Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Closer Look at How the New USDA Fees Will Affect Borrowers

Article includes Raleigh UDSA Rural Area Designation Map (see below)

Not to be left out of the cost race between FHA and Conventional loans, USDA changes are coming.  We blogged about this earlier this year when the initial announcement was made - but the changes are right around the corner now - so let's explore.

For those who are unsure what USDA loans are about - A USDA Mortgage provides a low-cost insured home mortgage loan that suits a variety of options. A USDA mortgage is likely the best home loan option if you want to purchase a home with no down payment.  It is important to remember that USDA loans are available for borrowers that meet income guidelines and are located in eligible areas.  Even with the new monthly fee, USDA remains a viable 100% financing strategy.

Understanding the New Changes

If you recall, under the new rule effective October 1, 2011, the up-front guarantee fee (aka mortgage insurance premium) for purchase transactions will decrease from 3.5 percent to 2 percent for purchase loans transactions.  Remember it was just last summer that the 2% to 3.5% increase occurred.  The up-front guaranteed fee for refinance loans transactions will remain at 1 percent.

What’s new this time is an annual fee of 0.3 percent of the unpaid principal balance. For example: on a $100,000 loan the monthly payment will be $24.87.  This fee will be calculated annually and the monthly fee will decrease over time but will be paid for the life of the loan.

The USDA reminds us that the annual fee and upfront guarantee fee are subject to change annually to maintain a subsidy neutral program. USDA's annual fee NEVER terminates. It will remain a part of the monthly payment until the USDA mortgage is paid off.  The annual fee will be reduced each year as it is calculated annually from the principal balance. 
Here's a comparison:

Currently, if someone was using a USDA zero down loan to purchase a home in  Holly Springs for $300,000, their loan amount would be $310,500 (sales price plus 3.5% for the upfront guarantee fee).  Based on a rate of 4.375% (apr 4.786), their payment (excluding taxes and home owners insurance) would be $1550.28.

Effective October 1, 2011 and assuming the mortgage rate to be the same, the loan amount would be $306,000 (sales price plus 2% for the upfront guarantee fee) creating a principal and interest payment of $1,527.81 PLUS an estimated monthly premium of $75.82 = $1,603.63.

An increase of $53.35 per month!

Why would someone even consider having a USDA mortgage after October 1, 2011? 

Well for one, it's one of the few "zero down" mortgage programs available for homes that are located in a designated rural area (examples: Youngsville, Holly Springs, Clayton).  If the appraisal comes in higher than the sales price, borrowers may be able to finance closing cost... there are some perks to this unique program and it may be worth your consideration if you're income meets the guidelines and you're buying a home in a rural community.

Rural areas include open country and places with population of 10,000 or less and—under certain conditions—towns and cities. There is an automated North Carolina rural area eligibility calculator for USDA home loans at:

Questions about USDA or other types of mortgage programs for homes located in the Triangle Area? Contact me, I'm happy to help!

Future updates to both the up-front and annual fee will be published in Exhibit K, of RD Instruction 440.1, available in any Rural Development office or on the Rural Development website as follows:  

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Realtors and Investors Creating Market Demand

The rising ranks of renters combined with a considerable inventory of foreclosures and historically low mortgage rates is creating a market ripe with opportunities for residential real estate investors.  According to the National Association of Realtors, investors accounted for 19 percent of the homes sold during May and June 2011, up from 13 percent in June 2010.

Obtaining financing (42 percent) is atop the list of typical challenges faced by potential first-time investors in the market. Other challenges include creating a long-term business plan for the property (21 percent), pulling the trigger on the purchase of an investment property (18 percent) and lack of market intelligence (17 percent).

Other key areas relevant to first-time investors include:
  • Submitting an unrealistically low offer is the most common mistake made by people buying their first investment real estate property.
  • Another common misstep is neglecting to calculate maintenance expenses vs. rental income.
  • Buyers also should focus less on price and more on factors of importance to renters such as proximity to retail locations, service providers and health care as well as access to public transportation and adequate parking.
Conversely, sellers looking to attract investment buyers should consider the following:
  • Focus on providing detailed profit and loss cash flow analysis statements for the property. This will help a buyer clearly identify the investment potential of a listing.
  • Highlight the proximity of the property to rental populations such as military families or college students.
  • Unlike traditional home buying, playing up curb appeal, staging and hosting open houses are the least important factors when marketing a home to investor buyers.
Know someone who is investing in real estate for the first time?  The Murray Group works with real estate investors to bring them the best loan programs available.  Contact us today for a free consultation and together we will meet your investment needs.

Monday, August 29, 2011

8 Great Reasons why People Relocate to Raleigh

Why are people moving to the Triangle?

To list a few:

  1. Raleigh is ranked #1 (yet again) by Forbes Magazine as the best place in America to do business.
  2. Low business costs (18 percent below the national average) and a smart labor force (42 percent have a college degree) make North Carolina’s capital an attractive spot for employers.
  3. Raleigh is very family friendly - there are ample museums and other activities all over the area for families with children of all ages.
  4. There are tons of parks and outdoor recreational areas:
    115 city parks
    22 staffed centers
    9 non-staffed programmed centers
    2 art centers
    112 tennis courts at 25 locations
    8 public swimming pools
    79 open space areas
    8,499 acres of parks and greenways
    54 miles of greenways
  5. RDU offers an affordable International Airport with 9 Major Airlines and 16 Regional Carriers.
  6. Two hours to the mountains, two hours to the coast-easy day trips all over the state to beautiful locations.
  7. An Excellent Climate.  One of the best reasons to move to Raleigh, NC is the great climate that you will find in North Carolina.
  8. Great People.  Yet another reason that you should move to Raleigh, NC is because of the great people that you will find. No doubt people in your neighborhood will be kind and welcoming, and you will find a sense of community in this city. In this area, people say hello, smile, and greet you with kindness, which is an excellent reason for moving you and your family to this area.

    Whether you are looking for a great climate, places to spend your free time, or friendly people, you will find them all in Raleigh, NC. Relocating is a big choice, but you cannot go wrong if you decide to move to Raleigh.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Showing Property during Hurricane Irene?

