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5 Tips for Choosing a Neighborhood

by Desi Sowers

There's more to weigh than just crime, prices, and commute.

You're not just buying a house -- you're also buying a neighborhood. Sometimes, though, one resident's "neighborhood glories" are another resident's "neighborhood warts."

Take, for example, close proximity to clubs and nightlife.

For some homebuyers, that would be a turnoff. But a few years ago, Austin, Texas, broker Kimbrough Gray had clients who insisted on being "stumbling distance" from a particular bar.

"They said, 'We don't want to drive after we've gone to our favorite club,' " Gray said. "I'd show them houses, and they'd say, 'If we were drunk, could we find our way home to this house?' "

His clients ended up being happy with their eventual choice. But how is a stranger to a community expected to know the difference between "too close" and "too far"? Or how to know, like Gray's clients, which neighborhood features are truly critical to their personal needs?

Five things to consider when picking a neighborhood:

1. The time of day when you first lay eyes on a prospective house can affect your impression of the neighborhood, so visit at various hours.

"A neighborhood can be totally different at night," said Gray, "If you go somewhere at 1:30 p.m., it may seem OK, but if you go back at night, it (could seem) a bit more sketchy."

The same can be said for neighborhood traffic congestion, which can change dramatically at rush hour -- or traffic on a Saturday can be a different story than on a Tuesday, he said.

2. Neighborhood choice can be a pocketbook issue, and not just because of house prices and property taxes. Commuting costs -- of both time and money -- are critical.

"I'm a Realtor, but we also do a lot of investing, so we move around a lot," Gray said. "I always calculate (in a buying decision) how much I'm going to spend on gas when I'm commuting.

"I've had clients say, 'This house is $10 cheaper on the mortgage (than another house),' but I've had to tell them, 'Yes, but this one is going to cost you $80 more in gas.' "

3. Ask questions of people who already live there.

The locals usually freely offer their opinions of neighborhood safety, noise, school performance, commuting times, etc., he said.

"When I'm dealing with a condo association, I usually stand outside the building and wait to chat with somebody who's just walking around," Gray said. "But I've had clients who will go around and knock on doors."

4. The Internet can be a boon for researching the nitty-gritty.

NeighborhoodScout.com, for example, is a subscription service that offers in-depth looks at such considerations as crime statistics (for 17,000 law-enforcement jurisdictions), school-performance data, and quarterly price-appreciation records of area homes.

It's customizable: The site can do such things as take the characteristics of a neighborhood that's familiar to you and approximate similar neighborhoods in other cities. For retirees, it can narrow down neighborhoods that have, say, a large population of educated seniors.

And coming soon, the site says, is a "build your neighborhood" feature in which users enter home-price range, crime-level comfort, preferred school scores, etc., to come up with suggested areas.

The service costs $29.99 a month, or $14.99 a month for a six-month subscription.

5. Some neighborhood characteristics can be hard to cram into numerical categories or scores. NabeWise.com has taken 65 "quality of life" characteristics and set them up as criteria for neighborhood-hunters.

For example, you can actually search for "trendy" neighborhoods -- or "clean" ones. Perhaps you want to live around liberals or around conservatives. Maybe you want to be near a farmers market or public transit or nightlife. The user just needs to fill out a checklist.

The site also features photo tours of neighborhoods and reviews from locals. Currently, it covers only New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle and Chicago; Los Angeles is in the works, the company says.

Written by Mary Unberger, Wednesday August 18, 2010

10 Low-Cost Tips to Improve Your Home's Appeal

by Desi Sowers

 

When selling your home, the goal is to sell it quickly for the highest price while investing as little as possible in renovations. With a limited budget and a little effort, you can greatly increase your home's appeal by focusing on what prospective buyers can see on their first visit. The experts offer the following recommendations for preparing a house for sale and staging it for showings.

Tip #1: Refresh the exterior

First impressions count when it comes to selling a home. Most buyers won’t even leave their car if they don’t find the exterior appealing. The best ways to improve your home’s exterior include:
-Repairing and/or replacing trims, shutters, gutters, shingles, mailboxes, window screens, walkways and the driveway.
-Painting siding, trim and shutters and lamp and mailbox posts.
-Pressure washing vinyl siding, roofs, walkways and the driveway.
-Washing windows.

