Thursday, May 31, 2007

Eviction Derailed When Tenant Goes Missing

Owner seeks way to regain possession of rental

DEAR BOB: I gave my tenant the required notice to move, confirmed with a receipt of notice. She agreed to move out. But the unit is now locked, no one is there, and her car is parked in the driveway. I phoned several times, but no reply. What options do I have? I already hired a contractor to update the unit, based on the tenant's promise to move out on schedule --

- Please consult a local real estate attorney whose specialty is evictions. I'm sure you have thought of the several possibilities such as the tenant moved out but left the car; abandoned the apartment and the car; passed away either in the apartment or elsewhere; is in the hospital or jail; is avoiding you because she refuses to move out; or wants to drag out the eviction procedure to obtain as much "free rent" from you as possible.

All these situations have happened to me with my rentals. Ask the neighbors if they have seen your tenant or any activity at the rental. Then contact the local police to learn if they have any record of activity at the property or if they can trace your missing tenant. After that, follow your attorney's advice to regain possession of your rental unit.

Published by - Robert Bruss, Inman News

Monday, May 28, 2007

Light Bulbs Hold Key To Energy Savings

There's been a lot of interest in energy-efficient light bulbs lately, with an emphasis on swapping out older incandescent bulbs for newer fluorescent ones. Unlike the long fluorescent tubes we're all familiar with, these bulbs, known collectively as compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, resemble a standard light bulb.

They are designed to screw directly into the same socket as a standard incandescent bulb, and are available in a variety of sizes to work with virtually any existing fixture you might have in your home.

According to some statistics compiled and presented by the government's Energy Star program, CFLs can produce an equivalent amount of light to a standard bulb, but they last up to 10 times longer and use about two-thirds less energy. So the cost savings associated with not having to replace your bulbs as often will make up for the higher initial cost of the CFL, and you should save something on the order of $30 per bulb in energy costs over the projected life of the fluorescent bulb.

Some of the other benefits of CFLs include a reduction in heat output. We all know how hot a standard incandescent bulb gets as the filament glows, so they're more dangerous to use, and all that heat adds to the cooling load in your home. According to Energy Star, a typical CFL puts out only about 30 percent of the heat of an incandescent bulb.

If you're thinking of starting to replace some of the incandescent bulbs in your house with CFLs, you might want to start with the fixtures that are switched on the most, such as porch lights and lights in the living room and kitchen. And remember that not all fluorescent bulbs are the same, so follow some of these tips for selecting the right bulb:

Select a bulb with a lumen rating (lumens are the standard measure of light output) that is equal to the bulb you're replacing. For example, a 60-watt incandescent puts out about 800 lumens, so if you're replacing a 60-watt bulb you'll want a fluorescent bulb that meets or slightly exceeds that lumen output.

Fluorescent bulbs are available in warm- and cool-white colors, so select the color of light that best suits where the fixture is used. Warm-white colors most closely mimic standard incandescent bulbs, while cool-whites are more like the color of light from standard fluorescent tubes.

If you are replacing bulbs in a fixture that is connected to a dimmer or a three- or four-way switch, be sure that the bulb is rated for that use.

Some CFLs may have trouble operating correctly in some types of fully enclosed light fixtures, so read the package carefully for any restrictions on the bulb's use, or talk with a lighting dealer.


In addition to replacing bulbs, you can minimize energy usage with a few other strategies as well. In the kitchen, consider the use of fluorescent under-cabinet lighting. These glare-free fixtures illuminate the counters for improved viewing with less eye strain, and can save you from having to rely on additional overhead incandescent fixtures.

In fixtures such as multibulb bathroom lights, if you don't want to switch to CFLs yet you might want to think about reducing the wattage of the bulbs. For example, a fixture with five 60-watt bulbs uses 300 watts of electricity, while replacing the bulbs with 40-watt ones will reduce that to 200 watts, saving you the equivalent of a 100-watt bulb.

You may not have the luxury of rearranging your light switches in an existing home, but if you're building or remodeling, another great strategy for saving electricity is to pay attention to how your switches are set up. For example, when walking into the kitchen and flipping on the switch, you probably don't need any more than just one or two overhead lights to see efficiently.

For specific tasks, such as washing dishes or preparing food, having the task-light fixtures in each specific area set on a separate switch will allow you to regulate the amount of light -- and electricity you use -- to the task you're performing at that time.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Fed up with closing costs.

Can Bank of America's new loan product revolutionize lending?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007By Ilyce R. GlinkInman News

If you ask home buyers what they hate about the process of buying a home, closing costs are likely to land near the top of the list.

Are you surprised? Mortgage companies have made it difficult, if not impossible, to tell what's a true cost and what's a junk fee. Home buyers are being charged for things that should be included in the profit the lender is making.

Why, for example, is there an "underwriting fee"? The process of underwriting a loan can take minutes, as many lenders have streamlined the process and use technology that nearly instantaneously spits out whether someone is qualified.

