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September News Letter

Should You Be Your Own Contractor?
By Lee Wallender
Updated 03/05/17

First off, when I researched this, I did not find a single website or home renovation guru who advocated homeowners being their own contractor. Some articles have promising titles ("Be Your Own Contractor! Save Money!") but quickly turn into a rant against homeowners who have the gall to think they can be their own contractor. Second, based on my own experiences, I have reservations about wholeheartedly advocating that homeowners act as their own contractor.
Why You Should
1. It's Cheaper
Save money. Big money. Huge money. This point requires some deep thought.
When you take on other do-it-yourself jobs, you save a healthy proportion of money--but the total dollar figure for the job often isn't that great. For example, if you sand your own floors rather than hiring a crew, you may save several hundred dollars, depending on the size of your floors.
Nothing to sneeze at. But the amount of money you save by acting as your own contractor is staggering. Figuring a 20% contractor's commission (which is not top end of the spectrum) on a $200,000 addition, you'll save $40,000 by acting as your own contractor. Kick that commission up to 30%, and you'll have pocketed $60,000. That buys a lot of hardwood and granite for that addition, or sends one of your kids off to college.
2. You Have More Control
No matter how much the contractor claims to be an instrument of your desires, you will lose some measure of control.
The foundation guys will show up on the Saturday you specifically requested a "stop work day" because you're throwing a baby shower that day. Or the windows aren't quite right. Or costs have escalated and you're not quite sure why. By acting as your own contractor, you have total control--for better or worse.
3. You Get to Build Up Your List of Subs
One benefit of paying the giant commission to the contractor is that he insulates you from some of the less-pleasant aspects of home remodeling. But this also means that you're insulated from some of the trades you might need later on down the line. By acting as your own contractor, you build up a Rolodex of names and numbers of companies and individuals who can help you lay flooring, install windows, or paint after your initial project is done.
Why You Should Not
Has the DIY craze gone too far? I think so. Post 2000s, with the wave of reality DIY shows, every homeowner seems to have the idea that he can do everything.
I love to encourage homeowners to stretch themselves with remodel projects. It's highly rewarding to walk on the tile floor that you laid down yourself or enjoy the beauty of exterior paint you sprayed yourself last Summer.
Myself, I had the pleasure of turning on lights and plugging in appliances as a result of my DIY whole-kitchen wiring project. Fun though it was, it took me roughly 10 times longer than if I had paid an electrician, no joke there. So, is enough enough sometimes?
I think so. Taking on the contractor role can mean biting off more than you can chew.
1. Contractors Do More Than Make Phone Calls
Sure, it looks like all they do is schedule the subs. Even if that were true, their experience at scheduling is invaluable. But contractors have a wealth of experience that is often hard-won. Instead of taking the hard knocks yourself, you can buy into the experience for the mere cost of his commission. Which will you have?
2. Contractors May Have Valuable Connections
You go to the permit office and can't in to see anyone. The contractor goes to the permit office and doors open for him. While this does not pertain to every contractor and regulator, it is true that social connections do help. This is not to say that back-room dealing goes on; it's only to say that regulators and contractors speak the same language.
3. It's a Time-Sensitive Project
Any project, no matter how large or small, can become nerve-wracking the minute you impose a time constraint on it.
For example, if you are remodeling your second kitchen located in the basement, you probably have lots of time to pick away at it. But if you're remodeling your only kitchen, you need it finished ASAP. Every day that your kitchen is out of order means another meal at Denny's. It's in your best interests to tightly schedule your remodel so that it takes as little time as possible.

5 Reasons You Should Hire an Electrician Rather Than Do Your Own Work

By Lee Wallender
Updated 12/31/16
Electrician Working on House. Getty / Paul Bradbury
There are many benefits of doing your electrical work.  You save money; it is more flexible than calling in and waiting for an electrician; and you can call the shots.
But even the more experienced DIY electrician may reach the point when they feel like it's time to call in a professional:

1. You've Got Permits and Inspectors Added To the Equation

After you paint your living room or tile your kitchen backsplash, it's just you and your dog Spot "oooing and ahhing" over the fruits of your labors.
 While you should maintain basic building practices, nobody comes by afterwards to check up on your work.  Permits are not needed for painting your child's bedroom.  Inspectors do not need to approve the trimwork around your windows.
Electrical work does, though.  If you're going about homeowner-driven electrical work the right way, you will pull permits and have inspectors visit.  The approval/disapproval process is just an added level of frustration you can eliminate by having electricians do the work.  If they do it, most likely the permit will get "finalled."  If not, it's the electrician's job to make it right--not you.

2. Electrical Work Is Better Than Other Projects But Still Not Fun

In relation to other home remodeling jobs like sanding drywall or digging up sewer pipes, electrical work can be classified as "fun" (along with "clean" and "yields to logic.").
Yet few people--if fact, I will argue zero people--ever take on their own electrical work because it is fun.
 When you step back and compare electrical work to other things in your life not related to remodeling--playing with your kids, travelling, eating out, seeing a movie--running 12/2 cable through a cobwebbed basement pales by comparison.  Simply put, you've got better things to do in life, and hiring out allows you to do those things.

3. Electricians Know Things You Don't Know

You hire people because they can do things you cannot do:  flying commercial jets, corporate litigation, repairing Teslas.  Because you know absolutely nothing about the task, there is no question about hiring a professional.
But you get into murky and often dangerous territory when you know a few things about the job-at-hand.  As they say, a little knowledge can be dangerous.
The issue is exacerbated when you've got home remodeling writers shouting from their bully pulpits ("Do it yourself!") and home improvement stores overflowing with boxes, cable, switches, outlets, and lights practically begging to be homeowner-installed.
This point about knowledge and experience is at the core of the argument.  Even if you know 92% about electrical work, it's the other 8% that can hurt you.

4. They Are Expensive, But You Can Control Costs

Electricians are true professionals, and whenever they are in your house, you can just hear the "money clock" ticking away and your bill rapidly escalating.  
By approaching it smartly, though, you can limit your costs.  Simple things like having your circuits correctly mapped out can save electricians from doing it for you.

5. It Can Be Dangerous

Death during home remodeling comes in different, often unexpected forms.  The U.S. Centers For Disease Control tells us that in the workplace "falls remain a leading cause of unintentional injury [deaths] nationwide, and 43 percent of fatal falls in the last decade have involved a ladder."  From 1992 to 2002, electrocution was #6 in the list of reasons for workplace fatalities.
The point is that homeowners should fear causes that appear benign (painting the house) as much as those that have the "scary label" plastered on them (electrical).
Still, 200 amps is enough to kill you, and that's what most homes have coming into their service panels.  Even 15A or 20A can do it, depending on the conditions.

August Newsletter

August Events

Tax Benefits of a Second Home
A second home can give you more tax deductions.
A second home could be a house in a ski resort, a cabin on a lake or in the mountains or just a house in another area to let you escape from summer heat or winter cold. A boat, if it has sleeping, eating and sanitary accommodations, also qualifies. You might decide to buy a second home for personal use or for an investment. Along with any personal pleasure you get from the residence, you also will receive extra deductions on your federal taxes.
Interest and Taxes
Mortgage interest and property taxes are the major tax benefits of a second home. You can deduct 100 percent of interest and property taxes on both homes, up to a total of $1 million if you're married and filing jointly or $500,000 for single payers. You're limited to two homes, your primary residence and one second home.
Secondary Interest
Interest is also deductible for second mortgages or home-equity loans or lines of credit, up to $100,000 for joint filers. You can get a line of credit to buy a car or boat and still deduct the interest so long as the loan is secured by a home. If you have a variable line of credit, you can only deduct interest on money you actually take out.
Deducting Points
You also can deduct "points," often called discounts or loan-origination fees, when you buy a home or refinance a mortgage. You can deduct points charged when you first close a mortgage. If the mortgage is for the second home or a refinancing of your primary home, however, you have to spread the point deduction over the life of the loan.
Property Taxes
Your property taxes are deductible in the year they're paid. Don't confuse annual taxes with the tax charges on a mortgage escrow account, which holds money to pay them as bills come in. Use the actual tax collected. You should get a statement from a local tax agency and also an annual accounting from your mortgage holder.
Rental Rules
Renting your second home can reduce your deduction. You have to spend at least 14 days a year using the home or 10 percent of the time it's rented, whichever is longer, to get the deduction. Otherwise, the IRS will consider it a rental property. You'll have to report, and pay taxes on, rental income and reduce your deductions by the percentage of time it's rented.
Itemize Deductions
You have to itemize deductions on a Schedule A of a Form 1040 tax return to claim interest and property taxes. To be worthwhile, your total interest should exceed your standard deduction, which in 2012 was $7,100 for couples filing jointly or $4,250 for singles. You can boost your deduction with extra payments, for instance paying a January bill in December.
About the Author
Bob Haring has been a news writer and editor for more than 50 years, mostly with the Associated Press and then as executive editor of the Tulsa, Okla. "World." Since retiring he has written freelance stories and a weekly computer security column. Haring holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri.


