in the neighborhood.

So you have to rely on your REALTOR’s® knowledge of the local market to use a short sale as a comparable sale.

If you would like expert advise and representation to market your home, please contact me.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Surprising Insider Secrets for the 5 Stages of Buying Your First Home

Surprising Insider Secrets for the 5 Stages of Buying Your First Home
Buying a home is not a discrete event; it's a process - a sequence of events that happens over time, sometimes over as long as several months or even years! While general guides to buying a home are a dime a dozen, I'm excited to share with you some insider secrets you may not have heard elsewhere - one for each stage involved in buying a home. Here's to helping you make the best decisions at every phase of your homebuying process!

Stage One: Deciding Whether It's The Right Time to Buy.
Insider Secret: The market is the least important factor you should consider when deciding whether and when to buy a home.
Why: Everyone knows affordability is at an all-time high. Home prices are low, and so are interest rates. But trying to time the market is a fool's errand; many who get caught up in that game of trying to make sure they buy at the absolute bottom will end up losing out on very, very favorable conditions.

Beyond that, the most important considerations when deciding whether and when you should buy a home are personal, not market driven. On today's market, it only makes sense to buy a place if it's going to be sustainable and work for you for at least the next 4-5 years [if your town's real estate market has been fairly recession-proof] or 7-10 years [if the housing/foreclosure crisis has hit your area pretty hard].

Against this "smart holding period" backdrop, smart buyers decide to buy when it makes sense for:

their life plans (i.e., they are comfortable making the commitment to live in the same town, and the commitment to )
their family plans (i.e., whether they plan to get married, have children or empty their nest in the time they plan to own the home - and the implications of these plans on their space needs and location priorities)
their career plans (including, but not limited to: whether they have job or income security, whether they feel they will be working in the same area for the foreseeable future, and whether they want to work less or start their own business in the months or years to come)
their financial plans (including foreseeable changes in income and expenses, e.g., kids going to college or making partner at the firm).

Stage Two: Getting Pre-Approved.
Insider Secret: Working with a mortgage broker referred by your real estate broker or agent may save you money.
Why: Bolstered by the real-life stories of a couple of bad apples, TV pundits and some consumer advocates have spun the tale of a real estate industry cartel, whereby sinister agents hook unsuspecting buyers up with shady mortgage brokers, who place them in crappy loans and kick back some bucks to the agent. I'm here to tell you, in my experience, the opposite is true the vast majority of the time.

When you work with a mortgage broker who has a strong track record of helping your real estate agent's clients out, you end up in a best of all worlds situation, nine times out of ten. First off, your agent will take you much more seriously once a mortgage broker they know and trust has run your credit, checked your income and approved you for a loan, as well as communicated with your real estate pro about your qualifications and what you can afford. Secondly, your agent can help you communicate with your mortgage broker, sometimes helping get past appraisal glitches or facilitating other workarounds, as they come up. Third, you get the assurance of working with a mortgage pro who has been vetted and vouched for by someone you not only trust, but someone who can verify that the mortgage broker has the ability to get transactions closed in the timely manner required of today's real estate sales contract. Otherwise, you may end up working with a competent mortgage broker who has a great track record when it comes to refinancing, but can't keep up with the pace and common obstacles to getting a home financed in the context of a sale.

On top of that, sometimes the relationship can help you negotiate out of a couple of line item loan fees (if your particular mortgage rep has the power to get them down at all), if push comes to shove and cash is tight to close the deal. Assuming you are working with a real estate pro you really trust, working with a mortgage broker they trust can save you, rather than cost you, money.

Stage Three: House Hunting
Insider Secret: "Distressed" doesn't always equal "discounted" - in some cases, a "regular" sale can be a deeper deal.
Why: Short sales and foreclosures have grown to comprise roughly 30 percent of the homes sold on today's market, even higher in some areas. The average sale price of foreclosed homes was 32% lower than the average sale price of non-foreclosed homes, at last count. However, it's not always the case that foreclosed homes or short sales - homes which are being sold for less than what the seller owes on their mortgage(s) - offer the buyer a fabulous discount.