Is this $250-to-$500 fee the cost of someone's time to enter in the information into the computer program? And if that's what you're paying for with that line item on the HUD-1, what's the $200 document preparation fee for? Is this a prime example of a lender double-dipping or just another revenue source? Does it really cost the lender $200 to prepare the closing documents on top of what you're paying for the underwriting fee, application fee and other fees?

If all of these fees weren't bad enough, the true costs of these items are often marked up to pad the lender's profit. A prime example? It might cost the lender a couple of bucks for your credit history and credit score, but some have charged $75 to $150.

And what about title charges? In some states, title costs are mandated by the state law. Why? I don't know for sure, but I'll hazard a guess that it has to do with the way title companies lobby state legislatures.

Even in states where title costs aren't mandated by state law, true competition remains elusive, as attorneys are paid many hundreds of dollars for essentially doing very little or no "title" work. (This practice is under investigation as a possible violation of RESPA by the Justice Department.) Home buyers and sellers foot the bill for these services, and as a result, pay title and escrow charges that easily run several thousand dollars for each closing.

Lenders have tried to counter the closing cost discussion by introducing mortgages that are "zero-closing-cost." The problem is, they either made up the loss of the closing costs and fees by raising the interest rate on the loan or they simply tacked on an extra 3 percent of your loan amount to cover the missing costs.

So, if you didn't have enough cash on hand for your closing costs, you'd have to live with a slightly higher interest rate (not too tough when interest rates were at 5 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate loan) or your $200,000 mortgage would turn into a $206,000 loan.

All of this, plus lenders' penchant for calling junk fees by different names, has made it difficult for home buyers to really understand what they're paying for, and to properly compare loan programs from different lenders on an apples-to-apples basis -- even if you did get a proper good faith estimate, as required by federal law.

How do you fix the problem? Recently, Bank of America decided to do away with certain closing costs altogether. According to Floyd Robinson, president of the consumer real estate division of the bank, BofA has decided to pick up these costs without raising the interest rate on the loan.
"Our new No Mortgage Fee Plus program will cost the bank approximately $3,000 for every $200,000 loan," Robinson explained. "We're eliminating the mortgage application fee, all closing fees, and all lender charges and third-party fees. In addition, the program is available to up 95 percent of the sales price and we will not be charging anyone private mortgage insurance (PMI)."

Robinson said borrowers would not pay any lender closing fees, flood determination fees, title exam fees, courier fees, tax service fees, settlement closing fees, or tax escrow or impound fees. Robinson also said that borrowers would not have any prepayment penalties on their new loans.
Robinson points out that Bank of America plans to hold these home loans in their own portfolio, instead of reselling them on the secondary loan market. At the moment, the loans are available only to those actually buying a house instead of refinancing an existing mortgage, although he suggested that the bank is working on a true no-cost refinance product that it hopes to introduce later this year.

"We are really focused on putting the right home buyer into the right loan, and keeping these loans on the bank's balance sheet is our way of showing how serious we are about that," Robinson said.

The Bank of America No Mortgage Fee Plus program will be available to any home buyer who has at least a 620 credit score, he said, adding, "We have the lowest default and foreclosure rate in the industry."

Robinson said that while the bank wouldn't collect the $3,000 in fees on each $200,000 mortgage, executives were confident that the new program would dramatically increase the bank's share of the residential loan market, and that would give them new opportunities to cross-sell other products.

"Most Bank of America customers have several different accounts at the bank. They might have a home loan, credit card, checking account, savings account, or even an auto loan with us. This is one more opportunity to provide a service to new and existing customers."

Dick Lepre, a senior loan officer with Residential Pacific Mortgage, based in San Francisco, who has several accounts with Bank of America, says he believes the new loan program is probably a very good one and that the bank is willing to spend what it takes to get a bigger share of the business.

"Nobody likes closing costs. While the bank can't change the economics of the mortgage business, it can absorb these costs as a marketing expense. It's the cost of establishing in people's minds that these loans are out there," Lepre said.

But Lepre wonders how long the bank intends to offer these closing-cost-free loans.
"When E-Loan started, it closed mortgage loans at the wholesale price in order to establish themselves as a place to go. Now, their prices have gone up. We'll have to see what happens with the Bank of America program," he added.To get even more valuable advice from Ilyce, visit her Personal Finance and Real Estate Center.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

GST and Your New Home

When you buy a newly constructed home, condominium or townhome, the entire purchase price including land is taxable. If the property is to be rented to tenants, the full 7% GST is charged on the purchase price. However, if the home is going to be your primary place of residence, it may qualify for a partial GST rebate, depending upon the sale price.

Homes Under $350,000

For homes costing $350,000 or less, you will receive a rebate of 36% of the GST paid, to a maximum of $8750. That means you pay approximately 4.5% GST (not 7%) on the purchase price.