A rainy day can be refreshing. A walk in the rain can be romantic. Driving in the rain and wind of a hurricane, however, can be quite dangerous. You may be a very safe driver, driving defensively and obeying all traffic laws. But what about the drivers around you? 
If you have to drive and show property tomorrow, before heading out check traffic reports to see if any part of your route is affected by flooding, traffic collisions or road closures.
Here are some more helpful tips for rainy day driving:


  • When driving on the freeway, drive in the center lanes as water tends to pool in the outside lanes.
  • Turn on your headlights!  It will help you see better on foggy or rainy days and it will help other drivers see you!
  • Increase your following distance and watch for brake lights ahead.
  • Slow down –  it takes longer to stop in wet weather.  Plus the faster you drive, the greater the chances of hydroplaning!
  • Drive slowly through any puddle of uncertain depth.  That way if it’s deeper than you thought, you can still back out!
  • Never drive through moving water if you can’t see the ground through it – you could be swept right off the road!
  • Before it starts to rain, replace old or brittle wiper blades. Wiper blades are inexpensive and are very easy to change!
  • Check the tread and inflation of your tires.  Properly maintained tires provide the added traction you will need on wet roads.
  • Consider carrying a portable car starter with you.  That way, if your battery goes dead you can start your car from inside the vehicle rather than getting out of the car to do a conventional jump start with cables.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Agents, Are you Using Email Best Practices?

Email marketing is a must in today's real estate world.  But how do you know if you are doing it right?  These helpful tips from The Murray Group marketing department will allow you to see how you measure up.

Get Permission
This is, by far, the single most important measure to take in order to help ensure good deliverability -- the foundation of an effective email campaign.   In a broad sense, make sure that whether you are adding subscribers or they are adding themselves, it is quite clear to them that they're giving you permission to receive email messages.

More specifically:
  • Don't use purchased leads
  • Ask people if they want your email and don't simply assume that they do based on another transaction with you or your business
  • Use Confirmed Opt-In to protect your sender reputation
  • Read some examples of methods of obtaining email addresses that can or cannot be used with responsible email marketing services.
Stay Relevant
If you were asked to give a speech on golf tips at a conference, and you spent your time at the podium talking exclusively about your country club, what type of reception would you get from the crowd?

Your subscribers will give you that same type of reception (through complaints and unsubscribes) if you don't stick to meeting the expectations you've set for your email campaign. Start by focusing on maximizing the value of each message you send to your subscribers, and stick to it.

Promptly Remove Unsubscribes
Responsible email senders automatically remove subscribers who opt-out using the link at the bottom of any of the messages sent from your campaign. In some cases, however, subscribers will respond to your email messages asking to be removed from your list.

To avoid issues:
  • Use a reply address you check regularly
  • Manually remove people who ask to be unsubscribed
  • Send Frequently Enough ... But Don't Overwhelm
Sending too frequently can cause an increase in complaints and unsubscribes...while not sending often enough can lead to the same issues, plus more undeliverable email addresses on your list.

Set expectations for how frequently you're going to send messages to subscribers and stick with it. You probably don't want to send every day, but you certainly don't want to wait several months between each message you send.

Review Your Message Content
Once you're finished at the drawing board and have saved your message, review it and make sure:
  • It has a plain text version, even if you've written one in HTML
  • You've avoided using excessive punctuation within words and phrases - exclamations are the most overused punctuation in marketing...most times NO punctuation and incomplete sentences are the BEST way to do...
  • There is a sufficiently high text to HTML ratio -- messages should not consist of large images with little text
  • You haven't hyperlinked URLs in HTML messages
  • To check its SpamAssassin score for content filtering issues
Also, by sending a test of your message to a few of your own email accounts, you can help ensure that it appears consistently the same way to each of your subscribers.
Get Whitelisted
Encouraging your subscribers to add your email to their address books has benefits.  Email users add only certain chosen parties -- senders who they know, trust, and expect email from.

Because of this, senders who appear there sometimes get better email deliverability often with an added benefit of images appearing automatically.

Use an Effective Reply Address
Though it takes only a few moments to decide on, choosing the reply address that appears in the from line of your messages is important to the success of your campaign.

Along with the subject of your message, the first thing your subscribers see of your messages when they're browsing their inboxes will be the reply address and/or the "Name" you also set.

You reply address and name should be:
  • Recognizable
  • Hosted at the same or similar domain as the website subscribers signed up at

Avoid using free addresses (e.g. hosted at,,, etc.) you use for personal communications.

Free addresses tend to stand out less to subscribers and when deciding whether to deliver your messages, some ISPs consider messages from free addresses to be slightly more risky since anyone (including spammers) can get their hands on them.

Keep Complaint Rates Low
More of something to understand than it is strictly a practice, keeping the rate at which subscribers report your messages as SPAM at an acceptable rate is crucial to email deliverability.

Don't Let Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good
Starting off on the right foot is a virtue worth noting; however, obsessing to get it right the first time or trying to do it all can prevent you from starting to see the positive returns you're assured with an effective email marketing campaign.

Instead, get started with by:
  • Publishing a form to your website
  • Setting up your autoresponder and possibly one or two other messages
Once you have a basic set up, you can move onto optimizing your campaign including:
  • Considering HTML versions of your messages
  • Split Testing Web Forms and Broadcast Messages
  • Customizing the branding of your campaign
  • Targeting specific segments of your lists
But take a step-by-step approach and don't try to do it all at once. Start somewhere, then use the results you see to motivate your improvements!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Buy in Short Sale or Wait for Foreclosure?

Waiting for an answer on a short sale can be frustrating. A short sale happens when a seller's lender agrees to accept less than its unpaid mortgage balance to facilitate a sale between the seller and buyer, and banks take a long time to decide.

Some short sale buyers wait six months or more for a response. More than half the time, the answer is "No, and don't let the door hit you on the way out."

Short Sale List Prices are Not Real

Buyers gravitate toward short sales for two reasons. The list price is attractive and they believe the seller is desperate. However, neither of those beliefs is necessarily true.

Since not every short sale home is in foreclosure, not every seller is desperate. Moreover, sellers often set the listed price unrealistically, hoping that buyers will flock to that listing like moths to a flame.

Pre-approved Short Sales

The way a listing agent finds out how low the bank will go is if an offer has already been accepted and the buyer walks away. Only then is the agent free to market the listing as an accepted short sale because banks rarely disclose a bottom-line price up front.

