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Appraisal Institute Issues Form to Help Real Estate Appraisers Analyze 'Green' Features

October 10, 2011 10:57 pm

One of the nation’s largest professional associations of real estate appraisers recently released a form intended to help analyze values of energy-efficient home features.

An industry leader in green valuation, the Appraisal Institute issued the form as an optional addendum to Fannie Mae Form 1004, the appraisal industry’s most widely used form for mortgage lending purposes. Used by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration, Form 1004 is completed by appraisers to uphold safe and sound lending. Currently, the contributory value of a home’s green features is rarely part of the equation.

The Appraisal Institute’s addendum allows appraisers to identify and describe a home’s green features, from solar panels to energy-saving appliances. Form 1004 devotes limited attention to energy efficient features, so green data usually doesn’t appear in the appraisal report, or it is included in a lengthy narrative that often is ignored.

Appraisal Institute President Joseph C. Magdziarz, MAI, SRA, points out that the Appraisal Institute’s form also will make it easier for appraisers to determine whether recent home sales should be used as comparable sales. Sales that are truly comparable are key components in determining a property’s value.
“We hope lenders, home builders, real estate agents and homeowners will take advantage of this new tool,” Magdziarz says. “Mortgage lenders who want to see energy features analyzed should request the green addendum to be included with Form 1004. We also encourage lenders to provide the green addendum to homeowners so they can fill it out and provide it to their appraiser. If a new home is being appraised, home builders can use the addendum to provide data to appraisers. Real estate agents also can use the data to help populate the MLS.”

For more information, visit


Fall Pet Care Tips for Your Four-Legged Family

October 7, 2011 4:57 pm

In a season of shorter days and colder weather, Steven May, a national pet expert shares health care tips and safeguards for the fall season.

“Believe it or not, pet care tips do change from season to season," says May. Listed below, are the top five pet care tips for dogs and cats.

• Purchase reflective collars and leashes. This will help drivers see you in the dim-light hours.
• Purchase reflective sweaters and jackets for the cooler days and nights.
• Pay attention to any indoor plants that may be toxic to dogs.
• Clean and dry all paws and pads after each walk or outdoor activity. Your dog’s paws should stay dry at all times.
• Be prepared for the holiday travel period. Make sure your dog is current with all his/her vaccinations.
Bonus Tip: Halloween is just around the corner. Remember chocolate is toxic. Always inform and teach your children to be very careful when handling candy around pets.

• Clean the cat litter box after each use. Pet parents that have multiple litter boxes need to clean constantly.
• Replace your entire litter box, from top to bottom. It is a good practice to replace and purchase a litter box at least two times yearly. The use of cleaning products and your cat constantly using the box can stain, scratch and wear it out.
• Purchase a reflective breakaway collar. This will help drivers see your cat(s) in the dim-light hours.
• Tie-up and secure all electrical cords inside the home.
• Pay attention to any indoor plants that may be toxic to cats.

For more information, visit


REALTORS Call for Increased Lending

October 7, 2011 4:57 pm

Increased lending to creditworthy home buyers and more loan modifications and short sales are necessary to reduce the rising inventory of foreclosed homes and help stabilize and revitalize the housing industry and economy, according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

That was the message delivered recently by Allan Dechert, 2011 president of the New Jersey Association of REALTORS®, who testified on NAR’s behalf before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development regarding new ideas to address foreclosures.

“As the leading advocate for homeownership, NAR knows that foreclosures don’t just affect the families that lose their homes—communities, the housing market and the economy all suffer,” says Dechert. “Ensuring credit availability to qualified buyers and helping more distressed homeowners with loan modifications and short sales will help reduce the growing inventory of foreclosed homes and ensure that housing leads the way out of today’s economic struggles.”

Dechert says that creditworthy consumers continue to have difficulties securing fair and affordable loans despite their proven ability to afford the monthly payment. He says that NAR supports responsible lending standards; however, unnecessarily tight credit restrictions are putting downward pressure on home values, increasing the number of homeowners whose mortgage exceeds the value of their home, and adding to the number of foreclosures.

“Increased fees, higher downpayments and reduced loan limits are making it harder for borrowers to obtain safe and sound mortgage financing products. Greater access to financing for qualified borrowers and investors could help absorb the excess inventory of foreclosed properties,” says Dechert.