Example #1

You buy a new home for $150,000. The 7% GST is $10,400. The 7% GST is $10,400, less a 36$ rebate of $3780. So you pay $6,720 in GST.
$150,000 X 7% = $10,500 (GST)
$10,500 X 36% = $ 3,780 (GST Rebate)
$10,500 – $3,780 = $ 6,720 (Actual GST paid on the house)

Homes Between $350,000 - $450,000

The maximum rebate is $8,750. The rebate for new homes costing costing between $350,000 - $450,000 declines to zero on a proportional basis, using the following formula:
Rebate = $8,750 X ($450,000 Home Price) / $100,000

Homes Over $450,000

New homes selling for $450,000 or more do not qualify for a GST rebate.
If you buy a substantially renovated home from a builder who supplies both the land and the house as a single transaction, the same GST rebate conditions described earlier apply. Your REALTOR can explain how the Federal Government defines “substantially renovated.”

GST and Land

Buyers who purchase land separately may have to pay GST on the sale price depending on the previous use of the land. When you build a new home on your land, then you will pay GST on the construction costs of the house, less any applicable rebate.
The rebate would be the same as for a new home, when the total value of the land and home is $350,000 or less, the rebate would be 36% of the GST paid on the building and the land to a maximum of $8,750.
When the total value of the land and house exceeds $350,000 but is less than $450,000, a proportional formula for calculating the GST rebate applies.
As with other new home purchases, GST rebates are not available for land and buildings valued at $450,000 or more when you build a house on your lot.
GST and the Resale home

You don’t have to pay GST on the purchase price of a used residential home. In other words, the purchase is “exempt” from GST.

The Canada Customs and Revenue Agency defines “used residential property” to include a previously occupied house, condominium, apartment, summer cottage, vacation property or non-commercial hobby farm, that has been occupied as a residence before you bought it.
Used property can also mean a recently built house that is substantially complete and has been sold at least once before you buy it. For example, if a new house is purchased and resold before being occupied, the new home’s resale price will normally be exempt from GST.
An owner-occupied home is considered a residential property when it’s used primarily as your residence. So, if you are self-employed and purchase a resale home that includes a room used as an office, the entire home still qualifies for the GST exemption.
However, if your owner-occupied home is not used mainly for residential purposes (ie. A retail store with a small apartment upstairs), only the residential portion is exempt from GST on resale. The non-residential portion of the purchase price is taxable.
If you are planning to purchase a resale home, the seller can make a declaration on the deed stating that the property qualifies as “used” for GST purposes.
As with most taxes, there are exceptions to the GST rules regarding resale housing. For instance, most sales of real property by charities, non-profit organizations and other public service agencies are except from GST.

GST and the Real Estate Transaction

GST applies to most of the services provided in completing the real estate transaction. For example, 7% GST is applied to the commission a REALTOR charges for facilitating a sale. The tax is paid by the person responsible for paying the commission – usually the seller.
REALTOR commissions are taxable even if the GST owed is reduced by a rebate, or the sale of the property is exempt from GST. For example, if you sell a used home, the sale price is exempt from GST but the REALTOR’s commission is still taxable.
GST applies to many other services involved in the real estate transaction, such as fees for appraisals, referrals, surveys and legal assistance. Again, GST is charged on these fees regardless of whether the house you purchase is exempt from the tax.
One exception is that mortgage broker fees are exempt from GST if the fees are charged separately from any taxable real estate commissions. Additionally, mortgages and interest on mortgages are GST exempt.


No GST is payable on residential rents. However, if you employ a REALTOR or another professional to find and arrange a tenant for your rental property, GST applies to the fees and commissions they charge for providing this service. GST also applies to the fees charged to the landlord for the property management, as well as repair and maintenance services. Monthly fees charged by condominium associations are not subject to GST.
When is GST payable?

GST is normally due and payable when the real estate transaction is completed. This is usually referred to as the “closing date.” In some cases, GST could be payable on transfer of possession.
For buyers, GST owed on the purchase price of non-exempt property, as well as fees and commissions for professional services is also paid at closing.

For sellers, GST owed on fees and commissions for professional services is also paid on closing.
Your REALTOR can answer your questions about the closing date and GST payments. For additional GST information, contact your local Canada Customs and Revenue Agency office.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Demystifying Mortgages-How Much Can You Borrow?

A home is typically the largest purchase you will make in your lifetime, and for most Canadians this means obtaining a mortgage. The amount of your mortgage will determine the size and location of your new home - not to mention the size of your payments. So how do lending institutions decide how large your mortgage loan can be?

Lending institutions (such as banks, credit unions, trust companies and insurance companies) want to be certain that you are capable of repaying the money you borrow. Consequently, the loan application process is thorough. Lenders consider your income, credit history, debt load, employment history and collateral, including the value of the property you wish to buy.

