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Driveways and Walkways the First Step toward a Good First Impression

June 7, 2012 4:02 pm

When it comes to selling your home, creating a positive first impression is crucial. While it’s important to make sure your home’s interior is up to par, it’s just as important to make sure the exterior is in good shape. If you’re in the process of getting ready to list your home, be sure that your driveway and walkway aren’t overlooked. Paying attention to these areas will not only provide prospective buyers with a positive first impression, it will also help reel in interested buyers.

“A well-built, well-maintained asphalt driveway adds curb appeal to your house. It’s the first impression of your home that people see and it should look as good as it could,” said Steve Fradianni of M&S Paving and Sealing Inc., in Danbury, Conn. “Asphalt driveways are easy to keep free of snow and ice in the winter and relatively dirt-free in the summer. They are economical, durable and long lasting, and they are easy to maintain.”

Once a potential buyer leaves their car to head to the front door, the walkway begins to play an important role. That’s why it’s vital to make sure both the driveway and walkway are looking their best.

Do a thorough inspection—of both the driveway and walkway—and repair any cracks you see. If you have the time and money, you may want to consider getting the driveway repaved as this will go a long way toward creating a positive first impression. Cracks in the walkway should be repaired with concrete paint. This can usually be done in a few hours and is a relatively inexpensive fix.

In addition to making necessary repairs, make sure there are no toys, acorns, leaves or gardening equipment blocking someone’s path to the front door. Potential buyers shouldn’t have to maneuver through an obstacle course to reach the front door. Driveways should also be free of clutter and debris.

Once the walkway is clear, make sure that no grass or weeds are growing in the cracks. Spend the time necessary to create a perfect walk to the entrance of your home.

If you have garbage cans that typically sit at the end of your driveway, you should get them out of sight—even if they’re clean—before people come to look at your home. The same holds true for hoses. Take the time to put them away neatly as they could inadvertently trip someone. Old, tangled hoses may also conjure negative thoughts among prospective buyers.

You should also be mindful of where your cars are parked. If someone comes to see your house and there are two or three cars taking up the driveway and they are forced to park on the street, you may be starting things off on the wrong foot. Move your cars to the street so that prospective buyers feel as if they are pulling into the driveway of their future home.

For more information about upping your curb appeal, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Plan Ahead: Gain a Competitive Edge with a Mortgage Pre-Approval

June 7, 2012 4:02 pm

Although it’s not completely necessary, more and more buyers are taking the time to get pre-approved for a mortgage before they even begin hunting for a house. Not only does a pre-approval letter give the seller power, it also provides prospective buyers with the ability to make offers, negotiate price and terms and even sign a contract to buy a home if one comes along that you love.

In its simplest terms, a pre-approval takes place when a mortgage professional reviews your credit, your income and your assets, and conditionally offers you a particular mortgage, putting that offer in writing in letter form.

“Having a pre-approval letter gives you an advantage over those buyers who don’t when you make an offer because it shows the seller and agent that you’re financially ready to buy a home,” said Joseph Gross, president of the New York-based Qualified Mortgage Inc. “That can help make your offer attractive and keep you out of a bidding war with someone who didn’t think ahead.”

Some future homebuyers think that obtaining a qualifying letter is all they need, but in today’s lending environment, it’s often not enough. A pre-qualified letter simply means that a preliminary evaluation of your financial status was done, but there is no commitment to a loan. You still need to go through the process of finding out if you are eligible once you are ready to buy.

Even though most homebuyers have a general idea of what they would be comfortable paying each month on their mortgage, there’s no way to know what you can really afford until you factor in things like mortgage insurance, property taxes and adjustable interest rates. A qualifying letter won’t do this, but if you are pre-approved, you know exactly how much money you can spend.

This means that your agent won’t be wasting your time showing you houses out of your price range and you can haggle knowing full well what your limit is. Then, if the perfect house comes along, you can act immediately.

Plus, sellers often prefer to negotiate with pre-approved buyers because they already know these buyers are financially qualified to obtain the financing they need to close the transaction.

When you have a written home loan pre-approval, real estate experts say that you have eliminated between 40-60 percent of the potential problems that prevent a real estate purchase transaction from reaching a successful closing.