In testimony, NAR also urged the lending industry to take greater action to keep struggling families in their homes through loan modifications that reduce the probability of default and prevent further increases to the large inventory of foreclosed properties. Helping more families remain current on their mortgage by significantly reducing their monthly mortgage payment will allow them to remain in the home that they worked so hard to obtain and reduce the impact of foreclosures on local home prices.

Dechert says that continued short sale delays are also contributing to foreclosures and urged lenders and servicers to quickly approve reasonable short sale offers that would allow homeowners to avoid foreclosure. The current short sale process can be time-consuming and inefficient, and many would-be buyers end up walking away from a sale that could have saved a homeowner from foreclosure.

“Loan modifications—and short sales for those unable to meet their mortgage obligations—help stabilize home values and neighborhoods, and limit the losses incurred by lenders, the federal government and taxpayers,” says Dechert. “More must be done to streamline short sale transactions, since many potential home buyers are simply choosing to walk away from transactions due to the length of time it takes for lenders to approve and complete these sales.”

For more information, visit


Keep Your Kids Safe with These Halloween Safety Tips

October 7, 2011 4:57 pm

Halloween is an exciting time of year for kids, and to help ensure that they have a safe holiday, here are some tips to keep in mind throughout the season:

All Dressed Up:
• Plan costumes that are bright and reflective. Make sure that shoes fit well and that costumes are short enough to prevent tripping, entanglement or contact with flame.
• Because masks can limit or block eyesight, consider non-toxic makeup and decorative hats as safer alternatives. Hats should fit properly to prevent them from sliding over eyes.
• When shopping for costumes, wigs and accessories, look for and purchase those with a label clearly indicating they are flame resistant.
• If a sword, cane, or stick is a part of your child's costume, make sure it is not sharp or too long. A child may be easily hurt by these accessories if he or she stumbles or trips.
• Obtain flashlights with fresh batteries for all children and their escorts.
• Teach children how to call 9-1-1 (or their local emergency number) if they have an emergency or become lost.

Home Safe Home:
• To keep homes safe for visiting trick-or-treaters, homeowners should remove from the porch and front yard anything a child could trip over such as garden hoses, toys, bikes and lawn decorations.
• Homeowners should check outdoor lights and replace burnt-out bulbs.
• Wet leaves should be swept from sidewalks and steps.
• Restrain pets so they do not inadvertently jump on or bite a trick-or-treater.

On the Trick-or-Treat Trail:
• A parent or responsible adult should always accompany young children on their neighborhood rounds.
• If your older children are going alone, plan and review an acceptable route. Agree on a specific time when they should return home.
• Only go to homes with a porch light on and never enter a home or car for a treat.
• Remind children to stay in a group and communicate where they will be going.
• Remain on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk.
• If no sidewalk is available, walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic.
• Never cut across yards or use alleys.
• Only cross the street as a group in established crosswalks (as recognized by local custom). Never cross between parked cars or out driveways.
• Don't assume the right of way. Motorists may have trouble seeing Trick-or-Treaters. Just because one car stops, doesn't mean others will.
• Law enforcement authorities should be notified immediately of any suspicious or unlawful activity.

Healthy Halloween:
• A good meal prior to parties and trick-or-treating will discourage youngsters from filling up on Halloween treats.
• Consider purchasing non-food treats for those who visit your home, such as coloring books, or pens and pencils.
• Wait until children are home to sort and check treats. Though tampering is rare, a responsible adult should closely examine all treats and throw away any spoiled, unwrapped or suspicious items.
• Try to ration treats for the days following Halloween.

Source: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)


Traffic Infractions: Their Severity and Impact on Insurance Rates

October 6, 2011 10:57 pm

Traffic infractions can vary from minor to very serious and how an insurance company rates them varies as well. Drivers should know how these types of infractions affect premiums and when to shop around for a better rate.

When a driver is given a ticket, it may cause an increase in premiums depending on the type. It may also cause a much higher increase if it is a major or serious infraction. Even with a serious infraction you can still shop for a better insurance rate as there are insurance companies who cater to this market specifically.

Minor Infractions Mean Smaller Increases

Drivers can generally expect that an insurance company will raise rates for some of the following, treating them as minor infractions:

• Speeding tickets for speeds less than 49 km/hr over (this may vary)
• Running a red light or stop sign
• Failure to obey a traffic sign
• Failure to signal before making a turn or changing lanes
• Following too closely (tailgating)

Most minor infractions will cause some type of increase. However, there are a few minor infractions that may not result in an increase at all, depending on the insurance company’s rules. An example of these would be a parking violation or a red light camera ticket.