Tip #2: Spruce up the lawn and landscape
Home buyers associate the condition of your lawn and landscaping with the condition of your home’s interior. By improving the outside, you affect buyers’ impression of the entire property. The best ways to enhance the yard include:
-Mowing and edging the lawn.
-Seeding, fertilizing and weeding the lawn.
-Keeping up with regular lawn maintenance by frequent watering.
-Trimming and/or removing overgrown trees, shrubs and hedges.
-Weeding and mulching plant beds.
-Planting colorful seasonal flowers in existing plant beds.
-Removing trash, especially along fences and underneath hedges.
-Sweeping and weeding the street curb along your property.

Tip #3: Create an inviting entrance
The front door to your home should invite buyers to enter. The best ways to improve your entry include:
-Painting the front door in a glossy, cheerful color that complements the exterior.
-Cleaning, polishing and/or replacing the door knocker, locks and handles.
-Repairing and/or replacing the screen door, the doorbell, porch lights and house numbers.
-Placing a new welcome mat and a group of seasonal potted plants and flowers by the entry.

Tip #4: Reduce clutter and furniture
A buyer cannot envision living in your home without seeing it. A home filled with clutter or even too much furniture distracts buyers from seeing how they can utilize the space your home offers. If you have limited storage space, you may want to consider renting a temporary storage unit to place items you wish to keep. The best ways to declutter your home include:
-Holding a garage sale to prepare for your move, getting rid of unnecessary items.
-Removing clutter such as books, magazines, toys, tools, supplies and unused items from counter tops, open shelves, storage closets, the garage and basements.
-Storing out-of-season clothing and shoes out of sight to make bedroom closets seem roomier.
-Removing any visibly damaged furniture.
-Organizing bookshelves, closets, cabinets and pantries. Buyers will inspect everything.
-Putting away your personal photographs, unless they showcase the home. Let buyers see themselves in your home.
-De-personalize rooms as much as you can.

Tip #5: Clean, clean, clean
The cleanliness of your home also influences a buyer's perception of its condition. The appearance of the kitchen and bathrooms will play a considerable role in a buyer's decision process, so pay particular attention to these areas. The best ways to improve these areas include:
-Cleaning windows, fixtures, hardware, ceiling fans, vent covers and appliances.
-Cleaning carpets, area rugs and draperies.
-Cleaning inside the refrigerator, the stove and all cabinets.
-Removing stains from carpets, floors, counters, sinks, baths, tile, walls and grout.
-Eliminating house odors, especially if you have pets.
-Considering air fresheners or potpourri.

Tip #6: Make minor repairs
The small stuff does count, especially with first-time home buyers. Without dismissing the importance of repairing major items such as a leaky roof or plumbing, you do not need to spend money on replacing these items. Instead, focus on the minor repairs that will make your home visually appealing. The best ways to improve your home include:
-Repairing ceilings and wall cracks.
-Repairing faucets, banisters, handrails, cabinets, drawers, doors, floors and tile.
-Caulking and grouting tubs, showers, sinks and tile.
-Adding fresh paint to ceilings, walls, trim, doors and cabinets.
-Tightening door handles, drawer pulls, light switches and electrical plates.
-Lubricating door hinges and locks.

Tip #7: Showcase the kitchen
The heart of any home is the kitchen. If you are going to spend any money on renovations, this is the one area where you will see the greatest return. Even with a modest budget, focusing on a few key areas can make a great difference in getting the asking price for your property. The best ways to showcase the kitchen include:
-Replacing cabinet doors and hardware.
-Installing under-cabinet lighting.
-Replacing light fixtures.
-Replacing outdated shelving with pantry and cabinet organizers to maximize space.
-Baking cookies or cupcakes for a showing, to create a homey smell.

