Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bits of News from Around Real Estate

Thank you to National Mortgage News for these important updates!

Real estate agents are stepping up pressure on mortgage servicers to reform the short sale process.

In early March, the California Association of Realtors began placing full-page ads in seven California
newspapers calling for servicers and regulators to make changes to the short sale process, such as requiring banks  to respond promptly to short sale offers.

"Horror stories abound from potential homebuyers and realtors forced to wait 90 or more days for a response to a purchase offer or being required to fax short sale applications or other paperwork as many as 50 times, " said Beth Peerce, the president of the California Realtors group, in an open letter to consumers. "These delays discourage potential homebuyers from considering a short sale purchase and undermine the process for those who short sales are intended to benefit — the hundreds of thousands of families facing foreclosure."

In January the Realtor group created a task force to investigate why there are three different versions of
the government's Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program, which was designed to encourage short sales.

In a short sale, the home is sold for less than the amount owed on the mortgage and the lender accepts a
discounted payoff rather than incur the cost of foreclosure.

Will the New QRM Rule Push More Borrowers into Non-QRM Loans?
Lewis Ranieri, the co-inventor of the MBS, on Wednesday predicted that the new 'qualified residential mortgage' rule will push more borrowers into non-QRM loans who would normally qualify for a Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac product. 

The proposed risk retention rule exempts GSE guaranteed loans from risk retention — for now.  But government officials — members of the GOP in particular — want to wind down Fannie and Freddie because of how much they have cost the government ($142 billion and counting).

Ranieri told reporters the QRM definition will complicate the withdrawal of the government's guarantee from the mortgage market.  "So much of the market becomes non-QRM eligible that the ability to withdraw the government is just that much more difficult and that much more stretched out," he said during a press briefing sponsored by home builders and consumer groups.

To see more on this and other topics, please visit National Mortgage News

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Buying a Home With Resale Value

Location – Local Community, Town or City

Before you can actually pick out a house, you need to choose what cities or communities you would like to live in. There are many factors you should pay attention to, not only for yourself, but because you intend to eventually sell the home to someone else. Carefully choosing your community is the first step in "location, location, location" and can help maximize your future potential resale value.

Economic Stability

When choosing a community for your purchase, it makes the most sense to buy in a city with a viable and stable economy. Five, ten, or even fifteen years from now – when you want to sell your home – you can have a reasonable expectation that your community will still be a desirable place to live.

In addition to residential neighborhoods, there should be a healthy mixture of commercial and business districts. These not only provide jobs to the local residents, but also add an income source that the city can use to upgrade and maintain roads and city services.

In fact, you should take a drive and see how well the community is maintained. You have probably heard of "pride of ownership" when referring to an individual home or an automobile. Look to live in a city that demonstrates community pride, as well.

Local Government Services

In addition to community pride, check on the services provided by local government. One example would be the local library system. Are there several library branches? Do they stock a good selection of books, including recent best sellers?

You should also look into local crime statistics and see how the city compares to the national average and other local communities. Is the police force effective and responsive to community needs? Are fire stations located strategically around the community so that they also can respond quickly in an emergency?

Another area of inquiry is community services. Does the city sponsor youth sports and have well maintained athletic facilities and parks? Do they sponsor community events, such as an annual parade? Are there activities available for children, teenagers and senior citizens?

Your local agent, if they are a good one, will have amassed a wealth of information on these subjects of inquiry. It is also another reason to always use a local agent.


Even if you do not have school-age children and do not intend to have children, you must pay attention to the local school system. That is because when you sell the property, many of your potential buyers will have concerns of this nature.

You will want to know if the local schools are overcrowded. Take a drive around and see if there are auxiliary trailers outside the local schools. Call up the local school district and see if elementary aged children always attend the school closest to their home. If not, ask why. Are there enough schools to support the local population? If not, are there plans to build new schools? How will building new schools affect local property taxes?

You should also check to see how local students score on the standardized tests. You can ask your agent about these things, but you should also get the local phone numbers so you can ask yourself.

There are also school reports available for free on the Internet.

Property Taxes

Property taxes may be higher in one town than another nearby city. This can sometimes affect whether potential homebuyers view a community as a desirable place to live. Often, they will choose not to purchase in a community with higher taxes, though this decision is not always justified. Higher property taxes often mean newer and more modern schools, well-maintained roads, and bountiful community services.

In addition, you will often find that the "cost per square foot" of homes is lower in cities that have higher property taxes. This means you can buy a bigger house for less money. Since the mortgage payment may be lower, but the property taxes a bit higher, the monthly housing costs may be approximately the same in each city.

However, many agents and prospective buyers have a bias against a community with higher property taxes. If resale value is important to you, make property taxes a consideration when choosing the location of your new home.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sharing Altos Real-Time Housing Report

Today will be short and sweet - I ran across this neat report from Altos - a 20 city composite price report that shows a bit of improvement from a national standpoint.  Felt like sharing.


This big highlight from our March 2011 Real-time Housing Market Report (available for download here):
While the headline pricing metric 90-day rolling average still shows monthly declines, week-over-week data are beginning to show signs of improvement, indicating a good start to what is, typically, the strongest sales period of the calendar year.
Here’s what we mean –

Friday, March 25, 2011

Switching to a More Positive Mindset for your Real Estate Business

Yesterday we revealed "The Big Mistake" is that too many realtors are focusing their thoughts on outward circumstances, like the economy, to determine their mindset. If the economy is down, they are down.

Today we dive deeper into "The Solution" - applying some teachings from Steven Covey to real estate.

So, if the mindset is the problem, then how do you switch to a more positive mindset?

1. Commit to building a “prosperity” mindset.
A “prosperity” mindset is not something you are born with, it's not in your genes; it’s something that you develop through practice. Think of it as a muscle that you exercise. The more you exercise it, the stronger that muscle becomes.

It's the same with “prosperity” mindset. Successful people have one thing in common – they believe in their own success and their ability to attract money into their life. They look for opportunities and find them... everywhere. Why? Because they had an internal prosperity consciousness and they focused on that state, instead of looking at external conditions.