With a pre-approved short sale, the new buyers' wait is dramatically shortened. Typically, about the time the first buyers walk away, the sellers' documents have already been submitted to the lender, and the lender may have been close to issuing the short sale approval letter. The missing documents at this point are the new buyers' offer and loan qualifications.

Short Sale Negotiations

The sellers can agree to any type of purchase offer put before them for signature, but it's not binding unless the sellers' bank approves the offer. It doesn't matter what stipulations are in the offer if the bank won't accept them. Your true negotiation does not lie with the seller; it lies with the bank's negotiator.

Banks rely on desktop appraisals and third-party BPOs (broker price opinions) to determine value. Although banks don't want to follow through on a foreclosure, they also want fair market value. It is up to the listing agent to provide comparable sales and to substantiate the price submitted by the buyer.

Is the Price Lower After a Foreclosure?

Whether a buyer should wait for the property to go through foreclosure and be deeded to the bank depends on whether the home has multiple offers. If more than one buyer has submitted an offer, the highest and most qualified offer will most likely win.

If the buyer is the sole offerer and the bank is responding negatively, or worse, not at all, it might be in the buyer's best interest to wait out the foreclosure. There is also no guarantee that a bank won't reject multiple offers, too, particularly if none is high enough.

Sometimes banks aren't reasonable and end up shooting themselves in the foot. I've heard of several listings where banks refused to accept short sale offers only to get title to the home through foreclosure, which then ultimately sold for tens of thousands less.

Don't get discouraged if the bank rejects your short sale offer. Be smart. Laugh all the way to your bank.
If no one else submits a higher offer -- and if you didn't, why would anybody else? -- eventually the bank will put the home up for sale as an REO.

Watch for it to reappear on the market as a bank-owned home. If the price is reasonable at that point, buy it from the bank. At least buyers of bank-owned homes are relatively assured their transactions will close within 30 days or so, and most likely at a much lower price.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Humour - Excerpts from Letters to Landlords

Excerpts from actual letters sent to landlords.  Please comment here or on our FB Fan Page on which one was your favorite.

Happy Monday everyone!

  1. The toilet is blocked and we cannot bathe the children until it is cleared.
  2. I want some repairs done to my stove as it has backfires and burnt my knob off.
  3. This is to let you know that there is a smell coming from the man next door.
  4. The toilet seat is cracked: where do I stand?
  5. I am writing on behalf of my sink, which is running away from the wall.
  6. I request your permission to remove my drawers in the kitchen.
  7. Our lavatory seat is broken in half and is now in three pieces.
  8. Will you please send someone to mend our cracked sidewalk? Yesterday my wife tripped on it and is now pregnant.
  9. Our kitchen floor is very damp, we have two children and would like a third, so will you please send someone to do something about it.
  10. Will you please send a man to look at my water? It is a funny color and not fit to drink.
  11. Would you please send a man to repair my downspout? I am an old-age pensioner and need it straight away.
  12. Could you please send someone to fix our bath tap? My wife got her toe stuck in it and it is very uncomfortable for us.
  13. When the workmen were here, they put their tools in my wife's new drawers and made a mess. Please send men with clean tools to finish the job and keep my wife happy.

Make Sure you Remember to Vote Today

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Lock and Shop

The Murray Group is still offering one of the best programs available in the Triangle area - check out the details on our "Lock and Shop" Program and recommend to your clients today.  With one phone call or email - we can have you helping your client find their dream home anywhere in the Triangle.

  • Lock in today's rate for over 60 days while you look for a new home
  • Available on HUD, FHA and conforming mortgages
  • Extended locks fo up to 270 days on conforming loans (helps you to be able to
    wait out the process if your client is interested in a short sale or foreclosed home)

My Promise to You 
  •  to provide professional and friendly service to all customers regardless of economic status or loan size; 
  • to treat every customer with respect and dignity regardless of their circumstance; 
  • to offer the most competitive interest rates without sacrificing level of service;  
  • to ensure every customer walks away from the table knowi ng that they got the best possible deal and the absolute best possible service

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

74% of People Shopping for a Real Estate Agent go with Who They Call First

Today's post by The Murray Group's marketing department. Agents:  Please contact The Murray Group to learn about how we supplement agent's marketing with high quality, professional tools that will increase your business!

In any given city the size of Raleigh, more than 70,000 real estate marketing pieces are produced each week.

One can't help but notice how many agents are trying to overburden their marketing messages. In other words, many of the real estate marketers want their messages to do more than they are capable of doing.

I'll elaborate using some Real Estate Marketing 101:

An effective real estate marketing strategy usually calls for a three-step approach. You must define your audience, your goal and, ultimately, your message.

1. Define your audience

Who do you hope to sell your services to? Who do you hope to motivate and persuade? The key here is to go beyond the obvious.

In your mind, try to picture your typical prospects. Visualize them. What do they look like? What do they want? What fears wake them in the night? What happiness do they seek? What problem(s) do they have that you can solve better than anyone else?  There are all types of people in this world - which ones do you want to work with the most?  Visualize them and find out where they get their news and knowledge.

When you can answer these questions, you're ready to move on to the next step — defining your goal.

2. Define your real estate marketing goal

To define your real estate marketing goal, you must also clarify and simplify it. The clear part is obvious — a clearly defined goal is easier to achieve. By “simplify,” I don't mean making your goal trivial or unworthy of pursuit. I mean reducing the goal to its purest form.

Strip away anything that does not support your objective (which is the action or response you want from your readers). If you have several goals for your marketing message to accomplish, you haven't simplified enough. Refine it until you have one specific action you want people to take.

3. Define your real estate marketing message

Based on your audience and your goal, what must your message do to bridge the gap? What should you say or write to get your audience to move toward the desired action?


Process in Practice

Now it's time to get specific. Let's say you're mainly a buyer's agent, so your audience would obviously be people shopping for homes. You've researched home-buying demographics in your area, you've got a good mental picture of your audience, and you've made a list of things that are important to them.

Now it's time to define your goal.


The Key to Goal Definition

Don't confuse your ultimate goal with your messaging goal. In other words, don't define a messaging goal that your message can't deliver. Instead, go for the low-hanging fruit.