07/09/2013 01:26 pm ET | Updated Sep 08, 2013
Vacation Home Purchase vs. Timeshare Ownership


By Tom Gilmore
Sales of vacation homes were up 10 percent last year — accounting for 11 percent of all home sales — according to the latest figures from the National Association of Realtors. But while vacation home sales are on the rise, Fitch Ratings reported that U.S. timeshare purchases dropped again last quarter.

As consumers look to purchase a piece of paradise, how do they decide between an investment in full-time or part-time ownership — and why might the popularity of timeshares be waning?

Though a seemingly affordable way to get into the vacation property market, timeshares are not always a wise investment. As the CEO and Founder of VacationHomeRentals.com, I’m sharing the top benefits of purchasing a vacation home versus a timeshare:

1. No flat maintenance fees - Most timeshares require owners to pay annual maintenance fees that run at least $400 and increase every year of ownership- in addition to the mandatory fees for use of amenities at the resort. With private ownership, the expenses are more tied to the property and can be managed and controlled by the owner. The upkeep on a private rental property can also be expensed during tax time.
2. More personal - By purchasing a home, owners can make the space personal by choosing paint colors or decorating to fit the style of future renters and their own personal preferences. Typically with timeshares, the home can’t be altered unless all other co-owners are in agreement.
3. Flexibility - The selected weeks are rigid and if you need to adjust schedules, it is nearly impossible to swap. Certainly during high season, timeshares book up quite quickly and often only non-desirable locations are available. However with private ownership, you call the shots on the weeks that you want for use and the weeks that you wish to offer up for rental use.
4. Resale Value - If your home is near the water, well kept, or in a desirable location selling is typically favorable- especially over the long term. However, timeshare resales typically result in low prices and take a long time to offload.
5. Time to buy is great - With many popular areas like Florida and California working off inventories of foreclosed homes, historically low interest rates, and the economic outlook brightening, many would-be investors are ready to take advantage of a great vacation home real estate market.



July Newsletter

Best New Security Tips To Keep Your Home Safe While You're On Vacation
Written by Jaymi Naciri Posted On Sunday, 02 July 2017 16:05
Nothing kills your vacation buzz like getting a call from the police back home letting you know your home has been burglarized. Basic home security tips are great, but safety measures are continually evolving, with new and more refined ways to keep you and your home safe.
Vary your inside lights
"There are differing opinions on whether or not you should leave your lights on the entire time you're on vacation," said A Secure Life. "If you leave your lights on the whole time you're gone, it wastes a lot of electricity and raises your electric bill. Also, having lights on 24/7 can look just as suspicious as having them off. Electronic timers may be helpful. The danger here is that if someone was really intent on robbing you, they will likely be watching the house for a period of time. If they notice that the lights go on at exactly 7:05pm and off at exactly 10:35pm each night, it would not take a genius to figure out they are on a timer."
The answer: A project like Caséta. "Scheduling lights to turn on at varying times is a great way to deter burglars, and the Caséta Wireless kit lets you control the lights in your home from anywhere through the Lutron Electronics app," said USA Today 10 Best. "Its new Smart Away feature randomly turns lights on and off between 6pm and 11pm to make your home look lived in - even when you're on vacation. Caséta Wireless also ensures you never have to walk into a dark house again - or get out of bed to turn off the lights."
Hold your mail - even if you're only going away for a weekend
Mail theft is up, and consequently, so is identity theft. "According to a US Postal Service official, mail theft is on the rise, with the objective of getting access to financial information to exploit for personal gain," said ABC 10. Asking your neighbors to get your mail is great, but what if they don't get to it right away? You don't want thieves putting a plan of credit card fraud into action while you're getting a massage.
Hire a dog sitter
You may think you have thought of everything when it comes to protecting your home on vacation. But if your dogs are also taking a little vacation at your fave boarding spot while you're away, you might be removing one of the top obstacles to home break-ins: a barking dog. Nextdoor and Rover are great places to find a qualified dog sitter who can stay with your pooches and watch your house at the same time, and, often, it will cost you less than boarding, especially if you have more than one dog.

Watch the doggy door
If you do board your dogs, be sure to lock up your doggy door while you're gone. Depending on the size of your dogs, humans might be able to enter your home while slithering through. If the doggy door is in plain sight and can be viewed from the street, even with the cover on (which may keep your dog from going in and out but may not keep a thief out), you may want to consider placing a chair or large plant in front of it.
Get rid of spare keys
Have a key hidden under the mat or in the planter next to the front door? Security experts will advise you this is dangerous on any given day with thieves looking for an easy way in. But, especially, when you're out of town, a poorly hidden key is an invitation for unlawful entry. Instead, leave a house key with a trusted neighbor for emergencies.
Lock your gates
If someone can get into your backyard, they have an easier entry into your home since they're more likely to be out of sight. If you regularly keep the gate unlocked to give access to gardeners or other family members, consider locking it while you're away. Forgoing landscaping in your back yard for a week won't hurt, and the extra security measure will help you feel at ease.
Cancel automatic deliveries
You may think about your mail, and even halting your newspaper delivery, while you're enjoying your relaxing beach getaway, but have you forgotten anything? If you get regular deliveries - coffee, office supplies, diapers - be sure to call and cancel for the the time you're gone. Packages piling up at your front door can invite theft - of your home, and the stuff you ordered.
Wipe away your fingerprints
Have a front door lock that uses a code instead of a key? They're great for minimizing the likelihood that someone will be locked out. But, there have been recent cases in which crooks used fingerprint patterns on the touchpad to determine the code and break in. Get into a habit of wiping the keypad down every day to minimize the risk.
Get a security system
Nothing new about this, but a security system continues to be the No. 1 deterrent to break-ins, so it bears mentioning. PC Mag's featured smart security system is Vivint Smart Home, which costs just $49. "Bottom Line: The Vivint Smart Home system offers 24/7 security monitoring and remote control of your door locks, cameras, heating system, and features the best video doorbell solution we've tested," they said.

Get a security camera
In lieu of, or in addition to, a security system. Security cameras can give you piece of mind. PC Mag recommends two starter models: The iControl Networks Piper nv or the Nest Cam Outdoor. "These cameras have built-in sensors that track motion, and will send push notifications when movement is detected (the Piper nv will also send notifications when humidity and temperature thresholds are exceeded)," they said. "Both are solid, cost-saving alternatives to full-on security systems."
Increase your protection against disasters
Protection from thieves isn't all you have to worry about when you're away. Nest Protect helps ward off potentially catastrophic fires and toxins. "This smoke and carbon monoxide alarm looks for fast-burning fires, smoldering fires and invisible-but-deadly carbon monoxide," said USA Today 10 Best. "It speaks to you, letting you know what and where the danger is, and will message your phone if you're not home. It can also be silenced from your smartphone so if you simply overcooked your dinner, you don't have to go climbing to turn it off. Nest Protect tests its sensors and batteries 400 times a day and will notify you when the battery is running low rather than beep all night until you can get a ladder to replace it."