2. Adopt the beliefs of success.
It's easy to adopt a successful mindset - it's just a shift in focus from scarcity to prosperity. The way you make that shift is to have a set of beliefs that are congruent and prosperous thinking. For example, Walt Disney once said, “All of our dreams come true if we have the courage to pursue them.”

Here are the beliefs of successful people:
  • Change is to be embraced because it represents more opportunity for growth and expansion.
  •  Determine what you want, and assume you'll get it. Don't worry about the ‘how’.
  • There is an answer and solution to every challenge.
  • Discomfort is part of charting the unknown.
  • Obstacles will not stop them from attaining what they want.
  • Money needs to flow in order to grow.
You'll notice that if you practice the beliefs above, you will experience positive emotions that expand the flow of energy to your business.

3. Be clear on what you want.
How can the universe give you what you want unless you are clear about what you want? A challenge for you here is to break the “want” barrier. Accept the fact that it is not only appropriate and proper, but critical, for you to want anything, of any kind, to any degree.

The main thing is to be clear about what you want for your business. I hear too many people saying, “I want to be successful” without even knowing what success means to them. I suggest visualizing your ideal professional life in 12 months from today. See yourself doing work you love and noticing approximately how many hours a week you're working. Ask yourself what kind of people you want to be interacting with. Who are your ideal clients? Are they motivated, decisive and respectful of you and your service to them? What is your income in 12 months from today? How much are you making per year or per month?

4. Clear away any opposing beliefs.
When you think about your ideal professional life, what beliefs do have that are opposing your vision? Here are some beliefs that I hear on a continual basis when people are honest with me about discussing their blocks to success:
“I like doing my work, I'm just not good at marketing.” (Remember, it's only a belief.)

“I'm really not smart enough or energetic enough to achieve what I want.” (Remember, it's only a belief.)

“The real estate market is so tough right now that I can't possibly make the income I was hoping for.” (Remember, it's only a belief.)

5. Take inspired action not frantic action.
What kind of action are you taking? Are you taking action because you're afraid? If you are, your action may be frantic action rather than inspired action.

What is inspired action? Inspired action comes from your intuition and listening to your gut instincts. You follow your heart, you follow your hunches; you don't wait for someone to hand you a formula because there is none.

You will know if you’re taking inspired action by the way you feel by the results you are getting. You’ll be feeling relaxed and confident and the results that you will be getting will be one or more of the following:
  • Increased clientel
  • Increased income
  • Increased passion for your work
As a review, remember to avoid THE BIG MISTAKE by being conscious of what you focus on.
Don’t let the outer conditions determine your mindset. Keep a mindset of prosperity and practice the beliefs of successful people. Keep remembering to expand the flow of energy to your business, whatever the market is doing.

When times seem tough, it is especially important to stay away from a scarcity mindset. Instead, go within and look for the opportunities for new ways to market yourself from a prosperity mindset.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Attracting Your Ideal Client: Avoiding the Biggest Mistake Most Agents Make

The Big Mistake: “The market is so slow and I don't even know where my next sale is coming from.”

How often have you heard someone say that when business is down and the economy is questionable? It seems logical, doesn't it, to tighten your purse strings?

“What! Are you suggesting that I should invest in my business now?”

Even though it seems logical to tighten up and constrict spending, it is actually based on a “scarcity” mindset. In a scarcity mindset you focus on lack in your business, and on lack in outer conditions and the market.
The result is a constriction in the flow of energy to your business.

In fact, when you focus your thoughts on lack in your business, you have a problem even before you begin. Hence, THE BIG MISTAKE.

Are you constricting the flow of energy to your business? Here are some signs to watch out for:

1. What are your thoughts?
  • I don't have enough clients
  • My competitors are stealing business
  • I can't succeed in today's market
Here's an example that contains a scarcity mindset:
“There are so many new agents entering the business there isn't enough business to go around. Maybe I should just get a real job.”  Have you ever had that thought?

2. What emotions do you experience?
  • Fear
  • Stress
  • Struggle
  • Anxiety
  • Worry
Any of the thoughts above are likely to create the emotions of worry, fear and doubt.

You find yourself dwelling in these negative feelings that will prevent you from attracting to your business and the very things you desire, such as more clients and more income. Your thoughts create your reality. Therefore, if you focus on what you don't want, like the lack of money, you'll get more of that.

3. Actions
When you're stuck in a scarcity mindset, not only does it affect your thoughts and feelings, but also your actions. For example, “I was going to take the weekend off, but now I better not. Business is slow and I don't want to miss a call from a prospective client.”

Do you see how this is a scarcity mindset? What is the person missing out on? If you said “self-care and self maintenance”, then you are right. This is one of the actions that goes by the wayside when you're focusing on scarcity. You're simply afraid that you won't have enough so you ignore the importance of taking care of yourself.

So what is the REAL big mistake?
The big mistake is that you are focusing your thoughts on outward circumstances, like the economy, to determine your mindset. If the economy is down you are down.

Stephen Covey calls this the “reactive” mindset. You believe that you are acted upon, rather than being “proactive” and there is a constriction of energy to your business.

When you are proactive, you don't focus on what the economy or the market is doing, you are coming from an internal state of prosperity consciousness. You don't look to outer conditions to determine your state of mind, you determine your own state of mind by your thoughts, emotions and actions. In essence you create the mindset of being the deliberate creator of your life.

The solution:
If the mindset is the problem, then how do you switch to a more positive mindset?
Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of this three part series. Until then, make it a great day!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who is Your Ideal Client?

Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you had the power to attract only those clients that you really love to work with?

Imagine the joy and satisfaction you’d feel getting up in the morning knowing that your day would be filled with people you like to be around!

What feeling does that give you that you didn’t have before?

Four Steps to Attracting your Ideal Client

Step #1 - Knowing who’s right

Have you clearly defined the qualities of your ideal clients? In working with a lot of people and agents over the last 13 years, I have found that most are fuzzy when it comes to really knowing who they desire to work with. 
To assist you in doing this, think back at some wonderful people you had the pleasure of doing business with. What did you like about them? Most of my real estate agents I work with report the same qualities: someone who is positive, committed, motivated, educated, and responsible and just a joy to be around. How good are you at attracting these clients?