For more information about being pre-approved for a mortgage, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Summer Selling Strategies

June 7, 2012 4:02 pm

If you’re looking to sell your home this summer, there are a few key areas that shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to really showcasing your home. Now that the warm weather and longer days have arrived, it’s important to focus on your home’s exterior when it comes to attracting prospective buyers. In fact, the exterior of your home is more important than ever during the summer selling season, and you want to let potential buyers know that a great outdoor living experience is part of the overall package. That’s why it’s crucial to focus on creating usable entertaining spaces.

In order to successfully do this, try to paint the backyard as an outdoor living room for the summer months. This can be done by adding some chairs and a table, showcasing the property’s trees with a hammock or even creating a nice reading spot with a bench.

If you have a deck, now is the perfect time to highlight this feature and attract prospective buyers who are looking for outdoor spaces that can be used for entertaining or relaxing with the family. Take the time to power-wash your deck or even add a new coat of paint so that it’s prepared for open house visitors. Be sure to check the deck’s surface and remove any old screws or nails that are sticking out and replace them with cleaner looking galvanized decking screws.

Once again, think about creating space and add a canvas gazebo to provide some shade or even an old-fashioned swinging bench.

For those with swimming pools, make sure the water is blue, it’s free of leaves and debris and that it’s not cluttered with rafts and toys. Open up some new lounge chairs and maybe add a small table so people can envision spending those hot summer days lounging by the pool.

In addition, keep your lawn mowed and add a variety of summer annuals or other potted flowers and plants around the property. Adding a layer of bark mulch around flowerbeds adds a fresh look to an outdoor space and can hide some of those pesky weeds. Landscape lighting is also important as it enables potential buyers to view your property at night.

Inside, you should keep your drapes open and let the sun shine through to stress the natural lighting that your home receives.

On especially hot days, keep the air on so when a potential buyer walks in from a sunny day of shuffling from house to house, they are met with an instant cool down. Not only will the cool air alleviate any stress from a long day of house hunting, it will also enable them to focus more on the house. In addition, keep a pitcher of iced tea on the table with a note to “help yourself.”

Remember, the summer months are often the busiest for homebuyers and lots of inventory is hitting the market so you want to do what you can to make yours stand above the rest.

For additional summer selling strategies, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Bridge Loans 101: What You Need to Know if You're Ready to Purchase before Your Current Home Sells

June 7, 2012 4:02 pm

When it comes to successful real estate transactions, timing is everything. However, things don’t always go according to plan, and more often than not, home sellers find themselves in a tough spot. If you’re still in the process of trying to sell your current property, and your agent finds your dream home, what do you do? While you don’t want to lose the home to someone else, you also don’t have the money to carry two properties at once.

Luckily, if you find yourself in this situation, an option exists in a “bridge loan.” Also called gap financing, a swing loan or interim financing, a bridge loan basically bridges the gap between the time the new property is purchased and the old house sells.

“These are fantastic for borrowers who want to move prior to selling their old home because they can access the equity in their existing home for a down payment,” said Drew Smith, an analyst at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. “Interest on a bridge loan is calculated as simple interest and is paid up front for six months, relieving you from having to make two house payments until the home sells.”

Typically, a bridge loan is good for six months, but they can extend up to 12 months. One downside is that bridge loans normally carry an interest rate roughly two percent above the average fixed-rate mortgage. They also come with equally high closing costs.

For borrowers who can make both payments comfortably, the additional cost of paying for a refinance to create the bridge loan often outweighs the payment on a second mortgage for a few months.

“The bridge loan is a great option for borrowers who do not have the necessary income to make two payments at once, as long as there is enough equity in the current home to pay all the fees,” Smith says. “In addition, since the interest is paid for six months on the current home, this relieves the stress of having to make two payments.”

Those against bridge loans believe they are too risky in the current housing environment, since there are no guarantees the old property will sell within the allotted span of the bridge loan. Even if the property sells quickly, you need to be mindful of prepayment penalties.

Critics also suggest that instead of taking out a bridge loan, you might be better advised to borrow against a 401(k) or similar retirement plan.