Although there is some discretion in determining the exact amount, the size of your loan is generally calculated using set formulas - Gross Debt Service Ratio (GDS) and Total Debt Service Ratio (TDS). GDS is the percentage of your gross monthly income (before taxes) required to cover monthly payments on mortgage principal, mortgage interest, property taxes and sometimes heating (often abbreviated as PITH). Your GDS should not exceed 30% to 32% to be eligible for most mortgages. Because many people also owe money to other lenders (car loan, student loan, credit cards, etc.), TDS offers a more accurate estimate of what you can afford. TDS is the percentage of your gross monthly income required to cover PITH plus any other debts. Your TDS should not exceed 40% of your gross monthly income.

There are many other factors that will impact the final mortgage amount. A poor credit history or a spotty employment record, for example, can disqualify you altogether or significantly alter the total. Keep in mind that just because a lender is willing to approve a large mortgage it is no guarantee that you can, in reality, afford the monthly payments.

To truly understand how much you can afford you must examine your other monthly expenses - those not accounted for in the lender's calculations (such as entertainment, charities, vacations, etc.). Remember that you will also need a lump sum down payment (at least 25% for conventional mortgages and as little as 5% for high-ratio mortgages) and money to cover closing costs. For more information on mortgages, calculators and online applications, visit

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Rid Hardwood Floors of Doggy Scratch Marks

: My dog's nails have left minor scratches in my wood floors. Is there any way to repair this without complete refinishing?
A: If the scratches are not all the way through the finish and into the wood below, there are a couple of things you can try:

1. Sand the scratched area with 0000-grade steel wool to blend the scratch into the surrounding area.

2. Use a very small brush and apply a small amount of polyurethane just to the scratch itself -- keep it off the surrounding area as much as possible. Many hardwood floor companies also offer polyurethane scratch repair kits.

3. Rub a small amount of paste wax directly into the scratch, using a clean, soft rag. Let the wax dry, then buff the area around the scratch. If you have dark-colored floors, use a dark paste wax that's formulated for darker woods.

4. Use a color-putty stick in a color that matches the floor. Rub it lightly into the scratch, then let it dry.

5. Try one of the commercial scratch removers available that work primarily by filling in the scratched area and eliminating the reflected light from that area, making the scratch seem to disappear.

All of the products you need are available at most home centers, paint stores or retailers of flooring-related products. Try the repair in an unobtrusive spot such as a closet before tackling more obvious areas. If the scratch is through the finish and into the wood beneath, you need to have the area sanded and recoated. However, many hardwood floor contractors can sand and coat just a portion of the floor, so it still may not be necessary to do the entire floor.
Q: I have a gas water heater that keeps running out of hot water. The thermostat is turned to high and the water gets very hot, but it doesn't last long. Short of replacing the water heater, what else I can try?

A: Insufficient hot water from a gas water heater can be caused by a couple of different things. One problem might be sediment buildup in the bottom of the tank. You can try this repair yourself by shutting off the gas and the water at the tank, attaching a garden hose to the drain valve on the bottom of the tank, and then draining the tank. Re-open the water valve to help flush the tank with clean water. Shut the drain valve, refill the tank, then turn the gas back on and restart the water heater. If you are not comfortable with any of these steps, you need to contact an experienced, licensed plumber instead.

Other possible culprits would include insufficient air for full combustion, clogged gas burners or a faulty thermostat, all of which are repairs that need to be left to a plumber. You could also have low gas pressure from the utility company, which could be caused by any number of situations. If you and your plumber suspect this is the cause, you need to contact your gas utility and have them come out and do a pressure test for you.

If your water heater is getting old and showing any signs of rust or other problems besides the one you mentioned, you may be better off having it replaced instead of repaired. You'll end up with a new warranty and a water heater that is more efficient than your old one, which will save you some money in the long run.

Q: I had the siding replaced on my home, and now there are several bumps and holes in my interior walls, like the nail heads have come through. The contractor says there is nothing you can do about this. Is that true? --Ria M., via e-mail.

A: What you are seeing sound like nail pops. These occur when the nails holding the drywall to the studs either come slightly out of the wood, or the drywall joint compound that covers the nail heads comes off. The repair is pretty simple, and entails tapping the nail back into the drywall, then recovering and re-texturing the resulting "dimple," followed by touching up the paint.

As to your specific question, the answer is yes and no. Nail pops can certainly be caused by pounding on the opposite side of the stud from the drywall, as would be the case with the installation of siding. If the drywall was not installed well in the first place, it can be very difficult for the siding installer to prevent these nail pops from occurring. On the other hand, a siding contractor is aware of the possibility of nail pops during any siding job, and would typically check the interior of the home early on to see if any damage was occurring, or at least make you aware of the possibility so you could keep an eye out for it.

My best advice is to sit down with the contractor and see if you can come up with a mutually agreeable solution. Perhaps he could do the drywall repairs and you could do the painting, or you could agree to split the cost of having someone else do all the repair work.
Remodeling and repair questions?