Let your real estate marketing message do what it's good at. Let it move the reader one step closer to a larger, more ultimate goal.

That's what marketing messages have been doing effectively for decades, moving readers toward specific, achievable actions.

For instance, if your ultimate goal is to gain a new client, the goal of your messaging might be to initiate first contact (a phone call or email) from that prospective client. This would be an excellent messaging goal for two reasons:
  • First, it's a goal your message can actually accomplish.
  • Secondly, it's a goal that can support your overall goal of client acquisition. Here's why: An NAR survey sponsored by the Gooder Group found that 74% of people shopping for a real estate professional go with the first one they call. That means if you earn that first call from a prospect, you have a 74% chance of turning them into a client.

Think of It This Way

You're not selling a toaster. You're selling the real estate services you provide — services that have an impact on the finances and ultimate happiness (or unhappiness) of your clients. Those are weighty issues.

Words on paper can sell a toaster. Words on paper cannot sell your prospects on your ability to deliver. Words can, however, sell your prospects on the next step they might take (in this case, calling or emailing you). After that first contact, there's plenty of time to show them your ability to deliver.

Give your real estate marketing message a break from unreasonable expectations. Let it do what it's best at. Let it move the reader forward in your ultimate plan.

Agents:  Please contact The Murray Group to learn about how we supplement agent's marketing with high quality, professional tools that will increase your business!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Turbulent Market Has an Upside (Video)

Thank you for today's post: professional commentary on market conditions is courtesy of Jeremy Salemson, CEO of Corporate Investors Mortgage Group, Inc.

This is certainly one of the wildest weeks that I’ve seen in modern trading history. So what does it all mean for housing? Well – very good news for refinance and purchase market candidates.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Helping your Clients Determine the Difference Between "Wants" and "Needs"

Agents: Just copy and paste this great article - and re-brand with your realtor contact info!


Communication & Compromise

Compromises are a normal part of buying a home. Maintaining good lines of communication with your spouse and with me, your Realtor, is important to an efficient home buying experience. Plus, it will make your home buying experience more pleasant too!



Know the Difference Between Your Wants & Your Needs

Before searching for a larger home in your desired real estate market, it is recommended you make a list of your “wants” (what you desire in a home) and your “needs” (got to have) in your next home.

Below are a few questions to consider before you begin searching for your next home:
  • How close do you want to live to your office and family?
  • Do you prefer an urban area or the country?
  • How important are schools to your home buying decision?
  • Are lifestyle amenities important to you and your family? (Golf, tennis courts, swimming pool, walking trails, lakefront?)
  • How important is it to being close to shopping?
  • Does the neighborhood contain many younger families if you have small children?
  • Do you seek a neighborhood setting or a more secluded setting?
  • Do you want a mature neighborhood, or brand new?
  • Schools are important even if you don't have children (for re-sale value)... so look for strong school districts.
  • Do you want a larger yard, or little or no yard work?
  • Parking Criteria: off-street, hilly, flat, cul-de-sac, garage, detached garage, carport?

Once we begin your search for your larger home, remember these important steps:

  • Preview homes together with me, your realtor, to eliminate homes that fail to meet your search criteria.
  • Keep track of the houses you’ve seen.
  • Bring a camera.
  • Take some notes (positives and negatives about each home).
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothes.
  • Don’t go hungry. I’ll provide some drinking water.
  • If you have small children, consider a babysitter.  Once you’ve narrowed your choices, you can bring them along.
  • Limit your daily search to 6 homes.
  • Limit your search to homes that truly fit your budget

Friday, August 12, 2011

Are You Playing Musical Chairs in Real Estate?

It's Friday.  Today we searched for an inspirational (hopefully) piece to lead agents into a busy weekend of showing and listing homes. This guest column is being published with special permission to

In a previous story, the world renowned tenor Luciano Pavarotti shares a story about growing up in Italy. “When I was a boy, my father, a baker, introduced me to the wonders of song,” he relates. “He urged me to work very hard and develop my voice. Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in my hometown of Modena, Italy, took me as a pupil. I also enrolled in a teachers college. "

On graduating, I asked my father, ‘Shall I be a teacher or a singer?’ “Luciano, my father replied,” if you try to sit on two chairs, you will fall between them. For life, you must choose one chair.” I chose one. It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance. It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera.

And now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book, selling real estate—whatever we choose—we should give ourselves to it. Commitment is the key. Choose one chair.” While well- intentioned, leaders often find themselves running in circles like a game of musical chairs trying to wear hats that don’t fit. Instead of choosing the one chair from which to lead, a more pathological choice is made – the belief that being the jack- of all-trades and the master- of- none will work.

From the story of Pavarotti we learn leadership insights that will have your whole team singing in harmony. When a leader finds his voice, knows his role, and learns to trust the team he has assembled, it provides the freedom necessary to move forward. Here are three things a leader must do to stop the game of musical chairs.

The leader must find his voice. Pavarotti’s father told him to work hard and develop his voice. This is a must for any leader who strives to succeed. Finding your voice as a leader comes in understanding that while you may unmistakably be the best visionary in the world, it does not mean you will make the best PR person, accountant, or IT guy. The test of leadership in finding your voice is affording the same opportunity to the capable and qualified people on your team to do the same. They will never perform at the maximum level of productivity if you are trying to sing their part. 

As Steve Jobs said, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.’ The key to success is being comfortable with your own voice and giving others room to find theirs.

The leader must say no to good ideas. The world now knows that for Pavarotti, the choice to be a singer was best for him and a blessing to the world. Would he have made a good teacher? With guidance from his father coupled with the work ethic instilled in him, surely he would have made a fine teacher.

The challenge of leadership is in learning to say no to good ideas and opportunities that come your way and instead be guided down the path that destiny has for you. By anyone’s standard, teaching is a noble profession. Yet for Pavarotti, the path of destiny was in lending his voice to the world, not just a single classroom.

In musical chairs, the closest seat available when the music stops is the safest place to be to avoid elimination. In leadership, the closest seat available may not be the one that is meant for you. When facing the music of life’s choices as a leader, it is important to not just listen with your ears, but with your heart. It is a matter of good faith more so than good choices. Learn when to say no.