Still, if that’s not an option and you believe that your home will sell, then a bridge loan allows you to act fast on a home you love and not have to worry about accepting any offer that comes along.

For more information about bridge loans, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Turning the American Dream into Reality One Echo Boomer at a Time

June 7, 2012 4:02 pm

A recent report by the National Association of Realtors® shows that younger homebuyers, falling into the 18-34 age bracket, now represent 31 percent of all home purchases.

“We know that although many young people may be delaying home purchases in today’s economic climate, most of them still aspire to homeownership,” said NAR President Moe Veissi, in a recent organizational release. “[We] are committed to ensuring that the dream of homeownership can become a reality for generations of Americans to come.”

This concern is felt throughout the real estate market as many echo boomers lack the finances and job security to make a home purchase right now.

Echo boomers also gravitate toward a more transient lifestyle, wanting to explore new places before settling down.

“Many echo boomers love to move around and don’t intend to stay in one area for long, so it’s not feasible for them to buy a home,” said Tim Smith, lead blogger for “For those that do move around, not only are there the costs associated with insurance, interest and maintenance, but it’s not always feasible to sell a home quickly or even get what you paid for your home when you’re ready to move.”

The best advice for real estate agents working with an echo boomer client is to speak their language and understand their needs.

“Echo boomers are more likely to be drawn to urban infill locations, wanting to live in culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhoods,” said Gadi Kaufmann, Managing Director of Robert Charles Lesser & Co., a Maryland firm that focuses on real estate trends. “Echo boomers increasingly gravitate to more affordable second-tier and third-tier cities if they are well-provided with enough entertainment and recreational amenities.”

A savvy agent will also use the latest tablet and mobile applications to communicate with their echo boomer clients and showcase the homes they think they will be interested in, as most echo boomers are tied to these systems.

The good news is that echo boomers are more likely to be college educated than past generations and will eventually find jobs that are more career oriented. With the job market starting to show some signs of recovery, more echo boomers may be ready to settle down and buy a home.

“Many of these echo boomers receive financial assistance from their parents when purchasing property and that helps alleviate the worry about qualifying for a mortgage,” Smith said. “They are looking for starter homes they can afford, and if the deal is right, I see many jumping on board.”

For more tips on how to successfully work with echo boomers, contact our office today.

Published with permission from RISMedia.


In this Edition: Summer Selling Strategies

June 7, 2012 4:02 pm

Our lead story in this month’s Home Matters, brought to you through our company's membership in RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), examines how real estate professionals can successfully work with echo boomer clients to turn the American Dream of homeownership into reality. Other topics covered this month include tips to create a positive first impression among prospective buyers and how to gain a competitive edge when house hunting through a mortgage pre-approval. We hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Home Matters and as always, we welcome your feedback. Email us anytime!

Published with permission from RISMedia.


New Challenges in Keeping Kids Safe Online

June 7, 2012 5:58 am

A new survey of Internet use by tweens (10 to 13 year olds) revealed that parents are doing a good job monitoring their children's online behavior, including talking to them and setting guidelines and restrictions for Internet use on home computers. Yet there is room for improvement, especially when it comes to keeping tweens safer when they use mobile and other connected devices.

Parents used to only have to worry about monitoring the home computer to keep their kids safer online. But today, Internet use is doubling every two years, and kids have access to the Internet through mobile devices, such as smartphones, handheld games, game consoles and tablets. The average family uses five Internet-enabled devices at home.

The Tween Internet Safety Survey, commissioned by Cox Communications in partnership with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), found that nearly all tweens (95 percent) use mobile devices to go online.

Mobile devices and gaming consoles are widely used by tweens to access Web content, and the survey revealed a lack of guidelines and controls on these devices that can leave tweens vulnerable. While 68 percent of parents surveyed said they monitored their child's Internet behavior on mobile devices, the survey showed that only 1 in 5 (17 percent) actually use basic parental control features such as age appropriate Web content filtering on smartphones, tablets and game consoles.