Protectecting Yourself During a Move
Written by Jaymi Naciri Posted On Thursday, 29 June 2017 18:32
"I can't wait to move!"
How often do you hear someone say that? What they mean is they can't wait to be in their new place, all unpacked and organized and enjoying their new surroundings.
What they don't mean is, "I can't wait to spend a month packing up everything I own and hauling it into a truck we're going to drive across country when I've never driven anything larger than a mid-sized sedan, only to have to haul it all out, and into that new house. The new house that has two flights of stairs and narrow hallways. Don't get me started on unpacking boxes."
And what they REALLY don't mean is, "I can't wait for the movers to break a bunch of my things and lose a bunch of stuff." Pretty sure they also don't mean, "I can't wait for dishonest movers to delay my delivery and charge me quadruple my quote and then hold all my stuff hostage while I sit here helpless."
Think that could never happen to you?
"Last year, Massachusetts officials sued one moving company and New Jersey officials sued two for providing low-ball estimates and then grossly inflating fees after loading the trucks," said Consumer Reports. "One of the companies had threatened to auction the possessions of customers who didn't pay."
Added MarketWatch about the possibility of mover fraud: "Typically, a mover gives you an extremely low estimate over the phone or Internet without ever actually seeing what needs to be moved. You agree, they show up, load the truck with all your worldly possessions and then tell you it will actually cost a lot more. Then, they hold everything you own hostage on their truck until you cough up the extra cash."
Yes, moving can be fraught with challenge and frustration and even heartache. So how do you protect yourself? Here are some tips for a safe and fraud-free move.
Do your research
Proper preparation can help you ward off many of the issues that can turn a move into a nightmare, and that's starts with a healthy dose of research. You always want to ask for a referral rather than using an unknown. And not just anyone is qualified to give a referral, according to MSN.
"Ask your real-estate agent. The general consensus among moving professionals is that word of mouth is the best way to find a good mover," they said. "Real-estate agents know the ins and outs of the housing industry and are the most reliable sources. Realtors want to make sure that your (moving) transaction is a good one."
There are also websites dedicated to moving scams. "MovingScam.com maintains a ‘black list,'" they said, as well as a "message board filled with consumer experiences, bad and good."
Verify licensing and look for complaints
MSN recommends people who are moving investigate the companies they are looking at using. Interstate movers must be licensed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
"Check with your area's Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed and whether there are reliable," they said.
Protect Your Move also provides info on whether a mover's license is current "and if the company has ever had a federal complaint."
Watch out for the lowball bid
"You get what you paid for" is often a dangerous reality when it comes to moving. To protect yourself against unethical movers, get several estimates and make sure to weed out any that seem too low. Yes, the desire to save money is strong. But an unusually low bid is often a red flag.
"When shopping for movers, it's best to get at least three estimates, " said MSN. "If you've got one that's really, really low compared to the other two, you're going to know something's up."
Have a contingency plan
No matter how well you prepare, the unexpected can still happen. What if the truck doesn't show up on time? Are you prepared to live without your things for a few days, or longer? Make sure you pack a bag of essentials you can have with you while the rest of your stuff is stuck on the truck.
Protect yourself
The Better Business Bureau suggests paying a little extra for peace of mind.
"Consider accepting full value protection. It may cost a few dollars more up front, but it can eliminate headaches after your move," they said. "Purchasing full (replacement) value protection from your mover means any lost or damaged articles will be repaired or replaced, or a cash settlement will be made to repair the item or to replace it at its current market value, regardless of age. The cost of full value protection must be included in the initial estimate you receive for an interstate move."
For more information, visit Protect Your Move.

Make That Home Greener: Energy-Efficient Mortgages

Posted in Green DesignHelpful Tools, by Blog Contributor on May 29, 2017
By Michele DiGirolamo, Guest Contributor from MoneyGeek.com 
If you’re in the market for a new home, there’s a way to save the environment and some cash at the same time: Consider a “green” mortgage.
An energy-efficient mortgage (EEM), the umbrella term for these types of loans, allows buyers to fold expenses for energy-saving home improvements into their mortgage.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
EEMs are an option if you’re buying or building a home and you want to add energy-efficient features, if you’re refinancing a mortgage for a home you already own and want to add energy-efficient renovations, or if you’re buying a new home that is already energy-efficient.
The idea is that, in the long run, the money saved on monthly utility bills will offset the higher mortgage payment. The projected energy savings from the lower bills could also qualify buyers for a larger loan amount and a better, more energy-efficient home.
And at the point of resale, homeowners will likely benefit again, as the energy upgrades can boost the home’s value and attract buyers in a competitive market.
Improving Your Home’s Energy Efficiency
Green mortgages can be used to finance a range of energy-efficient upgrades, from weather stripping to new heating and cooling systems to double-pane windows and solar panels.
A required home energy audit provides recommendations for energy-saving improvements and estimates of the costs and savings of those improvements. Lenders use this information to determine how much you’ll save in energy costs with each improvement.
Fannie Mae, the Federal Housing Administration, and the Department of Veterans Affairs all offer a version of EEMs. The amount of energy improvements a borrower can finance varies by program, ranging from about 5 percent of the value of the property through an FHA loan to around 15 percent with a conventional mortgage. A VA EEM, available to military personnel, caps energy improvements at $3,000 to $6,000.
Understanding the Green Mortgage Lending Process
While securing an EEM can be fairly simple for the borrower, it can be cumbersome for lenders unaccustomed to the process of managing the “work flow” of the energy improvements, says Tonya Todd, senior vice president of strategic products at Mountain West Financial in Redlands, California. This may be why they aren’t more common.
“The loan itself is easy; it’s the facilitation that takes some work,” Todd says. “Lenders that are successful at this will find a local energy-efficient mortgage facilitator. The facilitator handles everything from A to Z to ensure a smooth and timely process for all parties.”
The facilitator works with the buyer, the energy rater, the contractor, the realtor and the lender to keep everything moving to avoid delays.
“After closing, the facilitator will ensure the installation of the energy improvements are completed,” she adds. “It just makes everything much smoother.”
So, if you’re interested in pursuing an EEM, go for it — just be aware you may have to put some effort into finding a lender.
“Niche lenders do offer these programs and do them well,” Todd says. “However, a lot of lenders do not offer them because they do not understand the operational component, or they don’t have the support system internally.”
More Homeowners Are Going Green
While they’ve been around in some form since the 1990s, eco-friendly mortgages even today are not particularly well-known. But that could be changing, Todd says.
“Energy-efficient measures are becoming more popular especially as homeowners are purchasing older homes that may not be so environmentally friendly,” Todd adds. “People are more aware of being green. That’s why homeowners are looking for features that will help them save energy.”
The average household spends more than $2,200 a year on energy bills, with nearly half of that going to heating and cooling costs, according to the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection’s Energy Star program. There are significant savings to be had by improving a home’s energy efficiency.
Other Ways to ‘Green’ Your Home
Even if you’re not in the market for a green mortgage, there are measures you can take around your house to save energy and reduce your utility bills. The following are some tips — some simple, some more involved — from the Energy Star program and other experts:
  1. Turn your hot water heater’s thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Keep your refrigerator at 37-40 degrees and freezer at 5 degrees.
  3. Install and properly use a programmable thermostat (this can save about $180 annually).
  4. Install low-flow fixtures.
  5. Do only full loads in the washer and dishwasher.
  6. Fix any leaky faucets, toilets, pipes, and your roof.
  7. Seal heating and cooling ducts (in the typical house, about 20 percent of the air in a duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts).
  8. Seal the “envelope” of your home – the outer walls, ceiling, windows, and floor (this can save 20 percent on heating and cooling costs).
  9. Replace the filters on your air conditioning unit, dryer, and furnace.
  10. Turn off ceiling fans when you’re not home.
  11. Set ceiling fans counter-clockwise in the summer to draw cooler air upward.
  12. Dust your refrigerator coils.
  13. Plant shade trees to cool your home.
  14. Request a home energy audit for more tips and advice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michele DiGirolamo is a former longtime reporter for United Press International and a freelance writer for MoneyGeek.com.


May Newsletter

Landscaping Tips That Can Help Sell Your Home
Use these 10 tips to increase your home's curb appeal and find out how an attractive and well-maintained landscape can add as much as 10 percent to its value.