Step #2 - Avoiding Who’s Wrong

How do you know who is the wrong client for you? Just start by listening to your body. Your body always tells the truth. Do you feel relaxed around this person or tense? How is your breathing? If you tend to hold your breath around this person, your body is telling you to beware. If you want to avoid contacting this person, even thought it’s essential, again you’re being given a signal.

Step #3 - Get in Front of Your Ideal Clients

Once you know the characteristics of who you want to work with, find ways to meet them and connect with them. Where do they hang out? Do they go to certain health clubs in your area? Then go to those clubs. Do they belong to certain community service organizations? Join them.

Remember, before people will do business with you, they need to KNOW, LIKE and TRUST you.

So follow your basic word of mouth strategies to be in contact with them. Remember they are your target market now, so you need to join the networking organizations they belong to, speak at places where they will be listening, write articles that they will read and form cross referral relationships with other professionals that work with them.

Step #4 - Use the Power of the Law of Attraction:

The Law of Attraction is simple. It basically says to put out the energy that you want to attract back. It’s based on the idea that “like attracts like”. So guess what? If you want to attract your ideal client, you need to express the qualities that they express. So, if you’re ideal client is positive, motivated, committed, educated and a joy to be around, practice being that. Not only will you have fun in the process, but you’ll become a magnet for your ideal clients.

You need to consider who you really enjoy working with. Did you like the guy that was always playing pranks on you and making you out to be an idiot? Or do you like working with someone that is strictly business and wants no personal connection after the deal is done?

Decide the type of personality you want to work with and in my next post we’ll dig a little deeper. 

Until then… make it a great day!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Help your Clients Understand How to Lock in Historically Low Mortgage Rate

Realtors, you know that helping your clients find the perfect home is only part of the equation.  But do they?

Recommending an experienced lender who you both can trust will find the right financial solution to protect their biggest investment, is critical. Please copy this article and present to your buying clients at the beginning of the shopping cycle. This will give us/them the time needed to get them pre-qualified, and even lock in a rate for up to 60 days while they shop.  They will thank you for the quality recommendation and for for thinking of their best interests.

Which Length is best for me - a 15 or 30 year mortgage?

From the Desk of Christopher Murray, CRMS. 
Mortgage Consultant - Lic #105453.  Tel: 919-676-1111
One of only 20 loan officers in North Carolina to hold a CRMS certification, Triangle native Chris Murray understands what it means to be your loan officer for life.

With current mortgage rates continuing along at historic lows, it may seem hard to decide whether to take out a 15-year or a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage if you're planning to purchase a home.

Let's use our 15-year or 30-year fixed-rate mortgage calculator to demonstrate how we can assist you in making that determination.

The first step is to find the lowest current mortgage rates.  One call I will be helping you locate the lowest rates on a 15-year and a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for your specific region of the country.

Once we find those rates, the mortgage calculator will walk us through the process of determining how much you'll spend -- and how much you'll save -- if you opt for a 15-year or a 30-year mortgage.

Higher payment, Big savings.

For example, a borrower who wants to borrow $200,000 and can get a 15-year mortgage at an interest rate of 3.73 percent will pay $1,452 each month.

Meanwhile, a 30-year mortgage at a 4.24 percent interest rate will yield a monthly payment of $983.

Although the difference in monthly payments is steep, the savings are impressive in the long run.
Over the course of the 15-year mortgage, the homeowner would pay $61,443 in interest.

In contrast, over the course of a 30-year mortgage, the borrower would pay interest of $153,775.

The calculator asks other questions to help you make the best decision for your own personal situation.
For example, the prospective buyer will be asked:

    * How long until retirement?
    * How tight is the monthly budget?
    * How much has been accumulated in savings?
    * What's the annual contribution to the borrower's retirement plan?

Using that information, the mortgage calculator makes an in-depth recommendation.

It includes the pros and cons of each option and takes the current mortgage rates for 15-year and 30-year fixed-rate loans into account.

Learn More
Call Chris Murray today at 919-676-1111 for a complimentary review of your personal situation.  Please tell him you are working with me!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Advantages and Disadvantages of Second Mortgages

A second mortgage is a loan taken out against the value of your property, in addition to your primary mortgage. These loans can offer great benefits, but they certainly come attached with some large risks as well.

Because second mortgages are based on the amount of equity built up in the home, they can allow homeowners to borrow a large sum of cash with the flexibility to use it for any purpose. Credit cards and personal bank loans are typically smaller and more limited in scope. Many people use second home loans for things like debt consolidation, home improvement, avoiding private mortgage insurance (PMI), paying for college tuition or investing in other properties. Other loans usually just aren’t big enough to cover these types of expenses.
Another advantage of these home loans is that they are considered safer by lenders than other types because they are secured by the house. In other words, banks will actually get something back if you default on the loan. This means borrowers will generally score much lower interest rates on second mortgages than on unsecured loans or credit cards.

And there are tax benefits of using second home loans compared with other sources. The interest from a second mortgage is tax deductible, unlike the interest from a credit card balance, for instance.

Even though banks consider second mortgages “safer,” there are still some major drawbacks involved with borrowing more money against a house. The most significant of these is that second loans are risky. If the homeowner is unable to repay the loan at some point, he risks losing his house to foreclosure and in turn ruining his credit. The risk of foreclosure does not exist with other unsecured loans. This danger of a second loan should make borrowers seriously consider whether or not they really need the large loan.

Second loans require fees and closing costs, just like first mortgages. You may also be required to pay points (one point is equal to one percent of the loan value) which could make the loan less attractive.

And while second mortgage rates are better than credit card rates, they are still higher than first mortgage loans. This is because the first mortgage takes precedence over the second in terms of repayment in the case of default.

In Summary
Second mortgages can be a great way to access lower cost funding for certain major financial ventures, as long as borrowers do not overreach by taking out more money than they can comfortably afford to repay.