Parents and tweens acknowledged that fewer controls exist on mobile devices and gaming consoles than on computers. The survey revealed that many parents are not using the monitoring software and parental control tools available on their tweens' mobile devices because they are not familiar with how they work.
  • 83 percent of tweens use a gaming console to access the Internet at home.
  • 51 percent of the parents in the survey said they monitor their child's Internet behavior on gaming consoles.
  • 65 percent of parents said they were aware of and knew how to use parental controls on mobile devices and gaming consoles with Internet access.
The survey results also showed a gap between what tweens are doing online and what their parents believe they are doing.
  • 82 percent of parents surveyed considered themselves very knowledgeable about what their tween does online, and for the most part, believed their tween practices safe online behavior.
  • However, many of the tweens surveyed admitted to engaging in risky online behavior, including breaking the rules, accessing inappropriate content, and covering their tracks as they go; often unbeknownst to parents.
    • 44 percent admitted they've looked at or watched something online that their parents wouldn't approve of. (Only 28 percent of parents were aware of this.)
    • 34 percent have lied to parents about what they've done online. (Only 18 percent of parents were aware of this.)
Many children are facing risks online without their parents' knowledge.
  • 42 percent have received a personal message from someone they didn't know. (Only 22 percent of parents were aware of this.)
  • 17 percent have received an email or online message with pictures or words that made them feel uncomfortable. (Only 7 percent of parents were aware of this.)
  • 12 percent have already been bullied by someone online. (Only 6 percent of parents were aware of this.)

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Surging Enrollment Outpaces On-Campus Housing Demands

June 7, 2012 5:58 am

A 38.7 percent increase in university enrollment over the past decade is creating a shortage of on-campus housing nationwide, according to a new white paper from the National Multi Housing Council's (NMHC) National Student Housing Council (NSHC). The analysis utilized U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Census Bureau data between 2000 and 2010 to identify on-campus housing needs across the country.

"The tremendous size of Generation Y, combined with economic uncertainty, have pushed enrollment to new heights over the past decade," says Jim Arbury, NMHC's vice president of Student Housing. "This has put tremendous pressure on universities across the country as they attempt to keep up with the demand for on-campus living, offering a new opportunity for student housing firms."

Notable facts from the research report include:
  • The 38.7 percent increase in enrollment led to a 21.4 percent growth in the number of students living off campus.
  • While every state saw enrollment increases, Arizona, District of Columbia, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and West Virginia experienced some of the greatest surges in enrollment.
  • Most states have been unable to maintain the same percentage of students housed in dorms. States with the highest on-campus shortages are Arizona, District of Columbia, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada and Oregon.
  • Only five states (California, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland and Utah) have been able to provide enough additional dorm beds to maintain dorm residency levels against growing enrollments.
Source: National Multi Housing Council

Published with permission from RISMedia.


Average 15-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgage Breaks Barrier, Falls to 2.97 Percent

June 7, 2012 5:58 am

Freddie Mac recently released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey® (PMMS®), showing fixed mortgage rates following bond yields lower to new all-time record lows. The 30-year fixed averaged 3.75 percent setting a new all-time record low for the fifth consecutive week. The 15-year fixed averaged an unprecedented 2.97 percent bringing three of the four benchmark mortgage rates below 3 percent for the first time in Freddie Mac's weekly survey.

The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.75 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending May 31, 2012, down from last week when it averaged 3.78 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.55 percent.

The 15-year FRM last week averaged 2.97 percent with an average 0.7 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.04 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.74 percent.

The 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.84 percent last week, with an average 0.6 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.83. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 3.41 percent. Meanwhile, the 1-year Treasury-indexed ARM averaged 2.75 percent for the week with an average 0.4 point, unchanged from last week. At this time last year, the 1-year ARM averaged 3.13 percent.

According to Frank Nothaft, vice president and chief economist for Freddie Mac, "Market concerns over tensions in the Eurozone led to a decline in long-term Treasury bond yields helping to bring fixed mortgage rates to new record lows last week. Compared to a year ago, rates on 30-year fixed mortgage rates are almost 0.9 percentage points lower, which translates into nearly $1,200 less in annual payments on a $200,000 loan. Meanwhile, the S&P/Case-Shiller 20-city composite home price index (not seasonally adjusted) showed annual home-value gains in March in seven cities and a monthly gain in 12 cities."