Major Infractions Result in Higher Rates
Drivers can expect to see heftier increases on their insurance premiums in the event of a major traffic infraction. These infractions are considered more serious than a minor infraction and result in a higher insurance increase. Again, there are no hard and fast rules for what an insurance company will define as a major infraction, but the following will often make the list:

• Speeding tickets for speeds more than 50 km/hr over (again, this may vary)
• Speeding in a school zone
• Driving while uninsured
• Passing a school bus with red lights flashing

When a driver receives a ticket for a major infraction, odds are good their insurance will rise in accordance with the severity of the violation. Of course, each insurance company makes their own determination on rate increases and on what is considered a major offence.

Serious Infractions Mean Serious Consequences
A serious infraction is not just serious to insurance rates but can have legal consequences as well. These might include large fines, loss of driver’s license or even jail time. They are considered serious because they are usually very dangerous actions that could put lives in danger and in some cases have already caused injuries or death. Some of the actions that fall into this category include:

• Careless or dangerous driving
• Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol
• Vehicular manslaughter
• Assault with a vehicle
• Failing to stop after an accident
• Failing to stop for a police officer
• Illegal street racing

Drivers who face these kinds of violations are often not thinking about their insurance rates at first and it may come as a surprise later when the rate increase occurs.

No matter the type of infraction, insurance companies can only charge an increased rate for a specific amount of time. This is generally three years (from the date of conviction, not the date that you got the ticket) but may vary from company to company. Be prepared by knowing exactly when the infraction will fall off and follow up on it. Some insurance companies will leave the increase in rate on the policy until the next renewal date. A new company, however, may not be bound by this, so be sure to take the time to shop around.



Avoid Common Mistakes as an Investor

October 6, 2011 10:57 pm

Given the current economy and housing market, now is as good a time as ever to purchase real estate with the intent of renting. For investors looking to hold on to a property for the long haul, there is great money to be made with the right plan in place. However, nothing is ever a sure-shot. If you plan on picking up a piece of rental housing, be sure to avoid the following mistakes to ensure long-term success:

Don't assume a cheap deal is a good one. It's true that there are definitely inexpensive properties out on the market, but don't be too hasty when deciding to buy one. If the neighborhood or area is deserted and vacant, it won't be that appealing to future renters and you could run the risk of having your rental go uninhabited. Do some homework about the town, city or neighborhood before you sign the dotted line.

Don't overlook various costs. Sure, the price is attractive, but have you factored in closing costs? How about maintenance or repair costs? Do the math before buying so you can be sure to not bite off more than you can chew.

Every day your property is empty, you lose money. Avoid any type of extended vacancy in your property. If the property is empty, you aren't making any money. Between tenants, be sure to clean and repair quickly so that a new one can move in.

Understand that being a landlord is hard work. Don't assume that you will get to sit back and watch the rent checks flood in. Not only will there be maintenance work to do throughout the year, but you should also have concerns about finding the right tenants to rent the place. If your renters stop paying, it could take weeks or months to properly evict them. Some landlords may even run into issues relating to theft. Properly screen all possible candidates whenever possible.

Don't assume that owning a rental is the same as owning a home. There are many laws that vary by state that all landlords must abide by. Renters will always make various demands and requests and will definitely take up some of your time. Hiring a property manager is also an option, but with it comes yet another added expense. Make sure you are mentally and financially prepared to take on the task of becoming a landlord.

By being prepared and learning about what it truly takes to become a landlord, you can avoid making one of these common investor mistakes.



Housing Must Remain Nation's Top Priority, Say REALTORS

October 6, 2011 10:57 pm

We need to keep housing first on the nation’s public policy agenda, because housing and homeownership issues affect all Americans, and a housing recovery is necessary for the nation’s economic well-being.

That was the message delivered by National Association of REALTORS® President Ron Phipps recently during the New Solutions for America’s Housing Crisis forum, where he joined a panel of experts to discuss solutions for addressing the country’s housing and economic challenges. The event was hosted by Economic Policies for the 21st Century and the Progressive Policy Institute.