If you have a client who needs to further explore their buying power before they offer their bid on a new home, please have them contact me today. Together we can explore the right option for them and help them attain Pre-Approval Status during their new home search.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Final Day in Staging Week: A Curb Appeal Checklist

Creating Curb Appeal:  A Home Seller's Checklist

Creating curb appeal in the front yard

  1. The front entry should be clean, welcoming and clutter-free.  Remove the line of small pots (you know, the ones with the dead plants) and make space on the steps. 
  2. Update the hardware on the front door and make sure it opens smoothly. 
  3. Repair cracked steps, aging fences, or drooping woodwork.
  4. Update dated lighting fixtures, house numbers and mailboxes.
  5. Are your trees or bushes hiding your home?  Hire a professional landscaper to trim -- it can make your home look larger and more welcoming.
  6. Plant beautiful and colorful flowers throughout your yard.  Add a few hanging potted plants or flower boxes to liven up the windows.
  7. Consider repainting the house or at least the trim and front door.

Tackle the back yard, too

Professional home stagers won’t stop at the front lawn, acknowledging that nowadays people are spending more and more time outdoors.  Styling an outdoor setting creates a powerful reaction in buyers. They can picture themselves having dinner with family and friends and relaxing.
  1. Create a focal point in the backyard (the pool area, the BBQ area).
  2. Stage an outdoor table setting and place seasonal potted plants around this
  3. Don't forget other outdoor spaces like balconies and terraces.

Things to do before an open house or showing:

  • Sweep away any dead leaves, spiderwebs, or wilting flowers.
  • Prune shrubs and plants.
  • Sprinkle the lawn and garden area minutes before the open house.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Staging Week: Bedroom Design Ideas for Home Sellers

When staging a home for sale, many sellers forget about the bedrooms.  But bedroom design and layout is nearly important as every other room in the home. 

The good news is that, given the simplicity of most bedrooms, they are fairly easy to stage effectively.

Before you stage the bedrooms of your home you need to adopt the mindset of the average home buyer. When entering the bedroom, potential buyers are looking for one quality above all else — comfort. So apply that knowledge to your bedroom design ideas before you list your home for sale.

Staging Bedrooms - Simple & Straightforward

Bedroom StagingHere's the good news. It's fairly simple to stage a bedroom before listing your home, because most bedrooms have only limited furniture in them. So home staging in a bedroom will normally involve the simple tasks of painting, furniture arrangement and some light decor.

Keep these keywords in mind when staging your bedrooms — neutral, comfortable and spacious. Neutral refers to the color scheme and decorations. Comfortable and spacious are self-explanatory.

When coming up with bedroom design ideas to help sell the home, remember those three things. Neutral. Comfortable. Spacious.
Here are some specific home staging tips for the bedrooms.
  • You can make the bedrooms seem larger by reducing the amount of furniture to the bare essentials. This includes a bed, a dresser, and maybe a couple of small items. Anything you add beyond that will make the room seem smaller.
  • Use soft, neutral colors with all of your bedroom design elements. A bedroom should be tranquil and subtle, not loud or bright. The earth-tone family of colors is always a safe bet that will appeal to most potential buyers. Beiges, creams and soft browns work well too.
  • Make the closets seem larger by emptying them of 80% of the clothing items. You have to pack your clothes soon anyway, so why not get a head start on it during your home staging process?
  • If your bedding is a little on the plain side (or just plain old), invest in some new and luxurious bedding — comforter, sheets, accent pillows, etc. You will obviously take them with you when you move, but they will improve the bedroom design while the home is on the market.
  • Remove all of your personal items from the bedroom. Photos are the main culprits here. Remember, the goal is to allow potential buyers to see themselves in the home. They can't do that if they see you and your family in the room.

Design Those Bedrooms to Sell

Do you remember your three keywords for bedroom staging? Say them with me now. Neutral, comfortable and spacious. Keep these concepts in mind when implementing bedroom design ideas before listing the home.

Make the space seem larger by reducing the amount of furniture. Do the same in the closet by removing 80% of the clothes. Neutralize the bedroom color scheme and add a little bit of "controlled color" with accessories like pillows. Make your bedrooms relaxing and tranquil.

I hope you've enjoyed this guide to home staging in the bedroom area, and I hope it helps you come up with plenty of great bedroom design ideas for your listing clients.  Good luck!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Staging a House: What 99% of Homeowners Don't Do

When you decide to sell your home, it's really no longer your home; it's a house, a commodity for sale. It's competing with the other houses in your neighborhood, and if you want the best price, you need to show it in its best light. 

But 99% of sellers still treat their house as a home. As a result, their houses usually take longer to sell and put less money in their pockets.  That's where staging comes in.

Staging a house - what does it mean?

Many homeowners know they should declutter, but staging a house involves much more than packing up and tossing extra "stuff."

Staging is a production, and the staging expert is the director.  The house is being staged to look like a model home: cozy, comfortable, colorful and inviting, with a personalized look to make it stand out from the rest of the other houses on the market.

Staging isn't just decorating.  It's choosing the right props, moving or getting rid of furniture that makes the space look smaller, and creating focal points in main living areas.

Visit a new development and walk through the model.  You can picture yourself living there, right?  You should say, 'Wow!" You see yourself, your family, your friends lounging in the living room, watching TV, sitting around the candlelit dinner table.  You imagine relaxing in the yard, the bathtub, the gorgeous master bedroom.

You leave with a positive impression created by properly placed furniture, color-coordinated accessories, beautiful rich linens and table settings -- everything evoking a cozy, inviting feeling.

This reaction is the holy grail in staging a house.  Be sure to visit us tomorrow for more suggestions on a room by room basis.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Staging Week: The Kitchen

Welcome to Staging Week!  I have enlisted the help of a few area realtors to put together some advice that you can pass along to your listing clients.  All week long we will be covering the most important rooms to stage.  Enjoy, and be sure to check back daily for a new room!

When selling a home, the kitchen is an area of vital importance. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, kitchens have a lot to do with a home's resale value, so a potential buyer should be able to see value in this area of the home.