A light blue house with arched front door at the end of a brick walkway also boasts a front-yard cottage-style landscaped garden, complete with various flowers and plants, and a white picket fence.
Potential home buyers form their first impression of a home from its curb appeal. Yet often a home's outdoor landscaping is overlooked, or underdone, in the preparation for the sales process. An attractive and well-maintained landscape can add as much as 10 percent to the value of your home.
Ideally the time to get started cleaning up your yard is about a month before you plan on showing your house. That should give you enough time to get everything looking just right and not leave the impression that you simply waited until the last minute to put things in order. Follow these tips for sprucing up your yard to help your home sell quickly.
Spruce up outdoor containers.
Container plants, especially large tropicals, add considerable interest to patios and doorways where would-be buyers enter and exit the house. Such displays also demonstrate the endless possibilities for designing with container plants.
Touch up the mulch.
Nothing spruces up a place like a new application of mulch, so apply a fresh layer in all your garden beds. The color enhances the contrast of the surrounding plants and makes everything pop. What's more, mulch is relatively cheap and easy to apply.
Plant some instant color.
Seasonal color makes the landscape pop as well, and flats of annuals are also relatively inexpensive. Go for a splash of several colors or a more monochromatic scheme, whatever fits in with the look of your home.
Shape unsightly or overgrown trees and shrubs.
Regardless of the season, it's a good idea to tackle any overlooked pruning chores because nothing says neglect like a bunch of dead branches. The idea is to show how well not only your house but your garden has been maintained. It's okay to prune deciduous trees and shrubs any time of the year.
Tend to perennial beds.
Tidy up herbaceous plants, such as annuals and perennials, that don't look as good as they should. If a plant is in such bad shape that it needs to be removed, either replace it or stick a decorative pot in its place.
Now is also a good time to dig up any plants that you want to take with you to your new home. If you intend to remove any landscape plants and haven't already done so, you have an obligation to inform the buyer exactly which plants you plan on digging up. That's only fair, and in many states there are restrictions on removing plants from the landscape.
Clean up water features.
Get rid of any visible algae, remove leaves and clean filters so that the water is crystal clear. After all, a water feature that doesn't look good or function properly can be an instant turnoff.
Take care of any irrigation issues.
If there are any problems with an irrigation system, fix them. Irrigation system repairs can be expensive, and you don't want to lay the cost of those repairs on the buyer. Provide information about your irrigation schedule, especially if you have an automatic system. Include instructions as to how the system operates and recommend the same watering schedule that's worked for you.
Repair faucet leaks.
A leaking faucet suggests that there may be other problems elsewhere in the plumbing, and that can be an instant turn-off to buyers.
If you receive sufficient notice that your home is about to be shown, water a half-hour or so before the appointed time. The water reduces the glare of paved surfaces and also sends the message that your plants are well-maintained. You might even consider running your irrigation system just to show that it's working properly.
Consider labeling as many plants as possible.
That way the buyer will at least know the name of each plant and can then research their growing needs. Also consider creating a complete plant inventory in scrapbook form and leaving it out on a table for prospective buyers to browse through as they tour your home. This relatively simple step can have a powerful effect on buyers, whether they're gardeners or not.
Power-wash dirty surfaces.
Consider buying or renting a power washer to clean paved surfaces. With very little time or effort, you can make grungy, grimy surfaces look brand-spanking new. Power washers also do a great job of cleaning fences, as well as brick and vinyl siding.

MAY Area Price Valuation

Single-Family Homes vs. Attached-Unit Homes – Pros & Cons

By Chris Bibey
Posted in: Real Estate
It’s no secret that buying a home is probably the biggest investment you’re ever going to make. It’s also one of the most popular – 88% of U.S. households believe owning a home is a good financial decision, according to the National Association of Realtors 2015 Housing Opportunities and Market Experience Survey.
If you’re in the market, chances are you’ve been overwhelmed by the number of available options – and one major decision you must make is whether to purchase a single-family home or an attached unit. There are both advantages and disadvantages to purchasing a unit in a larger development, such as a condo, townhouse, or co-op, and the same could be said for purchasing a large (or even small) single-family home. In 2015, the median sale price of existing single-family homes was $223,900, while the median sale price of existing condo or co-op homes was $210,700, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Thankfully, as long as you make an informed buying decision, both housing styles are viable options. Some people may be struck by the immediate difference in appearance between the two, but the contrast is hardly skin-deep, and many folks are unaware of the finer details of each type of property. Before you decide which option to focus on in your search, it’s important to compare both to see which is best for you and your family.

Advantages of Single-Family Homes

Single-family homes are unattached houses that are most often found in the suburbs of a larger city, and may be in a subdivision or out in the country. Many have a yard, a garage, and perhaps even a private garden or a swimming pool.
Generally, the following aspects set single-family homes apart from attached homes:

1. A Bigger Yard

Single-family homes often have larger yards than attached units – and many attached units may not have a private yard at all. In fact, in townhouse communities, the yard is usually considered a common area that is maintained by an association. So if you want to have people over for a big backyard barbecue or plant a vegetable garden, a single-family home is more suitable.

2. No Shared Walls or Floors

In a single-family home, you don’t have to worry about your upstairs or downstairs neighbors stomping around or playing loud music at all hours. While you might have neighbors, no part of their home touches yours, which can eliminate many noise-related issues. In attached units, you share at least one wall with a neighbor, increasing the odds that you will have conflict.

3. Privacy

From the grass you stand on in your front lawn, to the attic space above you, it’s all yours. Therefore, you can have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a single-family home – you’ve got a space you can truly call your own. And if you want to have friends and family over to enjoy the back yard or the swimming pool, you don’t have to worry about neighbors coming over to share the space.

4. Room for Stuff

If you’re constantly struggling to find space to store holiday decorations, beach toys, bikes, or extra clothing, then a single-family home may be right for you. In many cases, a single-family home provides garage space, attic space, basement space, and more square footage than an attached-unit home. Single-family homes also can offer outdoor space to store outdoor play items for your children or pets, as well as gardening tools and recreation items.

5. Room to Grow

If you’re looking to start or grow your family – or if you foresee a day when aging parents or grandparents may come to live with you – a single-family home may be your best option. Also, if you envision your home as the go-to place for family reunions, sleepovers, and Super Bowl parties, a single-family home is more amenable to entertaining – both inside and out – relative to a townhouse or condo.

Advantages of Condos, Co-ops & Townhomes

Attached-unit homes come in many shapes and sizes. They may be part of a larger multi-story building with many units, or they may be a small strip of townhomes with just one or two levels. What sets them apart from single-family dwellings is that all homeowners share a roof, walls, or floors. You may also share common areas such as a garage, a clubhouse, a pool, or a garden area.

1. Low Maintenance

Though sometimes found in single-family homes, homeowners association (HOA) fees or maintenance fees are more common among attached-unit dwellings. Though they can be costly, when the pool needs cleaning or the grass needs cutting, you may be thrilled that someone else takes care of it. Depending on your property’s policies, those fees can pay for everything from basic landscaping, to roof repair, to property taxes.
Granted, such fees don’t cover everything. Depending on your property’s policies, the fees may only pay for upkeep of the communal areas of the property – and even if your fees pay for a superintendent to come by to fix the occasional leak, you’re still responsible for many items (such as appliances) and the upkeep of your home’s interior. But the savings can be immense – in both time and money – when you consider that you’re not the one out there mowing the lawn or balancing pool chemicals.

2. More Affordable

If you want to buy your own place but are worried about the expense, an attached-unit home could cost tens of thousands of dollars less than an equivalently sized single-family unit. In many cases, an updated townhouse with a clubhouse and communal pool is still cheaper than a 30-year-old single-family home that needs work.
In other words, if new construction and amenities are valuable to you, you may get more for your money with an attached home. Although in many cases you must give up a yard, a measure of privacy, and space, perks such as a shared pool and recreational facilities can make these cheaper dwellings even more valuable than a single-family home.

3. Fewer Concerns When Traveling

If work or family concerns take you out of town frequently, chances are your condo or co-op is going to be just fine on its own – a single-family home, however, might require paying someone to maintain. For example, single-family home dwellers would need to pay someone to cut the grass to ensure it didn’t become an unwieldy mess, or pay for a pool cleaner to ensure the drains didn’t get clogged. Plus, the extra privacy afforded by single-family homes can give potential burglars more privacy and cover when attempting to break in.
Meanwhile, attached-unit homeowners almost always pay HOA or maintenance fees to take care of upkeep concerns year-round. Likewise, attached-dwelling residents don’t have to worry as much about a leaky roof or gas leak going unnoticed – neighbors who share a wall or roof with you would be more likely to spot, hear, or smell a problem – or notice an intruder and sound the alarm.

4. Efficient Living

Are you the kind of person who prefers to minimize possessions, rather that accumulate clutter? If so, an attached-unit home may be right for you. In many cases, attached units offer “less house” for less money, so you can take the money you saved and put it toward other pursuits, such as college education, vacations, or charitable donations.

5. Live Closer to Town

Single-family homes may very well be in a secluded subdivision or down a dirt road removed from city life. Attached dwellings, however, are often in areas near vibrant entertainment and dining options, and may be closer to your office, shortening your daily commute. In fact, you may be able to live so close to work that you could commute by bike. Or, you might be able to take advantage of public transportation or ride sharing services, negating the need to own a car.
Many attached-dwelling homes are popping up nationwide in “mixed-use” real estate developments, where residents have food and dining options just downstairs – sometimes in the building itself. If convenience is what you’re after, a condo, co-op, or townhome may be exactly what you need.

Final Word

Before pulling the trigger on any home purchase, make sure you’re in a solid enough financial position to take it on. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends a total debt-to-income ratio of 43%, which means that if you divide all your monthly debts by your gross monthly income the result should be at or lower than that figure. The lower it is, the healthier your financial standing. Be sure to perform this calculation by including your prospective mortgage payment – and account for unexpected monthly expenses as well to ensure that you have a cushion.


Mortgage Brokers vs. Banks

There are a variety of different ways to finance a mortgage, but I’d like to focus on two specific channels, “mortgage brokers versus banks.”
There are mortgage brokers, who work as middlemen between banks/mortgage lenders and borrowers on the wholesale end to secure financing for homeowners. And there are banks and lenders that work directly with homeowners to provide financing on the retail level.