“As the leading advocate for homeownership, REALTORS® know that issues like affordable financing, natural disaster insurance, the mortgage interest deduction, and foreclosures and short sales don’t just affect people who own a home—homeownership shapes communities and strengthens the nation’s economy,” says Phipps. “America needs strong public policies that promote responsible, sustainable homeownership and that will help stabilize the nation’s housing market to support an economic recovery.”

Phipps said that housing is not recovering at the rate it should be and called on legislators and regulators to do no harm. He said that proposed legislation and regulatory rules or changes to homeownership tax benefits need to help America out of today’s economic struggles and not further harm consumer confidence or exacerbate problems within the fragile real estate industry.

Overly stringent standards and lower mortgage loan limits are preventing qualified borrowers from getting loans, and Phipps called on lenders and regulators to reduce the overcorrection in underwriting standards for mortgages. He urged support for policies that ensure qualified borrowers can obtain safe and sound mortgages in all markets at all times and encourage sound lending without high downpayment requirements.

“REALTORS® support strong underwriting, but too stringent standards are curtailing the ability of creditworthy consumers from obtaining mortgages to purchase a home, and that’s impacting the recovery,” says Phipps. “Making mortgages available to creditworthy home buyers and streamlining loan modifications and short sales will help stabilize and revitalize the housing industry and reduce the rising inventory of foreclosed homes.”

Phipps recommended that political and industry leaders work together to help reshape real estate and put the country back on the right track. “Our goal is to help ensure that anyone in this country who aspires to own their own home and can afford to do so is not denied the opportunity to build their future through homeownership,” Phipps says.

For more information, visit


Upping the Ante: Plugged-In Homes Increasingly Popular

October 6, 2011 12:09 pm

According to a recent survey conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) that polled 1,793 real estate agents, home theater-wired systems, home security systems, home automation management systems and energy management systems are selling faster than ever before, making technology a must-have for buyers.

“There is a strong relationship between home technologies and the real estate market,” said CEA’s Rhonda Daniel in a recent press release. “While the market needs to recover before home technologies play a more important role in home sales, the industry can help prepare real estate agents to be comfortable in discussing these types of systems with their clients.”

The survey shows that in the last two years, the number of real estate agents who have been involved in buying, selling or showing a plugged-in home equipped with technology has risen substantially.

Ninety-three percent of real estate professionals reported showing homes that featured established systems such as monitored security. In addition, 89 percent indicated they had shown a home that included a home theater or home theater-wired system; 54 percent showed homes that featured home automation and management systems and 51 percent showed homes with energy management systems.

The survey also shows that 68 percent of REALTORS® believe home technologies will play a more important role in the success of home sales within five years. Whether those REALTORS® are involved in new construction or previously owned homes, this number is a strong indicator of when REALTORS® believe the real estate market will fully rebound.

“Manufacturers and electronic systems contractors should be laying the groundwork now to take advantage of the eventual upswing in the real estate market,” Daniel said. “Educating REALTORS® on the benefits, value and functionalities of installed technologies now will demonstrate that the consumer electronics (CE) industry can be a trusted partner to equip them with the knowledge they are lacking.”

Nearly two-thirds of real estate agents surveyed offered that their clients are excited to see technology in homes. That means current homeowners looking to sell should consider upgrading their home with some sort of home technology system.

“The ideal goal for the consumer electronics industry is to have knowledgeable real estate agents who are excited and open to promoting technology as a selling feature of homes,” Daniel said.

A lesser fix to appeal to prospective buyers who crave technology is to simply make sure that there are enough outlets, cable lines and phone jacks within the home so that someone coming with their own equipment will have an easy time setting it all up. A home with only one outlet in the family room or media room and no place for a fiber optic line to be added can be a turnoff for today’s buyers.

To learn more about incorporating technology into your home, contact our office today.


New Guidelines Help Streamline the Short Sale Process

October 6, 2011 12:09 pm

With the current state of the housing market, the words “short sale” are being thrown around quite a bit, but many people don’t understand what those words really mean.

The theory behind a short sale seems simple enough: If a homeowner owes more money on a house than it can be sold for and is having trouble paying the mortgage, the bank will allow the house to be sold for less than is owed.

A short sale can also be the best option for a homeowner who is “upside down” on their mortgage because short sales don’t generally hurt a homeowner’s credit history as much as a foreclosure. As a result, homeowners may qualify for a mortgage in less time once they get back on their feet financially.