The leader must choose one chair. Pavarotti said, “Whatever we choose—we should give ourselves to it. Commitment, that’s the key.” It took Pavarotti years of study and hard work to see his dreams come true.

What chair have you chosen? Your road to success as a leader is not found in trying to sit in two chairs or in singing someone else’s part. When you commit yourself, work hard, train and listen to your heart there is great reward in store for you.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Tricks to Sell a Home Faster - Especially in this Market

There's no question about it, it’s not a home-seller’s market right now. 

If you’re looking to sell a home, you’ll need to pull out all the stops to make your home appealing to buyers.

If a house has been on the market for a while, or even if it’s just been listed, there are ways to make the property stand out from the rest. We checked in with experts to find eight things that will get a house moving.

Put Up Walls
Sometimes refreshing the look of your place can be as simple as constructing a wall to create new rooms, says Frances Katzen, managing director at Prudential Douglas Elliman in New York.

“The creation of an extra ‘space’ is considerably meaningful to property value,” says Katzen.

Putting up an extra wall to create another bedroom or extra room can increase property value for a one-bedroom apartment by as much as a third, according to Katzen.

“Some of my clients bought a big space and broke down extra bedrooms or dining rooms to give the place an open aesthetic, but what we find is that if you put back those old walls and re-incorporate that old bedroom, you instantly up the value.”

Paint the Walls
Painting your walls white is a simple and cheap way to make a home more appealing.  “I once sold an apartment where the woman loved pink, and all her walls were pink. But because buyers didn’t think that reflected their idea of what they should find, the apartment was hard to sell. Once we painted the walls white, we sold the apartment within a week,” says Katzen.

Paint really influences first impressions; prospective buyers want to imagine their new house as a blank canvas that they can fill with their own images, colors and art.

“A big component of what we understand to be open, light and airy is conveyed through the creation of open space and light," Katzen says. "Paint is that vehicle to open and modernize a room. We encourage people to paint their walls white so they will reflect that fresh feeling.”

Up Your Curb Appeal
“First impressions are everything--even for houses,” says Fiona Dogan, a realtor with Sotheby's International Realty in Westchester.

If a buyer drives up to a house and loves the exterior, they are much more likely to want to go inside.
Home sellers should fill in any cracks in the sidewalks, replace bricks and freshen up peeling paint to get their homes moving, says Dogan.

“If you don’t do these things, the buyer will think you don’t care. It’s a subconscious thing. The buyer will think, ‘If they couldn’t even be bothered to paint or plant shrubs, what have they done with the boiler or piping that I’m never going to see?’”

If the lawn is nicely tailored, it tells a buyer that the owner truly cares about the house.

“Someone who maintains their yard is someone whose house brings them joy and happiness, and buyers can sense this,” says Dogan. “Also, for the small percentage of buyers out there who are active gardeners, it can be a big selling point.”

Once a buyer has made it up the front steps, clean (or new) windows and a nicely-painted door with solid hardware is important.

“Make sure the trim all the way around the door is done nicely with a nice accent color, and that the door is freshly painted,” advises Todd Recknagel, president of Mr. Handyman, the largest employer of handymen in the U.S. 
“When they grab that door handle and open it, if you’ve spent decent money on it, they will feel like the rest of the house has good hardware from that first impression.”

Remove Clutter
Take down pictures and remove excess books or pillows to make rooms feel modern and fresh.  This is the most ignored advice - realtors say  it but clients don't want to do it...

Removing clutter is especially important in living spaces or bedrooms so they don’t feel too busy. If you want to go a step further, you could even rearrange furniture to make it more streamlined, suggests Katzen. “Something as simple as positioning two chairs across from one another can really warm a space up and make your living area seem less cluttered.”

If you have anything in your home that impedes a view or a window in any way, remove it--even shades or blinds.
“Don’t leave big bookshelves up that may be blocking natural light from a window, and don’t leave your shades halfway down. It looks sloppy,” says Katzen.

Don’t strip out all your personal stuff from every room-an artist’s print is a great thing to display, but when you get into thousands of pictures of your children or an entire family tree on the wall, you could have a problem, Katzen says.

Definitely put away collections of any kind that may be taking up space on endtables or shelves.

“I once had a client who had a huge collection of glass figurines all over her living room. It took her a week and a half to wrap them up, but after she did, she sold the house within a week. People felt the space was fresh again, and that’s what you have to convey,” says Katzen.

Clean Bathrooms  
“[Home buyers] want to see that the bathroom, where they spend the most intimate portions of their lives, is almost clinically clean,” says Dogan. “If there is a general impression of a lack of cleanliness, people equate it to slovenly owners who never cleaned the filters in their air conditioner or their gutters or anything else.”

If you’re staging your home for an open house, Dogan recommends putting away toiletries. A half-used tube of anything is grossly unappealing and anything that is in daily use should also be hidden.

“It reminds a buyer that someone else lives here, and someone else is cleaning their teeth in that sink. You have to neutralize the home so it’s more like a show home and the buyer can transport themselves there,” Dogan says.
If your bathroom needs more than just your moisturizer cream put away, Recknagel says you can put new knobs on bathroom fixtures or give your bathroom tile a new epoxy cote to make it shine. If your toilet has seen better days, you can buy a new one and have it installed for around $200.

“If you’ve got new fixtures, shiny tile, and a new toilet, when someone walks into that bath, it might look like a brand new builders’ bath,” he says.

Scent the Rooms
“It may sound silly, but going that extra step with some kind of room spray or baking cookies in the kitchen really goes a long way to help people feel like it’s a home and not a hotel,” says Dogan.

In order to keep from offending sensitive noses, avoid stronger scents like patchouli or lavender, and opt instead for fresh scents like cotton or vanilla. But avoid incense at all costs, Dogan says, because it can sometimes be overpowering.

"A nice smell shows the seller went an extra mile to stage their home, and makes it feel cozy. Of course on rare occasions people will say, ‘I hate those! I am allergic to candles!’ but in general, there’s a positive impression.”

Update the Kitchen  
A redone kitchen will easily bring you two to three times what you paid for it when it comes time to sell the home, says Dogan.

“The kitchen is the heart of the house, and it needs to look the part. You don’t have to fly in tile from Brazil and marble from Africa to do it right-- white cabinetry and granite countertops will be enough to help you make your money back in no time.”