Tip #8: Stage furniture
Furniture placement can enhance the space of your home while giving buyers an idea of how to best utilize the space with their own belongings. Take some time to rethink how different areas in your house could be used. Some ideas to think about include:
-Moving couches and chairs away from walls in your sitting and family rooms to create cozy conversational groups.
-Creating a reading corner in the master bedroom.
-Clearing an empty room to set up a reading space.
-Turning an awkward space into a home office.
-Setting the dining room table with your best china.
-Set wine glasses in front of the fireplace or next to a Jacuzzi tub.

Tip #9: Light up the house
Create a sense of openness and cheerfulness in your home through its lighting. To improve the lighting try:
-Opening shades and drapes to let the sunshine warm and brighten rooms.
-Installing brighter light bulbs in rooms that tend to be dark.
-Adding additional lamps for ambient lighting.
-Turning on all the lights for a showing.

Tip #10: Add fresh touches
You can easily add color and style to your home by adding fresh touches throughout. Some ideas to consider include:
-Placing fresh floral arrangements in the entry and master bedroom.
-Placing bowls of bright-colored fruit in the family room and the kitchen.
-Filling an empty corner with a potted leafy plant.
-Setting new hand soap in the bathrooms.
-Displaying fresh towels near sinks.

New Listing - Blacksburg Townhome, Walk to VT!

by Desi Sowers

Very popular end-unit townhome, walking distance to shopping and VT!

 

Least and Most Expensive Cities For Living in the U.S.A.

by Desi Sowers

It’s hard to beat the low cost of living in the South. Seven of the ten least expensive cities on our list are in Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee.

 

Fort Smith
Fort Smith, Arkansas

 

We compiled our rankings based on the ACCRA Cost of Living Index produced by the Council for Community and Economic Research. The Index measures relative price levels for housing, utilities, transportation, grocery items, health care and miscellaneous goods and services (it does not include taxes). A composite score of 100 reflects the national average. So scores lower than 100 reflect a lower-than average cost of living, and scores higher than 100 reflect a higher-than average cost of living. Median household income and average home prices are from the Toronto-based Martin Prosperity Institute. We sampled all U.S. cities with metropolitan area populations of at least 75,000.

1. Fort Smith, Ark.

Cost of Living Index: 85.2
Metro Population: 288,595
Median Household Income: $35,726
Average Home Price: $223,885

Arkansas is a low-cost, low-tax state, and its second largest city, Fort Smith, is no exception. Housing, grocery and transportation costs here are well below the national average. And compared with the most-expensive city on our list, New York, everything in Fort Smith is a bargain.

2. Pueblo, Colo.

Cost of Living Index: 85.9
Metro Population: 154,371
Median Household Income: $39,570
Average Home Price: $197,037

This economic hub of southeastern Colorado is just 103 miles from Denver but has a much lower cost of living. Homes in Pueblo are cheaper, on average, than in the rest of the state -- and nation. Pueblo residents also benefit from Colorado's low state income-tax rate of 4.64% of federal taxable income.

3. Harlingen, Tex.

Cost of Living Index: 86 .1
Brownsville/Harlingen Metro Population: 385,274
Median Household Income: $28,026
Average Home Price: $221,445

Housing prices in the southernmost city in Texas, on the Gulf coast near the Mexican border, are well below national average and are big factor in the city's overall low cost of living. The average cost of grocery items, transportation and health care also fall below the national average -- but utility costs are about 10% higher here. Brownsville/Harlingen has long been a popular destination for retirees on fixed incomes.

4. McAllen, Tex.

Cost of Living Index: 86.5
McAllen/Edinburg Metro Population: 706,039
Median Household Income: $28,328
Average Home Price: $213,383

Located only 50 miles away from Brownsville/Harlingen, this city in the southern tip of Texas also has extra-low housing costs. However, utility costs are higher than the national average.

 

Johnson City
Johnson City, Tenn.

 

5. Johnson City, Tenn.

Cost of Living Index: 86.6
Metro Population: 193,457
Median Household Income: $36,853
Average Home Price: $217,986

Affordable homes and below-average utility, transportation and health-care costs keep the cost of living low in this city on the western edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's about a 2 hour drive from Charlotte, N.C., or Knoxville, Tenn. To top it off, Tennessee has no state income tax.

See the Top 10 Least Expensive U.S. Cities

Most Expensive Cities For Living in the U.S.A.