Secondly, people generally spend a lot of time in the kitchen. If you've ever been to a party where everyone stood around the kitchen island chatting, you know what I mean! This is why kitchen design and staging are so important when selling a home.

And when you get these things right, you greatly increase your chances of selling the home quickly, and for the best possible price.

The question is, where do you start? Which kitchen design ideas should you focus on when staging your home for sale? Here are some things you can do in the kitchen to wow potential home buyers.

How to Stage a Kitchen

  • Clean your kitchen like the sale of your home depends on it, because it does. Pay extra attention to the sink, counters, stove, etc. Kitchen design is certainly important when selling a home, but cleanliness is also a must. When you stage your kitchen for a home sale, use the motto "clean and bright" as your guide.
  • Spend some extra time de-cluttering. Of all the rooms in a home, the kitchen in particular has a way of attracting clutter. Countertop appliances, coffee pots and mugs, utensil holders, baskets for bills and mail, knick knacks ... these things must be moved out of sight. Don't let clutter detract from the other kitchen design ideas you've implemented.
  • Consider making upgrades to the kitchen if necessary. In a buyer's market, you should go beyond basic cleaning and actually upgrade some of the kitchen's features. Tour some model homes (or view them online) to get an idea of current trends.
  • Turn the lights on and open the curtains to showcase the sparkle. Shed some light on the subject. If you have dark areas of your kitchen, you might even consider adding supplemental lighting, such as recessed lighting around the edges. Remember your kitchen staging motto — clean and bright.
  • If your cabinets and counters are outdated or ugly, upgrading them could make a big difference in resale value. If it doesn't make sense to pour extra money into cabinetry (based on your local real estate market), you might try staining the cabinets. This can make a big improvement at a fraction of the cost.
Remember, people spend a lot of time in their kitchens, and most people realize that they are a resale value item of importance. If you spend some extra time or money anywhere while staging your home for sale, the kitchen is probably the place to do it.

The Cost of Kitchen Design & Staging

Home staging is a balance between cost and results. Sure, you want to improve your home in a way that makes it sell quicker. But you don't want to spend too much money doing it either.

This is where it pays to understand the type of real estate market you're in. For example, if you're in a buyer's market, you will have to go the extra mile to sell the home. On the other hand, if you're in a seller's market, you can get away with doing less.

This is the general rule with home staging expenses. But what about kitchens in particular? Of all the rooms in your home to put money into when selling the home, the kitchen should be at the top of the list. Investments in kitchen design and improvement typically contribute more toward resale value than improvements in the rest of the home.

In other words, an investment in kitchen design is almost always a smart investment!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Staging Week: The Living Room

Welcome to Staging Week!  I have enlisted the help of a few area realtors to put together some advice that you can pass along to your listing clients.  All week long we will be covering the most important rooms to stage.  Enjoy, and be sure to check back daily for a new room!

The Living Room

Homeowners spend a lot of time in the family room / living room areas of their homes. This is even more true when they have children. Often, the living room will also serve as "Entertainment Central" when company comes to visit.

These are important things to keep in mind when staging your home and applying living room design concepts.
Living RoomSo when potential home buyers walk through the living room area of your home, they should be able to see themselves engaging in these two activities — spending time as a family and entertaining guests. Stage and design the living room area with this in mind.

Make the living room warm and inviting. Design and arrange the room in a way that maximizes space and makes it conducive to conversation / entertaining.

So how do you go about this? What specific living room design ideas should you put in place to achieve home staging success in this space? Here are some specific tips to help you stage this key area of your home.

Tips for Staging the Living Room

  • Arrange the room in a conversational way, if it's not arranged like that already. A living room design and layout should be conducive to group conversation and family interaction. Experiment with different arrangements until you get it right.
  • Let the living room breathe. If it's hard to walk through because of furniture size and/or arrangement, remove some items and place them in storage.
  • Purge the living room of family photos and other items that say "you don't live here" to potential buyers. Design and stage the living room so that other people can see themselves in it.
  • If your living room furniture consists of a cheap table with wobbly legs and your couch from college days, replace them with some nice rental pieces.
  • If the furniture is worn or stained, but otherwise intact, invest in some nice-looking slip covers. This is a low-cost way to enhance the appearance of older chairs and couches. Slip covers can also help you neutralize "loud" fabric colors.
  • If you have a mantle in the living room area, clear it of most items (such as family photos and knick knacks) and leave only a decorative vase or flower arrangement.

    Conclusion and Summary

    Why bother with living room design and staging?

    Because it can help you sell your home faster, and is thus a crucial part of home staging in general. Remember, home buyers want to see a living room area that is open and inviting ... a space that is conducive to conversation and interaction. Stage and design your living room with this in mind.

    Arrange furniture for the best possible flow. Make the room airy and bright. Replace oversized furniture with nice-looking smaller pieces to "enlarge" the space. Replace or cover worn furniture as needed. When buyers walk through the room, they should want to sit down and spend time in it. If that happens, you know you've achieved your home-staging goals!

    Good luck with your living room design and your home staging project!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Let's Talk Staging

Staging can be the difference between whether a home sells or sits on the market. 

It's crazy. Every realtor agrees - get rid of the clutter.  But I don't know how many realtors I've talked to that are timid when it comes to staging.  They mention it would be wise, but they don't enforce de-cluttering to avoid upsetting the clients.

First, presented the right way, enforcing the de-cluttering rule should only solidify your role as their agent. It will add credibility and speak volumes to your level of professionalism.   Tell stories of other clients who de-cluttered and sold quicker, versus those who chose not to...

Second, your seller needs to understand that when potential buyers see the home pictures online - they can't see past the excessive decorations, plants, knick-knacks, ie. clutter.  The home never gets a showing scheduled because 95% of people cannot envision what their things would look like, they can't see the rooms or the house - all they see is the sellers clutter.

Offer a test in one room during your listing appointment.  De-clutter the kitchen counters, being sure to take before and after photos.  The beauty of digital cameras and today's phones is that you can SHOW them the Before and After and ask, "If you were a buyer, which picture invites you to see this as your kitchen?"  9 of 10 will pick the un-cluttered look.  People are visual - only when they see it will the begin to believe it.