Psychologically, a new kitchen and new appliances can make a big difference to a buyer even if they aren’t a cook, she says. Just like no one wants to think about your toothpaste in their sink, no one wants to think about your leftovers molding in their fridge.

“It might be difficult to reconcile putting $15,000 into a kitchen in a house that you’re moving out of, but the kitchen is a deficit that you need. It’s got the highest payback,” says Recknagel.

If you can’t spend that much, then smaller things like painting cabinets, switching out old knobs and handles or topping of cabinetry with crown molding are great options, Recknagel adds.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Ideas for Agents: Following Up with Potential Clients

Note to Agents:  We have developed a complimentary marketing system for agents we work with - it includes single property websites, lead capture, and referral marketing elements to name a few.  Please contact me to learn more - we are here to help grow your business while providing the best mortgage services possible for your clients.

A large portion of a real estate agent’s business is follow-up on leads to generate more business and referrals, as well as to keep in touch with current and past clients. Having a database and client management system in place is essential to manage and follow up with your leads.

Ways to stay in touch

There are several ways to follow up and stay in touch with your database such as direct mail, email, newsletters, telephone calls, dropping by in person, taking clients out to lunch, sending birthday and holiday cards or throwing a special party, charity event or holding a seminar. By giving people information, asking them for help and offering free services, you can stay in touch with your leads.

Website leads

When you receive a lead from your website, you should respond right away. It is important to capture the lead immediately or they may go on to another agent’s website and then you have lost them forever. Most leads who contact you on the Internet are at the beginning of their home searches or selling process. They may just be looking for an agent to work with by looking at several agents’ web pages. It’s up to you to make the next move and make contact.

One thing you can do is some research and see if you can find out some more information about the lead from the information they give you by checking phone directories and reverse directories to make sure the information they have provided matches.

This way you know whether or not they are a genuine lead. If they are a prospective seller, you can check out the tax records to see how long they have owned the home and get information on comparative homes sales.

This way when you do contact them, you sound knowledgeable about home prices in their neighborhoods. If you are working with a buyer lead, then you want to have all the information available about current listings so you can discuss homes and features with them or set up an appointment to meet with them in person.

Developing a system

Let’s say you meet a new client at one of your open houses. You could call them the next day to give them information they asked for or make an appointment to drop by and meet with them in person and go over the information. Or, maybe you are prospecting for listings in your farm area. You could send a mailer, follow it up with a phone call or knock on their door, send some more information the next week such as market statistics, or a list of neighborhood restaurants.

Then another telephone call the third week to ask for an appointment if they indicate they are interested in selling. Follow up with a thank you card or note after meeting with them. The important thing to remember is to be consistent with your system. This way you will capture more leads which turn into sale and referrals.

Putting clients first

Providing outstanding service and gaining your clients trust and loyalty will grow your business and increase your referrals. You will begin to generate more and more repeat business. Make sure you stay in touch on a regular basis with your clients, provide them with the most current information and return phone calls promptly. When it comes time for them to buy or sell, they will call you first.

Agents with the most conversion rates on their leads are the ones that follow-up on a regular basis and provide their clients with the highest level of outstanding service consistently. They go out of their way to provide information, whether or not they end up getting business from the client.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Do Your Clients Understand Your Scope of Duties as their Agent?

Agents: a great article to put in your client kits or email to them!!!

To understand a real estate agent's scope of duties and what an agent and can and cannot do for you, look first to federal and state regulations. Here are a few of the entities that govern or affect a real estate agent's actions:
Probably the most important is the Fair Housing Act. Basically, it was designed to prevent discrimination. Fair Housing Act legislation was contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and modified by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. There are seven classes protected by the Fair Housing Act. They are:
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Sex
  • Handicap
  • Familial Status
Expectations for Neighborhoods Populated by Protected Classes
It comes as a shock to many people when they learn that a real estate agent absolutely cannot address some requests because it is against the law. For example, if a newly married Jewish couple asks a real estate agent to find them a home close to a synagogue in an "adults only" community, the agent can't accommodate that request. Nor can the agent take into consideration the request to be located near any specific church. The agent can't so much as advertise that her listing is around the corner from a parish.

An agent cannot answer questions about the ethnic make-up of a neighborhood. For example, buyers should not expect an agent to show homes in neighborhoods comprised of primarily Latinos, African-Americans, American Indians or any other ethnicity or race. If a buyer was adamant and said, "Tony said I need to buy in an Italian neighborhood or else," the agent must refuse, regardless.

Discrimination in Listing Advertising
In advertising, agents must refrain from using words deemed to represent any protected classes. For example, none of these words is appropriate and many of them could violate Fair Housing laws. Do not ask your agent to use these words:
  • Sports-minded
  • Bachelor apartment
  • Professional
  • Mother-in-Law quarters
  • Couples
  • Singles Only
  • Mature
  • Married
  • Seniors
  • Gentleman's Farm
  • Golden Agers
  • Section 8
  • Integrated
  • Handicapped
  • Children Welcome
Demands for School Districts & Safe Neighborhoods
Because of lawsuits, there are many other types of requests that smart real estate agents will not address. For example, in Wake County North Carolina, there is no guarantee that homeowners who live close to certain schools will be able to enroll their children in that school without an appeal to the school board (with no guarantees you will win the appeal).

If a client asks you to find them a home in a particular school district, ask them to give you the boundaries for the search. The realtor should not the boundaries.  Also explain that their children might not get accepted into the school of their choice. Guaranteeing a certain school district is not within the scope of a realtors fiduciary duties to a client and could also be construed as a violation of Fair Housing.

Ditto on discussing crime in neighborhoods. If a buyer wants to know the crime statistics of an area, smart agents will direct buyers to the police department or other sources of information. An agent should never ever disclose crime stats or say a neighborhood is a relatively safe place to live even if he/she believes it to be true.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Perfect Follow Up for Clients Who Just Bought New Home

Agents:  Do you have any clients who are settling into their new home? Chances are you do, and this is a goo way to say hello and remind them how much you appreciate their business. Copy and paste the article below into an email and send them this information on:

Summer Bills and Efficient Cooling

Along with picnics, baseball and lemonade, summer traditionally brings plenty of heat and high energy usage. 