Copyright 2007 Paul Bianchina/Inman News

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Pros And Cons Of Selling An "As IS" House

DEAR BOB: I have decided to sell my home so I can afford to move to a very nice, nearby assisted-living residence. My two-bedroom home, built in 1938, has become a bit run-down. However, it is in a very good neighborhood where most homes have been remodeled or completely rebuilt. My real estate agent suggests I spend about $50,000 to renovate the kitchen and bathrooms before listing my house on the market for sale. My son says I should just have the house painted inside and outside.

He and his pals have offered to do the painting in a weekend or two. I can afford the $50,000 renovation cost, but then I read your article about selling "as is" and wonder if that's the way to go?

Listen to your smart son. There is no sense spending $50,000 to renovate an older house just before sale. Your buyers will either like your charming older house the way it is and be thankful for a reasonable price in a desirable neighborhood, or they will want to remodel to their taste after purchase.

Save your $50,000 and the inconvenience of renovation, which might not even return the $50,000 in the form of a higher sales price.

Let your son and his pals paint your house inside and outside. Also, check the landscaping to be sure it is attractive. Perhaps plant some spring flowers to make the front yard especially inviting.

When you sell your home "as is," that means the seller must disclose all known defects (such as a leaking roof) but the seller won't pay for any repairs. However, if an obvious defect can be repaired at minimal expense, such as a dripping faucet, get it fixed.

In addition to the real estate agent you already consulted, after the house is painted and ready to sell, I suggest you interview at least two more agents.

The reason is you need to compare their evaluations, especially their CMAs (comparative market analysis). These forms will show you recent sales prices of comparable nearby homes, asking prices of neighborhood homes currently listed for sale (your competition), and even the asking prices of recently expired similar home listings. Then you can correctly set your asking price.

Published by Inman News

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Presale Inspections Can Give Sellers Advantage

Defects disclosed, renegotiations minimized in one fell swoop

It's becoming more common for sellers to hire inspectors to inspect their property before it's put on the market. The reports are then made available to buyers to review before they make an offer.

From a seller's perspective, presale inspections accomplish two goals. One objective -- particularly in states such as California that have seller disclosure requirements -- is to make sure that property defects are disclosed to prospective buyers in a timely fashion. Sellers who order inspections often do so to ensure that defects they might not be aware of are disclosed before, not after, the sale closes.

However, presale inspection reports should not be viewed as a substitute for a seller's disclosure obligations. For example, if you are aware of a roof leak, you must disclose it, even if the inspector misses this defect.

Another benefit to sellers from presale inspections is that they tend to cut down on renegotiations that can occur after buyers complete their inspections. If the buyer is aware of a defect before an offer is made, it can be factored into the offer price. This way, the seller has a better idea of how much he is likely to net from the sale at the time the offer is accepted.

The more a buyer knows about the condition of a property before an offer is made, the better. If minimal information is available when the purchase contract is negotiated, and big surprises revealed are in the buyer's inspection reports, the transaction could collapse. In this case, the seller has to start over. And, the reports that were generated by the first buyers will probably need to be disclosed to future buyers.

Sellers who understand the wisdom of ordering presale inspection reports should use inspectors that are well known and respected in the local area. Your real estate agent should be able to recommend the best local inspectors to you.

Some sellers and listing agents mistakenly order reports from inspectors who are known for being less critical than others. This can defeat the seller's purpose and raise a suspicion in the buyer's mind if the inspector overlooks an important defect that the buyers uncover when their inspector examines the property.

The seller of a Crocker Highlands home in Oakland, Calif., recently hired a pest inspector who issued a benign report on the property. The inspector recommended no further inspections.
When the buyer's home inspector looked at the house, he saw evidence of dry rot under a bathroom. So, the buyers asked a second pest inspector to inspect the property.

The inspector recommended that test openings be done to determine if there was damage behind the finished walls. These further inspections revealed damage to the wood framing and a cost of more than $5,000 to repair it. So this particular presale inspection did little to mitigate further price negotiations.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: Before you rely on an inspection report that was ordered by the sellers, make sure that the inspector who prepared the report is well respected for thoroughness and impartiality in the local marketplace. If this is not the case, plan on having another inspector look at the property. If the report is out of date, ask the inspector to update the report before you sign off on it.

Read the report carefully. Call the inspector yourself for answers to any questions you might have about the report or the property. Schedule a meeting with the inspector at the property to do a walkthrough of the property with you so that he can explain the report and answer any questions you might have.

THE CLOSING: It's never a good idea to forego inspections just to save money.
Dian Hymer is author of "House Hunting, The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer's Guide," Chronicle Books.

Published by Dian Hymer, Inman News

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Fork In The Road

The great American Philosopher Yogi Berra once remarked that “when you come to a fork in the road, Take It.” This is actually more profound than it appears.