Mortgage brokers are a big part of the mortgage business, accounting for more than 10 percent of all home loan originations.
In fact, their share of the mortgage pie was as high as 30 percent during the mortgage boom, but fell precipitously after the mortgage crisis ensued.
But brokers still serve a valuable role in the industry, and can be quite beneficial for both prospective homeowners and those looking to refinance.
Pros and Cons to Both
There are pros and cons to both, and sometimes you will have little choice between the two if you have poor credit or a tricky loan scenario.
The majority of homeowners turn to banks when it comes time to get a mortgage. They are the most obvious choice, mainly because home loan services are usually offered at the customer’s primary banking institution.
However, borrowers who have trouble qualifying or need to finance tricky deals will often get turned away at banks. So for these people, using a mortgage broker is often the next best option.
Of course, pricing with mortgage brokers can be just as competitive as a bank, so long as the broker doesn’t take too much off the top. Wholesale rates can actually be much cheaper than retail interest rates you’ll get with banks.
For example, I know a mortgage consultant who works at a Wells Fargo retail bank branch (example of using a bank directly), and her rates are much higher than Wells Fargo’s wholesale division.  And the only way you can access their wholesale rates is through a mortgage broker.
Of course, most borrowers will attempt to secure financing with their local bank or credit union before turning to a mortgage broker. Banks are seemingly the more trusted and familiar choice, and often provide borrowers with discounts based on a pre-established relationship.
Because the bank already knows a good deal of information about the client, such as the balance of the borrower’s checking and savings accounts, qualifying can be easier and may result in a lower rate.
A broker will only be able to verify such information with the borrower’s cooperation, and may choose not to provide certain information to the lender. This lack of information (stated income loan) could lead to a higher interest rate.
Pros of working directly with a bank:
– Build off existing relationship (discounts if you have a checking/saving account)
– You already know the banker who will handle your mortgage
– Perhaps more trustworthy, more accountable than a smaller shop
– Lower interest rates in some cases
– Ability to add mortgage to existing banking profile and make automatic payments from linked accounts
Cons of working with a bank:
– Conservative loan programs
– Do not disclose the yield-spread premium
– Lengthy process, very bureaucratic
– False promises
– They make mistakes
– May overcharge you (commission doesn’t need to be disclosed)
– Incompetence (poorly educated about the home loan process in some cases if they’re just general bankers or customer service types)
Pros of working with a mortgage broker:
– They do all the legwork for you, working on your behalf with the lender
– They compare wholesale mortgage rates from a large number of banks and lenders all at once
– Wholesale interest rates can be lower than retail (bank branch) interest rates
– You get more loan options because they work with numerous banks and lenders
– Brokers can finance tricky deals because of their knowledge and various lending partners
– Are typically easier to get in contact with, less bureaucratic
Cons of working with a mortgage broker:
– They make mistakes like anyone else
– May overcharge you (how mortgage brokers make money)
– False promises to get your business
– Incompetence (poorly educated about the home loan process in some cases if newbies)
– May not have access to programs with select banks (approval varies considerably)
That said, your experience can really vary based on who you choose to work with, as some banks and lenders may overcharge you and give you the run-around, while a mortgage broker may do an excellent job and secure a lower mortgage rate for you. And vice versa. It really depends on your situation and the specific bank or broker you ultimately work with, so be sure to shop around and ask for references.
Not all mortgage brokers are good or bad, and the same is true with banks. However, one benefit of using a broker is that the experience is probably a lot more consistent because it’s just one person (and their team), as opposed to a large bank with thousands of employees.
Many mortgage brokers are mom-and-pop shops, so it’s easy to get someone on the phone or speak in person.
Most of them provide personal service, meaning you’ll have a direct phone number to reach them, and can even visit them in their office if you have questions. You might not find the same level of service at the big banks…
So if you want someone to guide you through the loan process, a mortgage broker may be a good choice for you. They also tend to hustle a bit more with their commission on the line.
To sum it up, mortgage brokers can be a good option if you’re shopping for a loan, but you should always compare their rates and service to those at your local bank and credit union, just to be sure.
Read more: How to get the best mortgage rate.


Which Home Improvements Pay Off?

In the first year my husband and I lived in our house, we spent almost $20,000 on home improvements. When we set that money aside at the beginning of the year, we dreamed about granite counters and steam showers; what we ended up with was a new furnace, new gutters, a drainage system to keep the basement dry, new landscaping and lots of new paint. At the end of that year as I wiped down my tacky Formica countertops and bathed in my 1950s seafoam green tub, I wondered if we had spent that money wisely. If we had put our house up for sale, would potential buyers have really cared about the dry basement and reliable furnace?
After talking to a slew of realtors, contractors and architects, the consensus was yes. "If the roof is leaking, buyers won't get beyond that," says Ron Phipps with Phipps Realty in Warwick, R.I. "I don't care how awesome the kitchen is."

According to Remodeling Magazine (http://www.remodeling.hw.net/) you're less likely to recoup your investment in a major kitchen or bathroom remodel than you are to get back what you spend on basic home maintenance such as new siding. Siding replacement recouped 92.8 percent of its cost, according to the study. The only home improvement likely to return more at resale was a minor (roughly $15,000) kitchen remodel, which returned 92.9 percent. Replacing roofs and windows were also high on the list, returning 80 percent or more at resale.
"Buyers want to take the basic systems for granted," says Sal Alfano, Remodeling's editorial director. "They assume the roof doesn't leak and the air conditioning and plumbing work. Maintenance can chew up a lot of cash quickly, and people are afraid of that."
That's not to say that granite counters and steam showers don't pay off; kitchen and bathroom remodels continue to be two of the best investments you can make in your house. "They're always right up there at the top of the list," says Alfano. "They're the big, sexy rooms that new home builders splurge on, so when buyers are shopping around that's what they want in an existing home, too."
If you're thinking about sinking some money into home improvement projects this year, keep a few things in mind. What you'll get back on your investment depends on the value of your house, the value of houses in your immediate neighborhood, the housing market where you live, how soon you sell after making improvements, and the quality of the project itself. Installing a $10,000 stove in a $200,000 house, for example, "just doesn't compute," says Ron Phipps. Nor does it make sense to update your kitchen if your house is the only house in the neighborhood with just one bathroom. Here, the scoop on home improvements that will give you the biggest bang for your buck:
Bathroom additions have twice the resale value of a new bedroom.

Kitchens and Baths

In the hottest housing markets, springing for a kitchen or bath remodel is a sure-fire investment, often returning more than 100 percent of the cost. In Baltimore, for instance, a $9,400 bathroom remodel recouped 182 percent of its cost at resale, according to Remodeling's 2004 study. The markets in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and San Diego also offered triple-digit returns on a bathroom remodel. Minor kitchen remodels (average cost: $15,273) also provided returns of more than 100 percent in cities including Providence, R.I., Miami, New Orleans and, of course, San Diego, where a $17,928 investment netted $27,000 on resale.
Kitchens and baths are the areas in a home "where you can tell if money has been well spent or not," says architect Steve Straughan, a partner in Los Angeles-based KAA Design Group. "They're the most expensive areas of the home in terms of construction. And they're where people spend time in their homes."
So exactly what should you improve when you redo your kitchen or bathroom? Think traditional: all-wood cabinets, commercial-look appliances, natural wood or stone floors and stone countertops. Walk-in showers have replaced whirlpool tubs as the must-have cleaning machine in bathrooms, Straughan says. His clients will "forgo the tub to have a big walk-in shower" if they don't have room for both. "Most people don't have time to take a bath," Straughan points out. "So a lot of time you're giving away all that square footage for a tub that rarely gets used." Floor-to-ceiling steam showers are also hot (so to speak).Two key points to consider, however: First, don't spend money remodeling the bathroom if it's the only one you've got. Your money is better spent adding a second bath. Many people love "the charm of older homes," says Long Beach, Calif., based realtor Dick Gaylord. "But a number of older homes lack a sufficient number of bathrooms. So if you've got a four-bedroom, one-bath home, it's certainly going to pay to add a second bathroom." A National Association of Realtors study by Florida State University professors G. Stacy Sirmans and David Macpherson found that adding a bathroom increased the sale price of a home by 8.7 percent, more than twice the rate for adding a bedroom.
Second, if you're not planning to move in the near future, spend your money remodeling in a way that you'll most enjoy. Realtor Ron Phipps recently showed a house with a kitchen that had been remodeled just two years ago. "I opened the Viking range and the original packaging was still inside," Phipps says. The homeowners "are not cooks. The kitchen is terrific, it's magnificent, but they don't use it."
In other words, you can't measure the value you get out of your use and enjoyment of the home improvements you make. "Even if you get less than 100 percent of your money back, you're really ahead of the game over time because you get the use of all that space," says Sal Alfano.