Don't let your electric bill get you hot under the collar. Lower your electric bill with these tips from our local air conditioning service company.  

And, if you are still looking for a quality HVAC service company, please contact me for a referral - I work with several that are very good!

  • Have your air conditioner and heat pump serviced by a licensed contractor.  
  • Check the attic insulation, R-30 (8 to 10 inches) of insulation is recommended. If the ceiling joists are not covered with insulation, it is a good investment to have more added.  
  • If your home has air conditioning and evaporative cooling, be sure to replace the cooler’s baffle sheet before switching to air conditioning.
  • Install a high-efficiency 14-SEER heat pump when it’s time to replace your air conditioner or gas furnace.
  • Cover windows with awnings, sunscreens or reflective film to keep out the heat.
  • Keep your heat pump or air conditioner’s filter clean. Check it once a month
  • Make sure to turn off your heat pump or air conditioning prior to opening exterior doors or windows for fresh air.
  • Set your thermostat at 76 degrees or higher. For every degree warmer, you’ll save 2 to 3 percent on the air conditioning portion of your electric bill.
  • Keep windows and doors shut when the air conditioning is on. Check caulking around doors and windows.
  • Consider automatic door closers for entry and sliding glass (arcadia) doors.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mortgage Securities Yields Are Falling...

Today's article courtesy of Bloomberg.  Written by Jody Shenn.

Yields on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage securities that guide U.S. home-loan rates fell to the lowest in almost nine months, signaling borrowing costs to purchase and refinance houses may reach new lows.

Fannie Mae’s current-coupon 30-year fixed-rate bonds dropped 0.18 percentage point to 3.45 percent as of 3:05 p.m. in New York, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Yields tumbled to the lowest level since Nov. 10, generally tracking drops in Treasuries, as concern the economy is slowing and Europe’s fiscal crisis will spread drove investors to U.S. debt.

The average rate on a typical 30-year home loan slumped to 4.39 percent in the week ended today, nearing the record low of 4.17 percent set in November, according to a Freddie Mac survey compiled before the additional gains in the bonds. Falling rates should in the short term help depress yields relative to Treasuries on agency mortgage securities trading the closest to face value, even though they may create wider spreads over time, according to Nomura Securities International Inc. analysts.

The mortgage bonds’ relative performance over the longer term may be “weak because of paydowns from the Fed’s portfolio, but there are several short-term positive factors that exist,” the New York-based analysts led by Ohmsatya Ravi wrote yesterday in a note, referring to the home-loan securities bought by the Federal Reserve in 2009 and 2010 to support the economy.

Home Lending

Yields on agency mortgage bonds are now guiding rates on almost all new U.S. home lending following the collapse of the non-agency market in 2007 and a retreat by banks. The $5.3 trillion market includes securities guaranteed by government- supported Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the bonds of government-insured loans backed by federal agency Ginnie Mae.

Lower borrowing costs have done little to boost home sales as banks keep lending standards tight, the unemployment rate sticks above 9 percent and a glut of foreclosed properties drag down prices. Sales of previously owned homes declined in June to a seven-month low, the National Association of Realtors said last month. Home values in 20 U.S. cities dropped 4.5 percent in the year ended in May, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index.

About 22.7 percent of homeowners with mortgages were underwater in the first quarter, meaning they owe more than their properties are worth, according to CoreLogic Inc., a company that compiles mortgage market data and analytics.

Refinancing Applications

Depressed home prices and tougher standards have left refinancing applications 45 percent below last year’s high and 72 percent off 2003’s record, according to Mortgage Bankers Association data released yesterday. Further drops in rates may stoke refinancing further by pushing new loan costs below the levels in effect as borrowers qualified under stricter guidelines in recent years. Refinance applications have climbed about 50 percent from this year’s low in February.

Limited application volumes also mean that lender competition isn’t easing as interest rates drop, a difference from last year, when mortgage companies raised the rates they offer to consumers relative to bond yields to suppress demand for their services and keep their workloads manageable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Listing Interview Scenarios

A special thank you to today's Guest Writer:  Realty Times Jennifer Allan

It’s a common scenario. You contact, or are contacted by a potential seller. Maybe the seller was referred to you; maybe you met him at an open house, maybe she’s currently trying it For Sale by Owner. In any case, you’re having a conversation about the possibility of your listing the house and the seller informs you, point-blank, that he or she has a friend or acquaintance who will list the home at X% ... and that X% is significantly less than YOUR X%! The seller asks you what you charge, implying that if you don’t meet or beat the lower X%, you’re probably wasting your time showing up for an interview.

What should you do?

First, I always recommend that we be upfront about what we charge if asked. Deflecting the issue gives the seller the impression that we’re trying to sell him something, which does nothing to help build the rapport and trust needed for a successful real estate agent/seller relationship. So, if Mr. or Ms. Seller were to ask, "What do you charge to sell a home?" answer the question without hesitation. No hemming, hawing, or creative avoidance. Just get it out there on the table.

"My fee is X% to sell a home, which includes the buyer agent's fee of Y%"

If the seller responds with: "Well, I have a friend who will do it for X-minus-2%..." all you have to do is respond. "That's great; and that might be the best deal for you. But I'd still be happy to get together and talk about your situation, so you can be sure you're making the right decision. No pressure, I promise. And I'll respect whatever decision you make."

Reverse psychology ("that may be the best deal for you") works great here! And if the seller agrees to meet with you, that means he's probably open to paying your fee, if you can prove you're worth it.

So, should you address the issue of your competition's lower commission head-on?
No. You should not. Why?

Because, the only way to "address" it would be to criticize it. And that's not cool. Any overt attempt you make to come out on top in a battle of commissions is going to make you look bad.

First, you would be criticizing the seller's friend, which in all likelihood will not endear you to the seller, even if you happen to be right in your criticisms. Not only are you criticizing a friend of the seller; you’re also subtly criticizing the seller's own judgment! After all, the seller is considering hiring this friend, so if you try to argue him out of it, you’re basically telling the seller he's wrong, which most people don’t enjoy hearing!

Besides, you have no idea what level of service the seller's friend will provide. Maybe she'll cut her services, but maybe she won't. Unless you have full knowledge of the other agent's marketing plan, it’s bad practice putting it down.