When the road forks, you can choose one way or the other, or you can decide to remain there at that point, stopped in the road. Dynamic markets, like real estate, do not stop at the fork. They continue on their way influenced by basic economic principals of supply and demand.

Past real estate moves can help us understand where the market will go from here. For example, when older towns have been revitalized after long periods of decay, they tend not to develop along straight trend lines. Visionaries see the potential of the dilapidated real estate and start to buy. New activity spurs new commercial and retail development and traffic.

Others, including speculators, see this early bloom and follow suit, and prices rise quickly. They rise based on the anticipation of what will be instead of the practical issues of how much income can properties generate. Existing tenants are forced out as their new landlords increase rents based on the costs of acquiring the buildings instead of the rent that can be supported based on existing retail traffic. A new group of retailers starts to move in, replacing the sleepy original tenants; but all struggle, as the town economic activity has not kept pace with the price appreciation or costs.

After a growth spurt, the market needs to pause and take a step back, permitting a new alignment of real estate prices with the underlying commercial activity to support it. The further and faster the real estate appreciation gets in front of the commercial development, the longer and steeper the re-alignment back to a sustainable long-term market.

The residential housing market is at this point of retrenchment. The rapid run-up in prices could not be sustained by the incomes earned here. Further, the “other expenses”, i.e. Insurance and Taxes, exacerbate the affordability problem. It will take a while for the market to adjust itself. It cannot happen overnight, but it will eventually. Prices will come down, expenses too. That gets us through the next few years. After that, we will have to see how fundamental issues play out. Issues such as: How our officials develop growth plans, infrastructure and taxes; and insurance. Those hard choices will help the market determine whether it takes the path of long-term economic health at the next fork in the road.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Marketing Your Home

If you're thinking of selling your home, you need a marketing plan. Just like any other product people buy or sell, a home's value must be communicated to the proper audience to ensure the seller gets the best possible price.

Marketing your home means more than putting up a lawn sign and sticking an ad in your local newspaper. You need to have a complete marketing plan that takes into account your home's unique qualities, your objectives and details the specific resources available to you.

Your planning should begin as soon as you choose a Realtor, and often even before that. Part of your marketing plan will involve pricing your property, deciding when to list it and what features need to be cleaned or repaired. At this stage it is essential that you are completely honest with your Realtor about the condition of your home, your financial needs and any time constraints.

Once you have the basic information established, you need to get to the "guts" of the marketing plan, or determine how best to let people know that your home is for sale and get them excited about it. You need to keep in mind when you are planning that there are two key target audiences:home buyers and other real estate agents. You will need different marketing vehicles and slightly different information to effectively reach each audience.

There are a myriad marketing products and activities that can be utilized to help sell your home and your Realtor with the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), newspaper advertising, brochures, open houses, neighbourhood mailings, etc. In addition to the standard tools, Royal LePage Realtors have access to the industry's leading marketing tools and resources, including: Your home will be featured on Royal LePage's web site which receives an average of more than 450,000 unique user sessions each month;
-Virtual Reality Tours and Slide Shows: Available for many homes on the web site, giving prospective buyers a private tour of your home;
-Online Feature Sheets: Providing pictures and greater detail for your home when people want to know a little more than the basics;
-Referral Network: Your property's information will be available to nearly 11,000 Royal LePage Realtors coast-to-coast and 700 of the top real estate companies in the world through an exclusive affiliation;
-Customized Just Listed Cards: Distributed to potential buyers with details of your home on it.

Your Realtor can help you determine which tools will be most beneficial in your particular situation and market. Whatever the plan you decide on, make certain that you are an active part of it. Reviewing the plan's success on a regular basis should be a built-in part of any successful marketing plan. This article just gives a sampling of the many ways there are to market your home, to ensure the best price possible.To get more information on how Royal LePage and I can help you put one together, contact me directly!

Published by Royal LePage

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A Home Away From Home...

Do you have a dream of owning a place outside of the city where you can escape, kick back and relax? If so, you're not alone. In fact, a recent Royal LePage Recreational Property Report found that in the next two years, there will be seven prospective cottage or recreational property purchasers for every two owners that plan to sell. As demand continues to increase and average prices continue to rise, now more than ever you will need to be patient, establish a list of 'musts' and work with a Realtor who understands the recreational market, if you want your dreams to come true.

To begin your search, target potential areas and consider a road-trip to visit your most coveted spots. Once you find your ideal location, narrow your search by establishing a list of priorities. Do you plan to use your recreational property for seasonal versus year-round use? Do you wish to build a new cottage or buy an existing one? What are your hobbies? Is proximity to hospitals, public transit or schools important? If you are near water, lakes can vary tremendously in terms of allowances for boating, fishing and swimming. In the winter, do you want to use both cross-country and downhill skiing facilities?