Home Maintenance

Still, new kitchens and baths lose some of their glamour if there's water in the basement when a potential buyer comes to look at your house, says Alfano. Every homeowner's first priority should be "keeping the existing structure sound," says Don Sever, a general contractor for 18 years and president of Sever Construction in Oakton, Va. "I've been in a lot of houses where people are spending thirty or forty thousand dollars to remodel the kitchen, but then you walk into the basement and there's a musty smell because water is leaking through the foundation. To me, it's more important to resolve those items first, and get the luxuries later."
Ron Phipps suggests thinking about it from a buyer's perspective. "I was with someone recently who was going to spend money to remodel their bathroom. But the roof is two layers and 30 years old." For a buyer, knowing the roof needs to be replaced is a much bigger issue than living with a functional, but dated, bathroom, Phipps points out.
Most buyers have a limit on what they can spend for a house. If they know they don't have to spend money on the upkeep of basic systems, then they're more likely to buy the house and consider upgrading the kitchen or baths themselves. More than 70 percent of buyers who purchased existing homes knew what they were going to remodel before they even closed on the deal, according to HanleyWood's Housing Continuum Study, conducted in 2002 in conjunction with Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies. The same study showed that 30 to 40 percent of buyers of existing homes made home improvements within six months after purchase.
The importance of different maintenance issues varies with geographical location, too. Roof replacement (average cost: $11,376) was very important to buyers in the east, according to Remodeling, where homeowners recouped an average 96.3 percent of the cost. In the Midwest, the average return for the same improvement was just 71.1 percent.
When deciding what improvements to make for resale, be sure to put home maintenance, such as new siding, high on the list.

Curb Appeal

Even in hot housing markets, the old saw holds true: "If people drive by your home and are not impressed they're not going to walk inside," says Dick Gaylord, who has sold real estate for 27 years.
"If I were going to spend money on a property, I would really work on making sure the curb appeal is strong," says realtor Ron Phipps. Phipps suggests adding a front porch to create interest to the exterior of a flat house, for instance. "You really want to convey a sense of welcome," he says. "If all your remodeling is on the inside but the outside of the house is challenging, you'll never have a chance to even show the inside."
Curb appeal is a major reason that siding replacement ranks so highly on the Cost vs. Value report, says editor Sal Alfano. Replacement siding also offers the added value of being low maintenance, an important issue for cost-conscious buyers.

More Space

Adding a room or two or five can be a good investment, particularly if you live in a hot housing market. "In the last couple of years there have been a lot of requests for additions," says general contractor Don Sever, who's based in the red-hot northern Virginia market. "Everything from adding a sunroom to doubling the size of the house." Much of the demand is driven by homeowners who want more space, but then realize they can't afford larger homes in their own neighborhood. Sever met with clients last year who wanted to fix up their house to put it on the market. After looking for homes to buy, "they decided that instead of spending money to get it ready to sell, they'd add features to make the house more livable and stay put."
Every 1,000 square feet added to a home boosts the sale price by more than 30 percent, according to the 2005 study for the National Association of Realtors.
Bathroom additions return the most, according to Remodeling magazine's report — an average of 86.4 percent. The addition of attic bedrooms, family rooms and sunrooms returned anywhere from 70 to more than 80 percent of the money spent — and that doesn't factor in the value of your own enjoyment of all that new space.
And more and more people want dedicated rooms for hobbies and crafts, says editor Sal Alfano, whether it's an exercise room, knitting room or home office.
One caveat: Don't add on so much that you price your house right out of the neighborhood. "You don't want to be the leading value for the neighborhood," warns realtor Phipps. "Although you can be at the upper end."

Bells and Whistles

For some homeowners, home improvement isn't about return on investment; it's simply about making dreams come true. Architect Steve Straughan recently finished work on a $250,000 home theater room with a 12-foot wide screen and an elaborate sound system. "There's not a home we're doing that doesn't have a home theater," Straughan says. "It's a common request across the board and typically it's a big investment." Most home theaters involve wiring speakers into walls and extensive built-in cabinetry, as well as soundproofing–"it's not something you can take with you" if you move, Straughan points out. Still, a home theater is likely to have broad appeal, so you may recoup a large chunk of your costs at resale. "A home theater makes sense," says realtor Ron Phipps. "A six-car garage does not make sense." In the high-end L.A. market, Straughan also sees demand for wine cellars, massage rooms and yoga rooms.

February Events

5 Things to Consider Before Tackling a Home Renovation
Does The Renovation Require Permits?
Generally, small changes can be done on your own, but larger projects involving additions or altering the existing structure, electrical or plumbing may require permits. It’s important to be aware of the rules of your city, as undergoing renos without the required permits can mean timely delays, fines and ultimately stretching your budget. 
Has Your Contractor Been Vetted?
It’s always smart to get a few quotes for every job, and references are essential. There are too many horror stories out there to make absolute sure that anyone who’s working on your home has been thoroughly vetted. Ask to see a portfolio of their work, or call a referral or two, this could save you a lot of heartache down the road.
Should You Relocate During the Job?
Packing up (especially if you have kids) might seem like a complete pain, but trying to live through a renovation might be an even bigger one. Add to that the dust and dirt that’s loosened (which can be a lot more than you’d expect), and you may be breathing easier if you choose to stay with family or at a hotel.
Do You Have a Buffer?
Often, the reality of renovating seems to be it costs more money, and takes longer (sometimes a lot longer) than expected. Building in a buffer of both time, and money is a great idea and a good way to set proper expectations. (And hey, sometimes they do finish on time, for the actual quote!)
So Do You REALLY Want This?
After weeks of researching design ideas, vetting contractors and saving the money you’ll need (plus a little buffer), now’s the time to really weigh the pros and cons. Do you really want to do this? And if the answer is yes, good luck! Renovating, whether it’s something small, or a big, can mean one step closer to living in the home of your dreams (once the nightmare of the renovation ends of course).


Do I Really Need a Home Inspection?
By Sandra Rinomato
As a homebuyer, you'll want to make sure that you make a wise investment choice, and that's why professional home inspections are becoming an essential part of the buying process. In fact, more and more buyers are using specialized inspections based on location or the property itself, in addition to the standard home inspection.

A professional home inspector reviews the operating systems and structure of a home of any age—even new homes—and leaves a written report for the client to keep as a reference guide. Typically, the home inspector will comment on the condition of the foundation, heating and cooling systems, electrical service, roof, plumbing, and other significant structural factors and will outline costs of repair or replacement where needed, as well as comment on the condition of the property compared to others of the same age. The few hours that you spend with your inspector are the best time to learn the ins and outs of taking care of your property, and you should keep the reference book for as long as you live there.

With rising home prices and a subsequent rise in the use of home inspectors, in recent years, the field has actually become more specialized to suit specific needs of certain markets or properties. For example, some offers to purchase may require the services of a swimming pool inspector, termite inspector, electrician to inspect wiring, or a water-quality inspection for a property with a well.

Inspection costs will vary based on the size of the home, but you can expect to pay in the area of three to five hundred dollars for a typical home inspection of a single family residence. In many cases, it's the buyer who pays the cost of the home inspection, and most agree that it's a small price to pay for peace of mind. However, some home sellers are using pre-listing home inspection reports as a marketing tool. A home inspection report can also give you additional negotiating power if it unearths some significant problems that must be remedied, but may not have been visible.

Your real estate professional can advise you on how to incorporate a home inspection as a condition of buying a property. Your offer can be conditional upon a professional home inspection being conducted and a satisfactory report being received by you the home buyer. If the inspection report indicates some big expenses, or problems you don't want to deal with, your offer can either be terminated or possibly re-negotiated to help cover the cost of any major remedies. Your realtor will advise you of any risks associated with renegotiating the deal and will protect you during the process so that the seller cannot accept an offer from another buyer.


January News Letter

Selling in Winter
Make sure the price is right
You already know that winter is not a busy season for home buying, so this means you should price accordingly: low enough to spark a bidding war.
Make some inexpensive tweaks

  • Offset winter’s poor natural light by painting the interior off-white throughout;
  • In the living room, add items to help create a sense of coziness and warmth that fit in with the season such as a throw blanket and seasonal elements such as firewood.
  • Buyers in the winter are particularly concerned about your heating and other maintenance concerns, so it’s important to have the HVAC, furnace and roof inspected and make necessary repairs.
  • Change air filters, clean gutters, add weather stripping around windows or install energy-efficient windows and insulate attic.