So, what should you do if you want a shot at this listing? Well, it's pretty simple. Go into the listing appointment with the heart of a consultant. Ask a lot of questions and really listen to the answers. Show empathy for the seller's situation, and be able to provide solutions to any problems you uncover. Be intimately familiar with the seller's neighborhood and conversant about local market activity. Demonstrate an ability and willingness to help the seller get his home ready for market.

In short, do your best to win the seller to your side by being friendly, helpful, creative and knowledgeable.
What if after all this friendliness, helpfulness, creativity and demonstration of market knowledge, the seller chooses the friend anyway?

Don’t fret. You can walk away with honor, knowing you gave it your best shot, and that you made a positive impression on one more human being on the planet! And you never know when that will come back to bless you!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Closing Costs Explained

Realtors:  A great article to give to your clients if they are a first-time home buyer!  Courtesy of Christopher Murray, Sr. Loan Officer, Certified Residential Mortgage Specialist.  We offer some of the lowest closing costs in the Triangle - and can match your client with the best program that will protect their largest investment - their new home.


If you’re a potential first time homebuyer, you may be confused about those mysterious closing costs — the expense that means that when you think you’ve finally saved up enough for a down payment, that with some loan companies - you really haven’t. Closing costs can add 2% to 5% to the purchase price of your home, and the days of no closing fees are gone (at least for a while...)

So what are closing costs? Here’s a rundown. Keep in mind that this is just a sampling of fees you may need to pay. Depending on your location, lender, and other factors, you may encounter a lesser or greater list of fees.

Loan origination fee: This is a fee that lenders charge you when you acquire a mortgage. Think of is as a start up fee. It includes both the cost to complete the loan paperwork and points. In a nutshell, points are a fee you can pay in exchange for a slightly lower interest rate. One point is equal to one percent of the loan principal.

Application fee: This fee covers the cost of processing your loan. You can expect to spend $450 to $600 on this.

Appraisal fee: If you’re paying all cash, you don’t have to get the property appraised, but if you’re taking out a loan to make the purchase, an appraisal will be required. The lender has to protect its interest–they want to make sure the property is worth about what you’ll be paying for it so that if you default on your loan (quit making your mortgage payments), they’ll be able to recoup their losses when they take away your house and sell it. The appraisal can also benefit you by telling you if the seller is asking a fair price for the property. Appraisal fees will probably run you $300 to $400.

Property inspection: This is optional, but you’ll definitely want to have it done. A property inspection will cost you $300 to $400 and will help you learn what condition your property is really in before you make the most expensive purchase of your life.

Title search and insurance: This is another fee you can avoid if you’re paying all cash, but skipping this step could really hurt you later on. A title search makes sure that no one else claims a right to your property, and the insurance protects you if something unexpected pops up after you’re the new owner. The fee for both will be about .75% of the cost of your house. How could anyone else claim a right to your house, you may be wondering? One example: the previous owner of the house passed away and someone later tries to claim that they are the rightful heir of the property.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI): When you put less than 20% down on a property, most lenders will require you to purchase this insurance (another option is to get a second mortgage, but that’s beyond the scope of this article). You may have to pay a year’s worth of premiums in advance. This expense will vary depending on your location, but $1,000 is a reasonable ballpark figure here.

Prepaid homeowner’s insurance: Lenders generally require that you pay one year’s worth of homeowner’s insurance in advance.

Prepaid property taxes: You may have to prepay property taxes for the time period between closing and your first mortgage payment. Also, your lender may require you to prepay one or two months’ worth in addition to this amount. They may even require you to let them charge you extra to take control of your property tax payments on an ongoing basis. The good news is that property taxes are prorated for the month that you move in, meaning that the seller pays property taxes for each day that she still owns the property, and you don’t start paying property taxes until the day you become the owner.

Recording and filing fees: These fees are for recording the deed of trust or mortgage (what it’s called depends on where you live) and filing other legal documents.

To get a sense of exactly what fees you’ll have to pay for a home in your price range, contact Chris Murray, Sr. Loan Officer and principal for The Murray Group.

Monday, August 1, 2011

North Carolina Real Estate Appreciation Rate - 5 Year History

The 12 month forecast for North Carolina Real Estate prices is in the table at the top of this page. is forecasting a decline in North Carolina Home Prices of 2.47%. 

The table shows a HDTFA of 1.93% which suggests that appreciation rates over the next year for North Carolina Real Estate could easily end up anywhere between -0.54% and -4.40%.  Links to Forecasts for 49 other states and the District of Columbia may be found on the right side of this page.

The average real estate forecast for all 50 states is -2.78%. So North Carolina Real Estate prices are forecasted to perform similar to the rest of the country. The highest appreciation rate forecast of all Real estate forecasts at this site is 2.32% for North Dakota. The lowest is -13.58% for Nevada.

Historical Home Price Appreciation: North Carolina
Last Quarter                         -1.97%
Last Year                              -2.6%
Last 5 Years                         2%
Last 10 Years                       27%
Last 20 Years                       91%
Decline From All Time High   8.29%

Annual Home Price Appreciation Rates: North Carolina
1981      1.95%
1982      6.99%
1983      3.25%
1984      8.29%
1985      7.74%
1986      5.97%
1987      5.33%
1988      3.77%
1989      2.85%
1990      1.37%
1991      3.08%
1992      2.53%
1993      3.00%
1994      4.94%
1995      4.91%
1996      4.10%
1997      5.66%
1998      4.49%
1999      2.86%
2000      4.61%
2001      5.03%
2002      3.16%
2003      2.87%
2004      4.86%
2005      7.62%
2006      7.00%
2007      4.16%
2008      0.10%
2009      -3.23%
2010      -2.28%

The highest annual appreciation rate in North Carolina Real Estate was 13% in the twelve months ended with the 3rd Quarter of 1978. The worst annual appreciation rate in North Carolina was -6% in the twelve months ended with the 1st Quarter of 2010.

The highest appreciation in North Carolina Real Estate over a three year period was 37% in the three years ended with the 3rd Quarter of 1979. The worst appreciation over a three year period in North Carolina was -8% in the three years ended with the 1st Quarter of 2011.

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