The problem, however, lies in the banks, as they would rather collect the full amount owed, making the short sale process more difficult than it has to be.

Last April, The Home Affordable Alternatives Program (HAFA) released new guidelines that were designed to streamline the process and allow more delinquent homeowners to sell their homes and get on with their lives.

Over the course of the first 18 months under the program, more than 16,000 HAFA agreements have been made with approximately 8,000 transactions completed.

HAFA complements the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), a loan modification program designed to reduce delinquent and at-risk borrowers’ monthly mortgage payments by providing alternatives for borrowers who don’t qualify for or don’t complete a trial modification.

“They are designed to help people who are unable to keep their home under the HAMP loan modification program,” said Jeff Lischer, managing director for regulatory policy for The National Association of REALTORS®. “Let’s say you can’t keep your property under HAMP, the next step is a short sale, which is better than a foreclosure.”

Housing professionals claim that lenders lose about 40% of a property’s value on a foreclosure. This is reduced to about 19% on a short sale. The short sale is a graceful exit from the ownership, which is better for a homeowner’s credit score and it makes sense from the standpoint of helping your neighbors, too.

The guidelines also provide incentives for the borrower to go this route. The first incentive is designed to help the seller relocate, as they will receive a check for $3,000 to help them cover the costs associated with a move. The second incentive is for mortgage servicers, who will get $1,500 from the Federal Government for each completed short sale.

To qualify, homeowners must meet certain requirements, but since foreclosures are considered a lose/lose situation, the new rules can make the short sale process a win/win.

The loan must be less than $729,750; made before January 1, 2009; and the home must be the owner’s primary residence. Also, the homeowner must be delinquent and unable to pay their mortgage in addition to the mortgage payment being more than 31% of their before-tax income.

The new guidelines also allow a homeowner to get a short sale approval in advance, by allowing the owner to receive a pre-approval from the bank that includes the minimum net amount it will accept.

To learn more about short sales, contact our office today.


Bringing the Outdoors In: Taking Advantage of Fall as You Prep Your Home for Sale

October 6, 2011 12:09 pm

As the fall season marks its arrival with cooler temperatures and shorter days, bringing the outdoors in and taking advantage of fall décor is one way home sellers can set their house apart from the rest. While you don’t want to go overboard, you can have some fun while incorporating fall themed items into the mix.

Creative a festive scene right on your dining room table with a fall inspired floral arrangement in an eye-catching polished copper or silver container or even an apple basket. Mix in a few berries or branches to bring a bit of nature into the scene.

Decorators recommend adding plaid or a fall colored fabric for use as runners, simple throws or pillows. If you want to kick it up a notch, replace solids by adding materials featuring a Moroccan vibe in plum, bronze or gold for a luxurious play of color.

“Bring a taste of the outdoors in with distressed wood pieces like log vases or birch-themed pedestals to display candles or flowers,” said Michael Sullivan, an interior decorator in Fairfax, Virginia. “You can incorporate twigs, branches and berry stems for an organic look.”

Corn is another great decorating item that home sellers can take advantage of this fall. It can be placed in a bowl, hung up in a design or used as the centerpiece of a display.

A wreath on the door is another decorative element that can add character to an entryway that may normally be plain or basic.

Individual silk leaves can be scattered on tables, leaf garlands can be strung across a staircase banister and a leaf wreath can serve as the focal point of a mantel when hung on a wreath stand.

“Accentuate the home with a splash of harvest colors of yellow, orange, gold, green, wheat and brown,” Sullivan said. “These hues will add a sense of warmth and comfort to your interior, which can get buyers interested.”

Outside, seasonal finds are aplenty with mums, kale, pumpkins and gourds. Creating an eye-catching fall garden in the front of the house is always a welcoming sight for prospective buyers. Just remember to rake the leaves regularly. The last thing you want a buyer to see is a lawn full of leaves, conveying the message that a lot of time is going to be spent raking during the fall.

Halloween decorations can create a festive look as long as you don’t go overboard. While a few carved jack-o-lanterns, ghost lights and witch hangings will get people in the spirit of the season, you don’t want the house overflowing with fake cobwebs or have monster cutouts lurking in every room.

Leaving Halloween cookies on the counter during home showings is also a great way to get people in the right mood as they walk around the home.

For additional ways to prepare your home for sale, contact our office today.