As a Realtor, you have a good idea of what will help a home move faster, so go ahead and share it with your clients as well as some public places - such as the  Staging Diva, Curb Appeal Concepts Staging.

Again, give before and after pics of homes that have been staged and explicitly say what works and what doesn’t. These can be great enduring posts that you can refer your sellers to time and again - the online presence adds to your credibility and increases the chances the sellers will heed your advice.

Join us Monday and everyday next week for more staging ideas as we go room to room with simple staging tips you can pass along to your listing clients (or your professional stager if you have one!)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We Need A Little Humor...Craziest Laws In North Carolina

The market still has us asking some pretty serious questions.  And I expect it will continue for quite some time.  So, as the world continues to change and bring us new challenges (and new opportunities) every day,  today we are going to (attempt to) bring some humor into your lives. 
Go ahead, allow yourself to sit back, relax for five minutes, have a little bit of fun and share some laughs. 
Today we review…The Craziest Laws in North Carolina
Some of these laws date waaaaay back, and therefore are  most likely not enforced but are none-the-less, still “on the books.”
  1. Because people were using them for cheap furniture, it's now illegal in North Carolina to take and sell labeled milk crates.
  2. Elephants may not be used to plow cotton fields.
  3. Fights between cats and dogs are prohibited.
  4. The good people of Tryon, N.C., are serious about getting a good night's sleep. It's against the law for anyone to keep "fowl that shall cackle," or for anyone to play the piccolo between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.
  5. In Forest City: You must stop and call City Hall before entering town in an automobile. This is so the townspeople will have time to go out and hold their horses until you get through town.
  6. In Charlotte: Women must have their bodies covered by at least 16 yards of cloth at all times.
  7. In Greensboro: Restaurants "with on sidewalk dining" must post their menu so that it is clearly readable from the sidewalk, but is not readable from the street.
  8. In Asheville, North Carolina, it is illegal to sneeze on city streets.
  9. In Raleigh, North Carolina, before a man asks for a woman's hand in marriage, he must be "inspected by all the barnyard animals on the young woman's family's property, to ensure a harmonious farm life."
  10. In Forest City, N.C., it's illegal to bring a pea-shooter to a parade. It's also illegal to shoot paper clips with rubber bands.
  11. In Mooresville, N.C., it's illegal to attach anything to a pool table.
  12. In Nags Head North Carolina you can be fined for singing out of tune for more than ninety seconds.
  13. In Rockwell, N.C., anyone who violates the terms of a proclamation--such as failing to appropriately celebrate Peanut Day or Jaycees Week--is guilty of a misdemeanor.
  14. In North Carolina it's illegal to dig ginseng on other people's property between the months of April and September, according to an 1866 law.
  15. In North Carolina it's illegal to sell cotton lint at night.
  16. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, it is against the law for children under seven years of age to go to college.
  17. In Robbins, N.C., anyone who refuses to black out after hearing the blackout signal is subject to a $5 fine.
  18. In Kill Devil Hills: You may not ride a bicycle without having both your hands on the handle bars.
  19. In Rocky Mount: It is required that you must pay a property tax on your dog.

    PS.  Valerie - I will be returning that ginseng i dug up from your backyard last September after reading #14. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What Is A QR Code and Do Realtors Need To Know?

What is a QR Code ?

Some of you have have been reading this blog for a while know that I’ve written a version of this a while back.  However, a realtor I am working with just asked me this yesterday, "how can I use QR Codes as a new marketing tool?"

Thus, I feel the need to revisit what it is and for whom it can be useful.
A QR (Quick Response) code is define by Google Dictionary as:
A QR Code is a matrix code (or two-dimensional bar code) created by Japanese corporation Denso-Wave in 1994. The “QR” is derived from “Quick Response”, as the creator intended the code to allow its contents to be decoded at high speed.
OK, that was the boring version. 

In short it’s a UPC type code that sends your mobile device’s browser to a specific website, say a website for your listing.   BTW:  It’s FREE!

Practical Application for Realtors

I think there are obvious benefits to this technology in reaching a culture of buyers and impressing a number sellers.  Consider these options:
  • Print the QR Code on half of an 8×11 and put it your For Sale sign with contact paper.  Better yet, order unique signs with interior pictures of your home, with the QR code.  (Check with Broker and Franchise agreements for limitations.  Don’t forget state required disclosures.)
  • Put the QR code on the labels that you’re using for the CD’s you leave at the home; or the cover of the Homebook.
  • Add to posters outside of your office windows with QR code linking to your IDX listings.
  • Add to the Widgets on your sidebar linked to webpages for each of your listings
  • Put up Posters (with permission) of business and in the Kiosks of your local Mall or Shopping Center
  • If you use car-wraps or windows lettering, considering placing it tastefully on your car.
  • Add to the back of your business cards
  • Get the picture?  Put it everywhere that you’d like to have people get to your webpage!
I know that some of you are overwhelmed with technology as it is, so if this isn’t your style, than don’t force it.  But it’s still essential that you know what your competitors are or will be using in the future.


Where Can I get QR Codes?

There are a large number of webpage where you can generate QR codes, but the easiest place I’ve seen is  It’s free, easy to use and allows you to gauge the size if you want to embed it on your webpage.

All you have to do is enter the URL (web address) that you want the mobile device to go to and hit “Generate” and BOOM, on to the left is the code.  Now, you can copy the HTML code at the bottom and embed it in your webpage.  That maybe a bit advance for some, so the other option is to use screen capture tools.

Your computer comes with a tool to create a .jpg picture file, for Macs hold Command-Shift-4, then select the code and you’re done.  For a Windows user, you’ll need to go to Start – Run and type “snip” in the “open” line. 

If this doesn’t work, you might not have the free tool from Microsoft and you can download it from their site for free.  It’s a useful tool, even if you aren’t using it for this particular technique.

snipOnce I have the .jpg file I can add it to my fliers, posters and even my For Sale Sign.   Yes, your For Sale signs.  Why?  Because it’s more trendy, relevant and easier than stuffing flier boxes once a week without any idea what’s happening to them.