With your priorities established, you will also be in a strong position to act fast if you need to. Popular sites are in demand. In fact, according to the Royal LePage report, only 17 per cent of current cottage owners claim that they will consider selling in the next two to three years.

Buying a recreational property can be considerably more complex than a standard home purchase and it generally takes longer. There is considerably more time and travel involved. The effort, according to a growing number of Canadians, is more than worth it.

Before you begin your search, give me a call. I can get you started down the right path toward your home away from home. If I cannot assist you directly in your purchase transaction, I can refer you to a quality Royal LePage Realtor in your desired area from our network of over 12,000 real estate professionals from coast to coast.

Published by Royal LePage

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Viewing An Open House With Open Eyes

Remaining objective can be a difficult task when viewing an open house. It is easy to fall in love with a home's appearance, blind to problems that may make it unsuitable. While aesthetics can be an important consideration, it is necessary to look beyond window-dressing.

A qualified home inspector should be hired before purchasing a home, but there are areas that consumers can examine on their own. This will shorten your list of potential homes and reduce the likelihood that a home inspector will reject it as unsafe or unsuitable. Here are some considerations and common problem areas to look for when touring an open house:

General UpkeepMuch can be surmised from the general state of the home. Is the home clean? Are lawns left uncut? Are the walls chipped and in need of paint? If smaller chores have been ignored it may be an indication of a broader disregard for home maintenance.

Water LeaksCheck ceilings and drywall for stains, bulges and other signs of water damage. Water that works its way inside via a leaky roof or a cracked foundation can rot wood, create mildew and mold, destroy possessions and can be expensive to repair.Does it Work?

Test lights, faucets, the heater, air conditioning, major appliances (that are to be included with the home) - even flush the toilets to ensure everything is working as it should.

FloorsAs you walk across the floors be aware of ''spongy'' (soft or springy) sections. Excessive squeaking and uneven, bumpy floors may also be indicative of expensive forthcoming repairs.

Doors & WindowsCheck that doors and windows fit snugly in their jambs and operate smoothly. Look for flaked paint and loose caulking. If the wood around windows and doors is not protected from moisture, it can rot away. Feel for drafts in these areas too.

Poor DrainageOn a wet day walk around the yard and look for areas where water collects. This can be an especially bad sign if there are soggy areas near the home''s foundation.

Grout & CaulkingIf the grout and caulking around bathroom and kitchen tiles is loose and crumbly, there is a good chance that water is finding its way into the wall or under the floor.

StructuralAlthough this is definitely an area where you want the services of a qualified home inspector, you can get an idea about possible structural problems if you see deep cracks in the foundations or loose mortar and bricks.

Miscellaneous ConcernsNaturally, one the most important factors will be determining if the house suits your family's needs. If you do not want to replace all of your furniture, make sure it will fit into the rooms of the new house. This is difficult to do by eye, so be sure to bring a measuring tape. Also, take note of storage space. If you are moving from a home with large closets and a shed, make sure your new house is able to store an equivalent amount of belongings.

Published by Royal LePage

Monday, May 7, 2007

Get The Most Out Of Your Home Stager

Waiting until the last minute to get your home ready to sell is bound to make your move more stressful. It could also result in a lower sale price if you forego properly preparing your home for sale.

The extent to which sellers put time and money into fix-up-for-sale work varies from one area to the next. In the San Francisco Bay Area, so many sellers stage their homes for sale that you could be at a disadvantage if your home is not staged. In other areas of the country, sellers do virtually nothing to ready their homes for sale.

The staging effort can be as minimal as removing clutter and excess, cleaning and rearranging furniture to show the living space at its best. Or it could involve painting, replacing tired floor coverings and light fixtures, and hiring a decorator who specializes in staging to bring in a house full of furniture, houseplants and accessories.

Staging your home for sale if you live in an area where the concept hasn't caught on could give you an advantage, particularly if there are a lot of unsold listings similar to yours on the market. Buyers tend to gravitate to the listings that look good and are in move-in condition.

Real estate agents like to show homes that look great because they are easier to sell. So, attractive listings tend to be shown more often. More showings mean more market exposure, which is a critical element for a timely and profitable home sale.

Staging costs vary depending on how the job is, how much competition there is among stagers in your area and whether the stagers have their own inventory of furniture. Stagers who don't have inventory must rent furniture for a staging project. This tends to increase the overall cost of staging.

The staging fee could be as minimal as $75 or $100 for a consultation on how to rearrange your furniture. Or it might run up to $10,000 or more to completely furnish and stage a vacant, 3,500-square-foot house.

HOME SELLER TIP: Before hiring a stager, check out the stager's reputation. Ask for recommendations and talk with people who have worked with the stager. Real estate agents tend to know who the best stagers are in an area. Your agent should be able to recommend a good one.