Source: Freddie Mac

Published with permission from RISMedia.


10 Quirky Roadside Attractions to See This Summer

June 6, 2012 5:58 am

The great American road trip is the highlight of many travel bucket lists and this summer is the perfect time for travelers to cross that trip off the list. Jamie Jensen, author of the popular “Road Trip USA” travel guidebook, shares his top 10 roadside attractions for an unforgettable summertime adventure.

1. Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
Built in the 1970s, and celebrated in an eponymous 1980s hit by Bruce Springsteen, Cadillac Ranch consists of 11 classic 1950s Cadillacs buried nose-down in the southern Great Plains, right along old Route 66 outside Amarillo, Texas.

2. Wall Drug, Wall, S.D.
Photo opportunities abound at this famous roadside business, founded in 1931, thanks to the 80-foot-long dinosaur, a replica of nearby Mt. Rushmore, a 520-seat cafe, and shops for everything from postcards to cowboy boots.

3. Lucy the Elephant, Margate, N.J.
Immediately south of Atlantic City, there stands a classic remnant of the Jersey Shore's glory days: Lucy the Elephant, a six-story wood-and-tin pachyderm. Built by a Philadelphia real estate speculator in the 1880’s to draw customers to his newly laid-out community, this landmark was used around the turn of the 20th century as a tavern and now holds a small museum of local history.

4. Madonna Inn, San Luis Obispo, Calif.
The town of San Luis Obispo is home to one of California's most noteworthy pop culture landmarks, the Madonna Inn, which offers more than 100 unique rooms, each decorated in a wild barrage of fantasy motifs. There are the bright pink honeymoon suites known as "Just Heaven" and "Love Nest," and an Elvis-worthy "Safari Room" covered in fake zebra skins with a jungle-green shag carpet.

5. Carhenge, Alliance, Neb.
At the edge of Nebraska’s rolling Sand Hills, the small town of Alliance presents you with Carhenge. Built in 1987 as part of a local family reunion, Carhenge is a giant-sized replica of the famous Druid ruin, Stonehenge; this one, however, is built entirely out of three dozen late-model American cars, stacked on top of one another to form a semi-circular temple.

6. Clark's Trading Post, Lincoln, N.H.
For nearly a century the main draw at Clark's Trading Post has been the chance to “See Live Bears!” as they perform a series of entertaining tricks—rolling barrels, shooting basketballs through hoops, and riding scooters. Don’t miss Clark’s gift shop, which is stocked with all the wonderfully tacky stuff retro-minded road-trippers drive miles to find.

7. Collinsville Catsup Bottle, Collinsville, Ill.
Across the Mississippi from St. Louis, the town of Collinsville has become nearly-world-famous for the World's Largest Catsup Bottle, which rises south of Main Street. Constructed in 1949 on the grounds of what used to be the Brooks Catsup Company, this decorated water tower was restored by the people of Collinsville as a super-size symbol of local pride and perseverance.

8. South of the Border, S.C.
Located just south of the North Carolina state line at I-95 exit 1, South of the Border is a 135-acre assembly of sombrero-shaped fast-food stands, giant video arcades, souvenir shops, a sombrero-clad concrete brontosaurus and 20-story Sombrero Tower giving a panoramic view of the Interstate.

9. Paul Bunyan, Bemidji, Minn.
Standing along a lakeshore in the Great North Woods of Minnesota, brightly painted statues of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan and his sidekick Babe the Blue Ox have been drawing visitors to the town of Bemidji since 1937. Next to Paul and Babe, the Bemidji visitors center boasts a fireplace made with stones from every U.S. state (apart from Alaska and Hawaii, which weren't states when the fireplace was built), and shares space with a small museum of taxidermied wildlife and odd historical items, including Paul Bunyan's ax.

10. World's Largest Six Pack, La Crosse, Wis.
The Mississippi River town of La Crosse Wisconsin is host to the World's Largest Six-Pack, which stands right along the Great River Road. Used as a fermentation tank for a local brewery, when full, the Six Pack holds enough beer to fill seven million real-life cans.

Published with permission from RISMedia.