Hilary Walker, a REALTOR with PEMCO Realty’s Atlanta office said, “Depending on where you live, winter can make homes quite dreary or dull looking. Professional photographs will help to portray your home with good lighting for the interior and exterior. However, you can also help by adding a pot of brightly colored flowers at the main entrance and a vase of daffodils or yellow roses inside the home. Place the flowers in front of a window so that when people view your home they get a sense of spring. Same goes for framed wall pictures, replace family pictures with warm/bright decorative pictures.”
Don’t forget these important listing and open house tips:

  • Appeal to the snow lovers. Highlight your home’s proximity to ski slopes or if it’s within walking distance to the grocery store and pharmacy, which are important if you’re in a heavy snow area.
  • Include photos of your home from every season in your home’s online listing. Do you have trees in your front and back yards that are gorgeous in the spring and fall? Show these features off, the potential buyer can see what your home looks like when it’s not cold and dreary.
  • Highlight desirable winter amenities. If applicable, your listing should include that your home has an attached garage, new HVAC or water heater, skylights.
  • Make your open house winter-ready. Make sure that your driveway, walkways and porch are cleared of snow and ice. Put out a doormat. Turn on the heat.
  • Keep holiday decorations tasteful. With the holidays coming, you want to keep the decorations minimal. A Santa in a sleigh with reindeer on the roof would be a distraction to potential buyers, but it’s okay to set out some tea or hot apple cider for open house visitors. This gives the whole house an inviting smell and only adds to the coziness.

Money. Why It Pays to List Your Home in Winter
Trulia. From Brrr To Bought: Rules For Selling During Winter Months
Written by Ari Meier



The Differences Between a Comparative Market Analysis and Broker Price Opinion.

Appraisal- The appraisal is an unbiased opinion of value of a purchase, listing or refinance. The appraisal report contains exterior and interior property photos, physical data on the property including square footage of the living area, size of the lot, condition description, items that may need repair and the type of construction materials needed. Neighborhood and surrounding community information is also analyzed and included in the report because this information directly affects property values. Appraisals can be used by banks, insurance companies, homeowners and any other interested party that wants to know the market value of the property. Appraisals are also used for construction loans, insurance and tax valuations and estate planning.
Comparative Market Analysis (CMA) – Real estate agents perform a CMA when needing to come up with a listing price. This typically free report contains information on recently sold homes, pending sales, active listings, cancelled, expired and withdrawn listings. The CMA is a qualitative comparison, where the home features are compared to each other. Although this is not the rule, dollar adjustments are rarely used. Agents look at the different types of listings and homes similar to the subject home then decide what they sold for, how long it took to sell and the difference between the sales price and the listing price. This information is used to determine a competitive list price for the home.
Broker Price Opinion (BPO) – The BPO is considered a formal more concise version of the CMA. In addition to homeowners ordering them, they can be ordered by a bank or lender to value a property that may be in the process of being foreclosed on. Like the CMA, the BPO provides information which allows the real estate agent to set a listing price. It‘s also used as a time and money saving alternative to the appraisal for the lender.
PEMCO Limited, in addition to working with a dedicated and highly qualified team of appraisers, also provides BPO services.
Birmingham Appraisal Blog. “Appraisal vs CMA vs BPO – What’s the difference?” 17 April 2014. http://birminghamappraisalblog.com/appraisal/appraisal-vs-cma-vs-bpo-whats-the-difference/
T William Robinson Management. “Broker Price Opinions and Comparative Market Analysis” 17 April 2014. http://www.twrobinsonmanagement.com/broker_price_opinions_and_comparative_market_analysis



December 2016 Events

Staging your house can make you money. Seventy-one percent of sellers’ agents believe a well-staged environment can increase the dollar value buyers are willing to offer.

Before your eyes turn into dollar signs, keep in mind staging isn’t guaranteed to get you more money. But it’s an important marketing tool to help you compete at the right price, which means you can sell faster.

Helping buyer’s fall in love with your property takes more than running the vacuum and fluffing the pillows: It’s all about decluttering, repairing, updating, and depersonalizing.

Living Room

  • When placing anything from accent pillows and table lamps, go for symmetry, which is pleasing to the eye.
  • Light it up with lamps. Chic lamps provide both added lighting and appealing decor.
  • If you’re using staging furniture or buying slip covers, choose light colors for an airy, inviting feel.
  • Whatever amount of furniture you have in your living room, remove a few pieces to make the room feel spacious.
  • Use bright, coordinated accessories like accent pillows and throw blankets for a chic splash of color.
  • Help buyers imagine their life in your home..


  • Clear everything from countertops except one or two decorative items, like a vase of flowers or bowl of fresh fruit.
  • Pack up all the dishes except one attractive, matching set. Do the same with glassware, flatware, and cookware, and pare down all other cupboard and drawer items down to the minimum.
  • Freshen up and modernize those cabinets with a fresh coat of paint or stain and new hardware.
  • Seriously evaluate your appliances. Can they look new again with a good scrubbing? Give it the old college try or consider replacing with new models.
  • Remove those fridge magnets and give the door and handles a good cleaning.
  • Scrub dirt, grime, and stains from walls, cabinets, and backsplashes.
  • Clean cabinet interiors, especially under the sink.
  • Clean and organize the pantry, leaving some empty space to make it look bigger. Store items in decorative baskets and display a few jars of fancy jam and other upscale condiments.
  • Empty all trash cans and move them out of sight.


  • Go gender neutral in the master bedroom. Ditch those dainty, floral pillow shams or NASCAR posters.
  • Pack up all but the clothes you’re wearing this season to make you closets look larger.
  • Swap out the motley crew of mismatched hangers in your closet for a set of wooden ones to create a classy, boutique look.
  • Put jewelry and other valuables in a safe spot.
  • Consider giving extra bedrooms a new identity as a home office, sewing room, or another interesting function.
  • Remove televisions or video game consoles from bedrooms to depersonalize and create a serene setting.

Dining Room

  • Let buyers entertain the idea of entertaining. Set out some chic place settings around the table, or a few wine glasses and a decanter on the buffet.
  • Strike a balance between overly formal and too casual with an attractive runner and a few fun, decorative elements — think small floral vases or short candle holders.


  • It’s de-grime time: Scrub and sanitize the walls, floor, shower door — virtually every surface that comes in contact with steam.
  • Spend extra time scrubbing that tile grout and re-caulk around the tub if necessary.
  • If your bathroom tile is dated, try paint instead of replacing it. Start with a high-adhesion primer and either epoxy or latex paint.
  • Remove clutter from the countertop, tub, and top of toilet. Clean surfaces until they gleam.
  • Pack up and hide all your personal products — from medicine to razors.
  • Create a luxury spa look with a fancy soap dispenser, fluffy white towels, decorative baskets, candles, plants, a white shower curtain, and a new bath mat.
  • Fix leaky or running toilets and replace toilet seats.
  • Remove hard water stains on faucets and shower heads. (Try vinegar!)
  • Take a daring sniff of the drains. Odorous? Clean them out, and deodorize with baking soda, boiling water, or vinegar.
  • Time for a new sink anyway? Try a pedestal sink to optimize precious bathroom space.

Walls, Windows & More

  • Have a dark corner or hallway? Brighten it up with a decorative mirror.
  • Neutralize the walls. If any rooms are painted in dark colors, repaint white or beige.
  • Paint adjacent rooms the same color to make the whole space feel larger.
  • Fill nicks and holes in walls, and touch up with paint.
  • Sorry, wood paneling. It’s time. Paint over paneling with a neutral color. To really cover your tracks, use wood filler between panels and paint over the entire thing.
  • Make sure every switch plate and outlet cover matches and looks brand new.
  • Wash the windows, inside and out. Repair any holes or tears in screens.
  • Replace those family portraits with interesting art placed strategically throughout the house. Avoid leaving dead space on walls.

Throughout the House

  • Declutter! Consider it pre-packing for your move. Box up books, clothes, and personal items and place them (neatly!) in the garage or — better yet — a rented storage unit.
  • Don’t forget to include memorabilia in those decluttering bins. Family photos, diplomas, and the kids’ artwork should all go.
  • Keep closets, basements, and attics as empty as possible to maximize the appearance of storage space.
  • Transform underused areas of the house — the alcove under the stairs or the end of a hallway — into functional spots. Add a desk to create a mini office, or a chair and small bookshelf for a reading nook.
  • Swap dim lights for high-wattage bulbs.
  • Check every door, drawer, and cabinet to ensure they open and close easily. Swap out any faulty — or dingy — hardware.
  • Damaged or aging hardwood floors? Replace damaged boards with new wood, sand down the entire floor, and re-stain.
  • Do a deep (deep, deep) clean. Hire a professional cleaning service to clean your home from top to bottom — including carpets — before viewings.