If you don't already have someone in mind, you might interview two or three and ask for a detailed proposal, including the stager's fee. Be sure to ask how long the staging will remain in your house for that price, and find out the price to extend the staging if you find it takes longer to sell your home. The extension fee should be less than the initial fee for staging the house.
It's a good idea to preview a listing currently on the market that was staged by a decorator that you're considering. Most sellers try to spend as little as possible to get their home ready to market. However, the point is to make the house look better. The stager with the lowest bid might not provide the best look for your home.

After your home is staged for sale, it may no longer look like your own. Actually, that's the point. You stage your home to maximize its appeal to as large a pool of prospective buyers as possible. A well-staged home looks beautiful and is depersonalized so that buyers can see themselves living there, not you.

THE CLOSING: Sellers who can't afford a big staging bill can consult with a stager to find out what modifications can be made on a budget and still provide their home with a refreshing new look.

Published by Dian Hymer, Inman News

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Hottest Renovation

TrendsHome improvements, be they decorating, designing or renovating, are becoming almost as common as the annual summer holiday! However, like clothes, shoes and diets, fashions change. What's the new best thing? Here's what the experts are saying:

- On average, renovations are getting bigger, and people are tending to want high-end, quality products. A continuous upgrade approach is popular with fewer people waiting several years between projects.

- With children staying home longer and an increased desire to care for the aging parents within our homes, there is a subtle upswing in requests for multi-generational suites. Similarly, wider doorways and entrances, non-skid floors, lever handles and safety rails are more frequently requested.

- Retrofitting to improve air quality and energy efficiency is important, particularly during major renovations.- A popular home addition coming out of Europe is a scullery, or as it is sometimes called, a 'dirty kitchen'.

A scullery is typically about half the size of the home's eat-in kitchen, and allows the host to hide the messier aspects of cooking from guests while entertaining. It features a big sink for cleaning, a large cutting/preparation area and storage for appliances and oversized items.

- Other European trends include appliances in vibrant hues. And, rather than traditional large refrigerators, ultra-modern kitchens are now featuring smaller units, such as under-the-counter pullout freezers and cooler drawers for fruits and vegetables.

- If you are seeking the best return for your renovation dollar, your top three renovation choices remain unchanged: kitchen renovations, bathroom renovations and interior painting. According to the Appraisal Institute of Canada's 2004 Home Renovation Survey, these upgrades will net you a return in the range of 70 percent to100 percent of your investment.

Call Before You DigIs your home improvement investment worth the effort and expense? I can help you understand what your planned home renovation may do to improve your home's resale value in today's market.

Published by Royal LePage

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Breath of Fresh Air: Improving Your Home's Air Quality

Is the air in your home making you sick? It can be as innocuous as a persistent cough, rash or headache. But, for the very young, the elderly and those with respiratory disease, the effects of indoor air contamination can be far more serious. The very air you breathe could be affecting the comfort and health of your family. Recognizing the symptoms of poor air quality is the first step toward fixing the problem. Bad air can be the cause any of the following symptoms:
-fatigue -headaches
-cold or flu symptoms such as coughing, congestion and sneezing
-redness or irritation of the eyes -irritation of the nose or throat
-dry, chapped or irritated skin -allergies
-asthma attacks
Your home may have bad air if you or your family continuously experience any of these indicators, primarily when spending time at home.

In some cases the cause is obvious. Cigarette smoke and pet dander, particularly in poorly ventilated areas, are common culprits. But in many cases, the source is hard to identify. You may be able to locate the source by centring your attention in rooms where symptoms are more severe. Your basement is a good place to start, as basements are breeding grounds for mould, another leading cause of poor air quality. Look for damp areas, mould and mildew and dust accumulation. Is there a musty smell in the air? Is drywall, carpet or drapery stained or discoloured? Chemical fumes from a recent renovation or fumes from an attached garage or workshop could also be to blame.

Every home should have a carbon monoxide detector. Carbon monoxide is an odourless gas caused by combustion sources like gas appliances, wood stoves/fireplaces and automobiles. Initial warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include sore throat, dizziness, headache and sleepiness - prolonged exposure can be fatal. Carbon monoxide detectors are available commercially and are required by law in some Canadian districts.

Solving the problem can be as easy as removing the source. Mould can be destroyed by cleansing the area with a mixture of one part chlorine bleach to four parts water. Wash the area thoroughly and let it stand for about 15 minutes before rinsing. To avoid recurrence, ensure that the affected area remains free of moisture. Contaminated carpet, underlay and furniture should be removed and discarded.

Routinely change furnace and air conditioner filters and keep your home clean and dust free. When removing the source is not possible or proves ineffective, there are other measures you can take: -Improve ventilation in affected rooms -Humid air can cause and exacerbate air quality. Consider purchasing a dehumidifier -An air filtration system can be installed in the homeWhen symptoms are severe it is best to rely on a professional. Hire an environmental consulting company to analyze the air in your home, identify the cause and recommend a solution.

Published by Royal LePage