Mortgage servicers and asset managers who make decisions about distressed properties are on the hook to their investors to recoup as close as possible to the current fair market value of every home they sell. Some banks even have a general rule of rejecting offers more than 10 percent or so below the home's list price, preferring instead to reduce the price by that amount and put the home back on the open market to see if any new buyers are activated by the price reduction to make an offer better than the lowball offer that was initially put on the table. On short sales, the bank is trying to get as close as possible to recovering what the seller owes - and may or may not be concerned with what the fair market value of the home is. (Nine times out of ten, there will be a big gap between fair market value and the seller's outstanding mortgage balance. If there wasn't, the seller wouldn't need to do a short sale!)

With so many distressed properties and homes with depressed values on the market, in many areas, the individual, non-distressed home sellers who are putting their homes up for sale right now are those who are very motivated to sell. Further, they are more likely to be flexible with you on everything that is negotiable, from contingency and escrow periods, to price, to repairs and included items.

Also, individual sellers can be emotionally motivated to sell to move on with their lives, get into their bigger (or smaller) house, or move on to their next job; banks, on the other hand, aren't people (!), so lack that emotional sense of urgency to get the properties sold, no matter how urgently you may think they should be trying to get rid of the foreclosed properties they own. (If you've heard the old advice that banks don't want to be in the home-owning business, I can tell you this. That is true, in a very general sense, but now they are and will be - for a long time to come. They have no emotions, have no urgent need to sell or move, and are not willing to give houses away at pennies on the dollar to get out of it, no matter what those infomercial folks say.)

Long story short: you can sometimes negotiate a better deal with an individual seller on a "regular" sale than with a bank on a distressed home sale. So, don't limit your house hunt to foreclosures and short sales, if you're looking for a good deal on your home.

Stage Four: Negotiations
Insider Secret: Your family and friends can cause you to lose your dream home.
Why: With so much information on the web and the news every day about the recession and the buyer's market, everyone seems to be an armchair economist/real estate savant. But much of that news is national and based on medians, averages and trends. That is, it might not necessarily apply to every home on the market in every city, and more importantly, it might have nothing to do with "your" particular home.

When I was a little girl, my best friend's grandfather would very carefully hand each of us a quarter, always doling it out with the sage admonition: "Don't spend it all in one place." We'd always smile, look at each other, then go ask our Moms for ten bucks apiece. In the same vein, people who are not currently in the market for a home have no idea what an individual home should "go for." If you tell your parents, church pals, or colleagues at work the blow-by-blow details of your offer, counteroffers, etc., you should expect to hear things like, "Oh, you're paying way too much!", "I think you should push them down another $10K," or "You know, you're in a better bargaining position than that." And sometimes, taking that sort of advice will end up blowing your deal. Work with your trusty real estate broker or agent to develop a smart strategy - with their experience in your local market - about what price and terms to offer. Then keep working with them to manage and maintain realistic expectations as you proceed through negotiating the contract to buy your home.

Stage Five: Escrow, Inspections and Underwriting
Insider Secret: It's critical that you attend your home inspections.
Why: When it comes to inspections, many first-time buyers expect that a home will either pass or fail. Except in a few jurisdictions where the government imposes certain condition requirements for a home to be sold, the home inspection is more about educating you, the buyer, as to the details and nuances of the home's condition than about seeing if the place hits a particular target for "good" or "bad" condition.

Home inspectors don't just look for things that need fixing, they also look to understand the home's systems and features, as well as to point out areas that will require your ongoing maintenance, highlight emergency shutoffs and other need-to-knows, and indicating where you should have specialists further inspect items of concern. Many home inspectors create vivid, detailed electronic reports - some, complete with color photos. But that's not enough!

If you're physically onsite at the home during the inspections, the inspector can physically show you the shutoffs for water, gas and electric - and how to use them. They can also point out, in person, any things that need repair, and give you some tips for maintaining the place in tip-top shape. Also, in many states, the general home inspector is legally prohibited (vs. the pest, roof or other "specialty" inspectors) from issuing a written quote or bid for repairs, to avoid a conflict of interest where they'd try to fabricate flaws in the home to get the repair job. However, the repair costs are one of the most important things a smart buyer wants to know!

If you show up, many inspectors will give you a rough range it would cost you to do various repairs, or otherwise indicate to you whether the needed repairs are "big deal" or "$10 home improvement store" fixes; some will even give you a few references to contractors they trust.

All around, you'll get much more of the detailed information you need to know whether and how to move forward with the transaction if you should up in person to the home inspections, rather than just waiting for a copy of the report to come to your email.

If you or anyone you know would like assistance in purchasing a home, please contact me and I will be happy to be your expert advisor.

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