  • Brighten up your porch with fresh paint or stain.
  • Add a fresh coat of paint to the front door, preferably red, black, blue, or wood stain, so long as it complements the trim and doesn’t blend, says The Real Estate Staging Association. Steer clear of unconventional colors like purple.
  • Buy a new doormat to welcome home buyers.
  • Power-wash the house exterior, walkway, steps, driveway, and porch until everything sparkles.
  • Make sure the locks and doorbell function.
  • Make that mailbox look clean and welcoming, or get a new one.
  • Plant lots of colorful blooms in attractive pots and planter beds.
  • Trim back trees and shrubs from the approach to the front door.
  • Whip that yard into shape with fresh sod or new seed
  • Store yard equipment and children’s toys out of sight.
  • Repair shaky banisters.
  • Get a hammock (or bocce ball game or raised fire pit) to show off how fun your yard can be.
  • Dress up any imperfect planting area with mulch.
  • Make sure entryway lights function and are free of cobwebs and insects.

Day of Showing

  • Add a seasonal touch. Simmer cinnamon sticks in the fall and set out fresh cut lilacs in the spring.
  • Tidy like you’ve never tidied before.
  • Avoid cooking any food for your own meals, but do bake some cookies or other baked goods to leave a welcoming aroma behind.
  • Take off. After all that staging work, you deserve a trip to the spa while potential home buyers are busy falling in love with your house.


Featured Properties

We can SELL your Home!!

Manufactured Home Nipomo
Own The Land
Priced To SELL - $169,000

New Construction Ocean Views
3 Bedrooms 2.5 Baths
North Grover Beach - $759,000

Single Level 1500 Square Ft
Grover Beach ~ 3 Bedroom

Lake San Antonio Home
Sleeps 8 - 2 Bedrooms 2 Bathrooms
Vacation Ready - $239,500

Top of the Hill in Pismo
4 Bedrooms 3 Baths
Pismo Beach - $599,000

Brand New Home    
Oceano Private Street - $399,000 

Great Starter or Fixer Upper
Near New Community Center
Oceano - $185,000

Land Sale With Rental
Commercial - Visitor Services 

4 Bedrooms 2 Bathrooms
3 Car Garage
Nipomo - $358,000

East of Freeway
4 Bedrooms 3 Baths 1,642 Sq Ft
Nipomo - $330,000

2 Bedrooms 2 Bath
Furnished & Car Included
Oceano - $220,000 

3 Bedrooms 2 baths
1999 sq. ft. Country Views
Templeton  $519,000

Venetian Styled Estate  
2.5 acres Arroyo Grande
with Guest House - $1,650,000

East of Freeway
3 Bedrooms 2 Baths
Nipomo - $310,000

Cypress Ridge Golf Course Home
4 Bedroom 4.5 Bath 3900 sq ft
Casitas & 3 car garage - $950,000

Ocean View Home
3 Bedroom 3 Baths
Grover Beach - $385,000

Approved Short Sale
Nipomo 2 Bedroom 1.5 Bath
Nipomo Village - $147,000

Get YOUR Home Sold

Short Sale Real Estate Help

Single Level Great Neighborhood
Arroyo Grande 3 Bedroom
1847 Sq. Ft. - $459,000

1,700 Square Feet
4 Bedrooms 2.5 Baths
Oceano - $409,000

3 Bedrooms 3 Bathrooms
Roof Deck Ocean Views
Grover Beach $350,000

3 Bedrooms 3 Bath
Granite & Custom Tile
Grover Beach - $329,000

North Grover Ocean View
2 Bedroom Large Backyard
Grover Beach - $319,000

4 Bedroom 3 Baths
Single Level 1 Acre
Nipomo - $514,000

2 Bedrooms 2 Baths
Excellent Condition
Grover Beach - $269,500

Ocean View Home
4 bedrooms - 2,300 Sq. Ft.
Rancho Grande $650,000

5 Bedrooms on Large Lot
3470 sq. ft. on 1/3 Acre in Town
$599,000 - Arroyo Grande

New 3 Bedrooms 2 Bathrooms
1,150 Square Feet
Oceano $229,000

Tiffany Park Orcutt
3 Bedroom 2 Baths
Premium Lot - $299,000

1 Bedroom Beach Get A Way
Close to the Beach
Grover Beach - $210,000

3 Bedroom 3 Bath 1740 Sq Ft 
New Ocean View Home
Grover Beach $550,000

Pismo Beach Ocean View
3 Bedrooms 3 Bathrooms
2,000 Sq Ft - $779,000

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The Five Cities

BOB HOWELLS from Auto Clubs' "Avenues" magazine 1997

Meet the part of San Luis Obispo County that is not Mission-beautiful San Luis Obispo nor artsy Cambria nor Hearst's San Simeon. The five cities of south San Luis Obispo County, clustered amid coastal mountains, farmland, and the Pacific ocean, are places of charm and beauty too often overlooked in the rush to more famous points north.

Of the five, none is a city in any metropolitan sense, and two aren't cities in any sense. The five are Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach (see Grover City; a recent name change reminds visitors that Pismo has no monopoly on sand), Oceano and Shell Beach. Oceano is unincorporated, and Shell Beach was long ago annexed by Pismo Beach; nonetheless, these are the five, and each has a distinctive character.

Shell Beach is all about cliffs- sheer bluffs that tumble to the cold Pacific at the northern end of Pismo Beach. Walk the precipice of cliffs at Margo Dodd Park (get there by heading west on Cliff Avenue from main drag Shell Beach Road) and you feel like a silent chorister amid a littoral din: gulls and other throngs of other shorebirds, the surge and break of gentle waves, and sometimes the hoarse arfing of harbor seals. Stairs take you closer to the action- when the tide's out, tide pooling is superb. Or rent a kayak and get a seals eye view of the cliffs caves and offshore boulders.

Pismo Beach is a time-warp shrine to days when our beach towns were unpretentious places meant for just goofing off. Gravity here pulls everyone down Pomeroy Avenue to the Pismo Pier, where you'll want to stroll out and see what they're catching or whether the surf's up. Rent a banana bike and you become a human-powered dune buggy. Pomeroy Avenue and its side streets are lined with snack bars and surf shops and plenty of opportunities to buy knickknacks and T-shirts. The Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce (805) 773-4382 can provide maps for the Five Cities area.

The chowder's good at Splash Cafe (the bivalves are imported though; the famous Pismo clams aren't sold commercially), and Pismo Fish and Chips on Cypress Street has the best of its ilk you'll find anywhere. On the south edge of Pismo Beach, the tall eucalyptus trees that surround Pismo State Beach's North Campground are known as butterfly trees from November to February, when hundreds of thousands of monarchs cluster in them; follow a marked path off Highway 1 to catch the action.

Poor Grover Beach. Its beach is really Pismo's, and its town is entirely inland. No matter. It has access to a state-operated ramp for driving on the hard-packed sand ($4 to drive, free to walk). It's also a good place to try clam digging, but you'll need a state fishing license. Next door to the ramp is a small but lovely oceanfront golf course, Pismo State Beach Golf Course, (805) 481-5215.

Drive south from Grover by sand or by Highway 1 and you'll reach Oceano and another beach ramp, plied by dune buggies headed into a long stretch of sandbox. Although RV sites outnumber residents here, Oceano has another claim to fame: the first-rate Great American Melodrama and Vaudville, (805) 489-2499, replete with good grub, villains to hiss at, and old-fashioned sing-alonging.


Arroyo Grande, my hometown, is the only landlocked member of the Five Cities, but its vintage downtown village outcharms the others. It's a place meant for walking: pursue the antique shops that line Branch Street, grab a homemade ice cream at Burnardo'z, and slurp it in the little city park that leads to the village's landmark swinging footbridge over Arroyo Grande Creek.

If it's Saturday, there's a farmers' market in the park and music in the town gazebo. Walk across the bridge and feel how its sway evokes a nostalgia for slower times and simple pleasures. The freeway can wait. Check out the size of those strawberries.


  • April Closed Sales
  • City          Average home value
  • Arroyo Grande    $664,700
  • Avila Beach         $890,800
  • Grover Beach      $442,800
  • Guadalupe           $246,700
  • Nipomo               $521,800
  • Oceano               $397,800
  • Paso Robles        $437,900
  • Pismo Beach        $778,800
  • San Luis Obispo  $658,400
  • Santa Maria         $343,000


OCTOBER 2016 North County
OCTOBER 2016 Scenic Coast
OCTOBER 2016 San Luis Obispo
OCTOBER 2016 South County
OCTOBER 2016 Santa Maria

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