When you leave the nation's heartland and head to the coasts, prices jump. In fact, half of the most expensive cities on our list are in California. The rest are on the East Coast and in far-flung Hawaii and Alaska.

 

New York
NYC, Julienne Schaer 2008/New York & Company

 

1. New York, N.Y.

Cost of Living Index: 218
Metro Population: 18,925,869
Median Household Income: $60,964
Average Home Price: $1.15 million

It should be no surprise that New York is first on this list. Housing costs four times the national average are a big reason that the overall cost of living is so high. But everything from grocery items to utilities are much pricier in Manhattan than in the rest of the nation. A New Yorker would have to make $127,935 a year to have the same standard of living as someone earning $50,000 in Fort Smith, Ark., the least expensive city.

2. Honolulu, Hawaii

Cost of Living Index: 163
Metro Population: 903,231
Median Household Income: $64,355
Average Home Price: $709,945

You have to pay a high price to live in this island paradise. The average home price is well above the national average. And consumer goods and services are more expensive here than in many places on the mainland.

3. San Francisco, Cal.

Cost of Living Index: 162.1
Metro Population: 4,222,756
Median Household Income: $72,059
Average Home Price: $815,556

With the highest home prices in California and second highest in the nation, it's no wonder San Francisco is one of the most expensive places. However, it stays out of the second-place spot in our list because costs for grocery items and utilities are much less in San Francisco than in Honolulu.

4. Santa Ana (Orange County), Cal.

Cost of Living Index: 146.5
Metro Population: 12,818,132
Median Household Income: $56,680
Average Home Price: $748,359

Orange County is home to Disneyland, "Surf City, U.S.A." and some of the most exclusive and expensive neighborhoods in the nation. Not only are home prices well above the national average, costs for everything from groceries to health care run higher. California also has some of the highest income taxes in the country.

5. Stamford, Conn.

Cost of Living Index: 145.9
Bridgeport/Stamford Metro Population: 903,425
Median Household Income: $66,870
Average Home Price: $626,611

Although the Bridgeport/Stamford metropolitan area is among the places where home prices have fallen most, housing costs still are twice the national average. However, the city is a much more-affordable option than nearby New York City.

See the Top 10 Most Expensive U.S. Cities

By Cameron Huddleston , Kiplinger.com
Jul 30, 2010

New-Home Sales Improve, But Remain Below Year-Ago Level

by Desi Sowers

Sales of new single-family homes rose 23.6 percent in June to 330,000 from a downwardly revised May rate of 267,000, the U.S. Commerce Department reported this morning. But the sales rate was 16.7 percent below the June 2009 estimate of 396,000.

The median sale price of a new home fell 0.6 percent in June to $213,400 from a year ago, when the median price was $214,700. An estimated 210,000 new homes were available for sale at the end of June, which represents a 7.6-month supply at the current sales pace.

Mon, Jul 26, 2010

Home Buyer Tax Credit Expires – Opportunity Doesn’t

by posted by Desi Sowers

The Home Buyer Tax Credit proved to be a valuable stimulus to the troubled U.S. housing industry. The only catch: those who qualified had to be under contract by April 30, 2010, and close by June 30 (editor’s note: at press time, the federal government had extended this closing deadline to September).

In the months leading up to the contract deadline, existing home sales increased steadily and, according to NAR data released in May, they jumped 7.6% from March to April, showing a 22.8% increase from April 2009 figures.

Now, with both tax credit deadlines past, real estate professionals can help maintain the recent momentum by keeping buyers motivated. Truth is, the tax credit was one of many incentives to enter the market in the past two years—and several of those advantages still exist for qualified buyers. It's still a great time to buy for many reasons:

Low Home Prices
Although there is widespread agreement in the industry that the housing market has reached the bottom, home prices aren’t expected to spike upward. Instead, they’re likely to skip along the bottom into 2011. They will continue to decline in some markets and creep up in others. As long as buyers remain diligent in the home search over the coming months, possible pricing fluctuations won’t have a dramatic effect on their property options.