How Do I Use It?

Now that you have this code,  your questions maybe is anyone using it and how are they?  Those are good questions, and like most technology it starts off with a few users who like the tool and then evangelize it.  In a recent trip to Chicago I saw a number of real estate offices that had posters in the front window that instructed the passer-by to use their mobile device to search for homes.  And yes, there were people pointing their phones at the posters and checking listings.  How much more powerful is it to give the consumer access to listings on their phone than a one-page flier for your one listing?

When the consumer gets their phone, most of us try to install all the tools that we think we’ll use.  For my Droid it’s an app called Barcode Scanner.  For Blackberry is the Kaywa Reader and iPhone it’s the (aptly named) QR App. These are just some examples.  There are many.

When you see a QR Code (the UPC looking thing, like at the top of the post), you’ll open the app and with the same steps of taking a picture on your phone, take a “picture”.  Each app acts differently but similarly.  In the case of the Droid App it looks like this:

Choose Barcode Scanner

Point the Mobile Device at the QR Code.  The device will scan the code and show the associated URL (web address).  Chose “Open Browser” and the device will go to the associated webpage.

Happy QR-coding Everyone.

Feel free to call me with any questions - I've been using QR codes for a year  now (mine is shown in this article) - it is super-easy and it works!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How Much Value Does a Basement Really Add?

The Hard Facts and Figures:
Finishing a basement added a national average of about $45,000 to the resale value of the home in 2010. Building an addition or buying a larger home cost about $150 to $200 a square foot, while finishing a basement cost $40 to $75 per square foot. 

In general, unfinished basements add between $10,000 to $20,000 in value, not much - according to appraisers I talked to.  Often, it is more emotional than dollars and cents.  If the buyers want a basement, unfinished will do versus the house with no basement at all...

In Raleigh, according to Remodeling Magazine - the average basement remodel cost was $55,337, was valued at $46,707 for re-sale, equaling 84% of costs recouped.  This is above the 74% national average.

You can find out the average cost and resale value for other remodeling jobs here.  Hope this helps!

Read More:  How the Appraiser Values the Basement

    Finished Room and Value

  1. When an appraiser considers value, finished space is worth more per square foot than unfinished space. Normally, there is a different value placed on above grade square footage and below grade square footage. Most appraisers will not consider a room finished unless it is heated. There are also different types of value. Your home is assessed for tax purposes. The value placed on your home to figure your property taxes is not necessarily the same value you could price your home for sale. Property tax assessments are not updated every year according to resale value. They may have a percentage built in to increase each year but it rarely correlates with the market.
  2. Professionally Finished Basements

  3. A professionally finished basement will definitely add value to your home. Professionally finished means the proper permits were obtained at the time of the improvement and the work was completed in a professional manner. The basement should be completed by a licensed contractor if the homeowners are not good at home improvements. This includes electric, plumbing, drywall and heat and air improvements. If you have a low ceiling you may not be able to obtain permits. If the reason you ceiling is low is due to heat duct work, you may be able to use a smaller duct system. Doors, trim and flooring should match the rest of the home. This type of improving will raise your value for resale and for property taxes. Depending on your cost of improvements, it may not result in a profit. However, it will improve your chances of selling your home quickly and you will enjoy the extra living area in the meantime.
  4. Unprofessionally Finished Basements

  5. A basement that is finished without obtaining permits or finished to match the rest of your home may be an enjoyable space but won't add much value to the home. An appraiser won't count the square footage as being finished and some buyers will not buy the home unless you obtain the proper permits. Some buyers will like the additional space but won't want to pay more for the home unless it is done correctly. The cost will always be more than the value in this case and if you want to get permits after the fact, you will probably be charged a fine on top of the cost of the permits. This means if you want to add value to your home, do it right or it could end up costing you money.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Do You Have a Buyer who may need Extra Help finding a Loan?

Sometimes good credit and a steady income are not enough to qualify for a home loan at a commercial lending institutions, such as your bank or savings and loan.  If you have buyers you are working with that are having problems finding a loan, perhaps a USDA Guaranteed Home Loan is worth checking into.

A USDA Guaranteed Home Loan is a Government insured home loan designed to meet the needs of those living in small communities and rural areas as well as many outlying metropolitan areas. These loans are offered only by authorized direct lenders that meet federal guidelines.  This program is administered by USDA Rural Development, which serves the public through more than 800 field offices nationwide.

USDA Home Loan applicants are often confused by the term "rural". USDA Rural Development defines a rural area as including open country and places with a population of 10,000 or less and towns and cities with a population between 10,000 and 25,000 residents. Don't allow this to make you apprehensive prior to investigating the areas that are considered eligible. There are allot of areas that are considered "rural" that are actually quite the opposite of that designation.   

Many families and individuals may be eligible to become homeowners with the help of a USDA guaranteed home loan. When the federal government agrees to guarantee a loan, lending institutions can help buyers while incurring less risk. Through USDA’s Guaranteed Rural Housing Loan Program, low and moderate income families can qualify for mortgages even without a down payment.
Why a USDA Guaranteed Loan?
NO Monthly Mortgage Insurance
30 Year Fixed Interest Rates
Minor Credit Problems May Be Waive

Want to learn more?  Contact me at info at and be sure to reference USDA Guaranteed Loan in your subject line. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

What Appraisers Look for When Appraising Your House

Appraisers assess homes based on various surprising factors.

Appraisers assess homes based on various surprising factors.Home appraisers determine the value of the house for tax purposes and for home selling purposes. Home appraisals are subjective opinions held by the appraisers based on various aspects of the home that the appraiser inspects. Property owners sometimes make changes to their homes to increase the property value and to earn a profit, but these changes do not always increase the selling value.