Low Interest Rates
Interest rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages hit a five-month low of 4.93% in May, and as of early June the rates were holding steady below 5%. Financial concerns over the growing debt crisis in Europe have stemmed discussions in the U.S. of raising rates. The historically low rates will save home buyers thousands and thousands of dollars over the life of a loan, which arguably is reason enough to enter the market.

Other Tax Benefits
The U.S. Home Buyer Tax Credit was temporary, but there are other tax benefits that buyers can continue to count on for the foreseeable future. Property taxes, mortgage interest payments and mortgage insurance premiums are qualified deductions that can help reduce many homeowners’ tax liability. For eco-conscious homeowners, purchasing energy-efficient appliances and making other green upgrades can mean a tax credit up to $1,500. For more information, be sure to visit www.irs.gov or consult a tax professional.

Tax credit or no tax credit, homeownership is part of the America dream—and it’s alive and well.

Written by Margaret Kelly, CRB,  chief executive officer of RE/MAX LLC.

 

New Listing - Remodeled with 2.3 Acres

by Desi Sowers

Sales Slow But Remain Above Last Year

by /posted by Desi Sowers

   Sales Slow But Remain Above Last Year

With the scheduled closing deadline for the home buyer tax credits, existing-home sales slowed in June but remained at relatively elevated levels, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Existing-home sales, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, fell 5.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.37 million units in June from 5.66 million in May, but are 9.8 percent higher than the 4.89 million-unit pace in June 2009.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the market shows uncharacteristic yet understandable swings as buyers responded to the tax credits. “June home sales still reflect a tax credit impact with some sales not closed due to delays, which will show up in the next two months,” he said. “Broadly speaking, sales closed after the home buyer tax credit will be significantly lower compared to the credit-induced spring surge. Only when jobs are created at a sufficient pace will home sales return to sustainable healthy levels.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage fell to a record low 4.74 percent in June from 4.89 percent in May; the rate was 5.42 percent in June 2009.

The national median existing-home price for all housing types was $183,700 in June, which is 1.0 percent higher than a year ago. Distressed homes were at 32 percent of sales last month, compared with 31 percent in May; it was also 31 percent in June 2009.

NAR President Vicki Cox Golder said softer home sales expected this summer don’t tell the whole story. “Despite these market swings, total annual home sales are rising above 2009 and we’re looking for overall gains again this year as well as in 2011,” she said. “Conditions have become more balanced in much of the country, which is good for both buyers and sellers. However, consumers find it even more challenging to navigate the transaction process, especially for distressed properties, which only underscores the value REALTORS® bring to buyers and sellers in this market.”

A parallel NAR practitioner survey shows first-time buyers purchased 43 percent of homes in June, down from 46 percent in May. Investors accounted for 13 percent of sales in June, little changed from 14 percent in May; the remaining purchases were by repeat buyers. All-cash sales were at 24 percent in June compared with 25 percent in May.

Total housing inventory at the end of June rose 2.5 percent to 3.99 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.9-month supply at the current sales pace, up from an 8.3-month supply in May.

“The supply of homes on the market is higher than we’d like to see. But home prices are still holding their ground because prices had already overcorrected in many local markets,” Yun said. Raw unsold inventory remains 12.7 percent below the record of 4.58 million in July 2008.

Single-family home sales fell 5.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.70 million in June from a level of 4.98 million in May, but are 8.5 percent above the 4.33 million pace in June 2009. The median existing single-family home price was $184,200 in June, up 1.3 percent from a year ago.

Single-family median existing-home prices were higher in 10 out of 19 metropolitan statistical areas reported in June in comparison with June 2009. In addition, existing single-family home sales rose in 12 of the 19 areas from a year ago while two were unchanged.

Existing condominium and co-op sales slipped 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 670,000 in June from 680,000 in May, but are 20.5 percent higher than the 556,000-unit pace in June 2009. The median existing condo price was $180,100 in June, which is 1.4 percent below a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast rose 7.9 percent to an annual level of 960,000 in June and are 17.1 percent above June 2009. The median price in the Northeast was $244,300, down 1.2 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest dropped 7.5 percent in June to a pace of 1.23 million but are 11.8 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $155,900, down 0.1 percent from June 2009.