  1. Home appraisers look at the general appearance of the home, including how well you maintained your property. Before bringing in a home appraiser, perform repairs, clean up the home and do all necessary landscape work so that the appraiser is more likely to value the home higher.
  2. Housing Market

  3. How the appraiser values the home depends on the market value of various aspects of the home. The appraisers must keep up to date on popular home styles and the current market value of home additions such as swimming pools.
  4. Additions

  5. Appraisers partially appraise the home based on the size of the home. Appraisers do not take into consideration non-living space such as garages. However, garages can be added to the overall value of the home. They also calculate screened or covered porches separately. They assess the square footage of the home by examining the exterior of the home and estimating.
  6. Finished Basement

  7. Finished basements affect the value of the home based on government regulations and the quality of the basement finish. We will talk more about this on Monday - there is always a lot of confusion around basements and their value to a home.
  8. Permanent Fixtures

  9. Appraisers only include permanent fixtures when appraising a home. For example, an appraiser includes an in-ground swimming pool when appraising the home, but does not consider an above-ground swimming pool. Additions such as fireplaces improve the value of the home. However, these addition must be installed correctly. Dangerous fireplaces can detract from the value of the home.
  10. Footage

  11. Appraisers sometimes look at the exterior quality of the nearby homes and the general area when appraising the value of the home, but this depends on the appraiser. Also, the overall location of the home has an enormous effect on the value of the home. Homes in very safe neighborhoods with access to a lot of resources tend to have much higher appraisals.
  12. Number of Rooms

  13. The number of rooms in the home affects the value of the home. Homes with bathrooms and bedrooms have extra value, as the number of bathrooms and bedrooms increases the number of people who can live in the home. However, the increase in the value also depends on the typical number of bedrooms and bathrooms that the nearby houses have. Adding extra bedrooms and bathrooms in an area that doesn't normally have so many will not add very much value to the home.
  14. Property Size

  15. Appraisers consider the overall size of the property when appraising the property. Buyers often want larger property so that they have more space and the option of expanding the home.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Get Your Client's in a Mortgage Before the Door Shuts...

If you have clients who have been sitting on the fence trying to decide whether to buy a new house or refinance a mortgage, they should act soon. New loans are starting to get costlier.

(Article re-printed from the WSJ, February 26, 2011)

The mortgage market is facing pressures from new laws and regulations, still-declining home prices and the ongoing need for government-owned mortgage players to shore up their finances. The Mortgage Bankers Association predicts mortgage originations, which reached $3 trillion in 2005, will be less than $1 trillion this year, the lowest level since 1997.

"The price of mortgage money is going to go up, and the availability of mortgage money may also be impinged," says Keith Gumbinger, vice president at HSH Associates, which tracks mortgage data.
The silver lining is that the rate for a 30-year fixed loan is hovering around 5% for those with good credit. That is up about a percentage point from last year's lows but is still an attractive rate by historical standards, though expected to keep climbing as the economy improves.

Home prices in some areas are still falling, but they are bottoming out or firming up in others. It may not be the perfect time to buy a home—but better mortgage options today may be a worthy trade-off to the possibility of lower prices tomorrow.

Still not convinced? Consider the following:

• New costs.Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which provide liquidity to the mortgage market by buying mortgages and selling securities backed by them, are adding new fees to loans to people with the best credit and raising existing loan fees. Freddie's new fees start March 1, while Fannie's kick in April 1.

Neither Fannie nor Freddie have been assessing fees on most loans for borrowers with credit scores above 720, even if the down payment was small. But citing a need to address risk and price their services appropriately, they will assess a fee of 0.25% to 0.5% of the loan value on borrowers with credit scores of 720 or higher who put down less than 25% of the purchase amount. The current fee for those with credit scores of 700 to 719 who put down less than 20% of the purchase price will double to a full percentage point of the loan value from half a point.

Brokers expect the higher fees will translate into slightly higher mortgage rates.

In addition, the Federal Housing Administration, saying it needs to bolster its capital reserves, is raising its required annual mortgage-insurance premium for FHA loans by 0.25% of the loan value. As a result, FHA loans—which are aimed at first-time home buyers and those with moderate incomes—will include an upfront mortgage insurance payment of 1% of the loan amount and an annual premium of 1.1% to 1.15% when the increase goes into effect on April 18.

For regular loans, private mortgage insurance—which is required when you put down less than 20% of the home's value—is tougher to get than it once was. Generally, it is available only for buyers who make a down payment of at least 5% and have a credit score of 700 or higher.

• Dodd-Frank fallout. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established by the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul, opens its doors for business in July and is expected to take a close look at how interest rates and closing costs are disclosed to borrowers. That could create new costs that lenders are likely to pass along to consumers. In addition, a Federal Reserve rule that takes effect April 18 will change how mortgage brokers are paid, a move intended to curb practices such as steering home buyers to higher-cost loans.

The new rules, which limit the kinds of compensation brokers can receive, have brokers in a tizzy. The brokers claim the changes will raise mortgage costs and put some of them out of business, shrinking the market. How it will play out isn't clear, but given both the changes and the Fannie and Freddie pricing, mortgage prices may vary more than usual, say those in the industry—making it wise for borrowers to shop for rates even more aggressively.

• More restrictions. Earlier this month, the Obama administration proposed a wide-ranging overhaul of the mortgage market, including phasing out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, requiring a down payment of at least 10% and reducing the share of FHA loans, which are almost 30% of the market now, up from a historical market share of 10% to 15%.

In addition, the administration recommended letting Fannie and Freddie loan limits for high-cost areas fall back to $625,500. The limits were temporarily increased to $729,750 in 2008 when the market for "jumbo" loans—those above the loan limits—all but disappeared, and that increase is now scheduled to expire Sept. 30. (The $417,000 loan limit for homes in most other markets would remain the same.)

What those proposals will mean depends on where you live. In Manhattan, where the average home price is still around $1 million, a drop in the loan limit means more buyers will need jumbo mortgages, says Melissa Cohn, CEO of Manhattan Mortgage Co. Those currently have rates that are about half a percentage point higher than conventional loans.

Richard Peek, president of the Florida Association of Mortgage Professionals, says much of his business right now is in FHA loans, which allow down payments of as little as 3.5%. Requiring a 10% down payment, he says, would put homes out of reach for many Florida customers.

What is your biggest challenge when listing a new home?

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