In the South, existing-home sales fell 6.5 percent to an annual level of 2.01 million in June but are 11.0 percent above June 2009. The median price in the South was $163,600, unchanged from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West dropped 9.3 percent to an annual pace of 1.17 million in June but are 0.9 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the West was $221,800, up 1.5 percent from June 2009.

Great Advise for Selling Your Home

by /posted by Desi Sowers

Sell Faster When You Understand The Buyers Mindset

When most sellers list their home for sale the first thing they think about is how much will I get and that is usually followed by how soon will I get the money. It's certainly understandable that those two concerns are, most often, top of mind. After all, you're likely selling your home to buy another one or invest the money in something else.

 But, if as a seller, you can get into the buyer's mindset, the sale of your home can come faster and for more money.

Understanding the way buyers think involves seeing things not from your perspective but from your potential buyer's mindset. It can sound easy but actually it's often harder to do than most sellers think. The psychology of buying is driven by emotional experiences, money, and timing. With that in mind, sellers can help create optimal circumstances that literally help walk the buyer through the process and completion of the sale of your home. 

 It starts with a feeling. When you meet someone for the first time, you form a first impression based on a feeling. That's exactly what happens when buyers set foot into your home. Work with an experienced agent to learn exactly what kind of impression your home is giving off. If it's a small home, make sure it's not overfilled and cluttered.

 Pick up all the loose clutter that's floating around. Throw out old magazines. People like to see things that are streamlined or clean or fresh looking. There's nothing worse than walking into a place and seeing a stack of magazines all over the place or an unmade bed.

 Go the extra step and take care of items that might have been overlooked for quite some time. Steam clean the carpets, the upholstery, the furniture, if that's what's needed. Have the windows cleaned, light fixtures cleaned. Make it feel clean when you walk in.

Go back to basics. You may love your turquoise carpet but do you really think buyers will? Getting inside the buyers mind will help you answer these questions. You can also pick up home décor magazines and see what appeals to the masses. You don't have to change everything in your home, but going back to basics in a few areas will help buyers see how your home can become their home.

 As soon as buyers see a really loud red, orange or lemon-green color they automatically think about re-doing. That, of course, means the buyers are already beginning to calculate the amount of money they need to take off of the sale price in order to get the home in the condition they would like it.

 If instead you stick with neutral colors such as painting the walls off-white, light beige or Navajo white, you have a better chance in preserving the sale price.

 Repair anything that looks torn, worn or broken If you walked into a retail store and saw a garment that you liked but it was torn or missing buttons, chances are you'd search for another one or ask for a discount if that were the only one of its kind.

 That's what buyers will do with your home when they spot torn screens, garage doors that don't open, or broken light fixtures that are hanging out of the wall. Buyers, if at first they don't get completely turned off and walk away from the sale, will first begin to think that there is more damage to the home than what they're able to see and then they start to calculate the cost of repairing those damages. But buyers often exaggerate the amount of money needed to fix the repairs.

 In today's market people are looking desperately to find out what's wrong with a home so that they can lower the price.

 n the buyers' minds, they come up with some kind of incredible price to fix repairs. In their mind, they go way overboard and eventually it affects the bottom line price for the seller.

 Don't miss an opportunity to get the word out about your home being listed for sale. It only makes sense to let your neighbors know. By doing this your neighbors can sometimes become great facilitators and supporters of the sale.

 Most people are visual buyers. If the home doesn't look clean, spotless, and repaired then the buyer thinks what's behind the walls, how much more money do I have to put into this home.

 Remember understanding the psychology of the buyer's mindset can help you sell faster and for the price you really want. 

  Written by Phoebe Chongchua

Great News for Home Buyers!

by Desi Sowers

 

Great news for home buyers!  Mortgage interest rates continue their decline to historic lows with 30 year conventional, fixed rates around 4 3/8% and 15 year at around 4%.  FHA has also eased requirements.

 Right now is the perfect storm for home buyers. Historic low interest rates, extremely low home prices and motivated sellers. Buyers who can buy right NOW have an incredible opportunity!

If you would like information on how you can now purchase a home and take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity, please contact me - I'm here to help!

 

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