Friday, April 30, 2010

30-Year Mortgage Rate Falls Slightly From Previous Week

U.S. mortgage rates dipped in the latest week, a closely watched mortgage survey showed Thursday, with rates remaining at historically low levels that should bode well for the hard-hit housing market.

Lower interest rates on mortgages may buoy home loan refinancing activity, putting more cash into consumers' hands to funnel into the U.S. economy.

It also makes homes more affordable during the most important period, the spring selling season.

Interest rates on U.S. 30-year fixed-rate mortgages, the most widely used loan, averaged 5.06 percent for the week ended April 29, down from the previous week's 5.07 percent, according to a survey released by Freddie Mac, the second-largest U.S. mortgage finance company.

That is above the year-ago level of 4.80 percent as well as the record low of 4.71 percent in early December. Freddie Mac started the survey in 1971.

"Mortgage rates on 30-year fixed loans have averaged about 5 percent over the first four months of this year, staying within a band of roughly a quarter percentage point and virtually matching 2009's annual average," Frank Nothaft, Freddie Mac vice president and chief economist, said in a statement.

"These low rates have been helping to moderate house price declines over the course of the year," he said.

Mortgage rates are linked to yields on Treasuries and yields on mortgage-backed securities.

Rates are widely expected to rise this year as the economy improves and after the Federal Reserve ended its program of purchases of mortgage-related securities last month.

The federal government's $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit and a $6,500 credit for home owners buying a new residence will soon expire. Eligible borrowers must sign contracts by April 30 and close loans by June 30.

Jim Gillespie, president and CEO of Coldwell Banker in Parsippany, New Jersey, said this has helped boost demand.

"The federal tax credits certainly helped the economy and the housing market overall," he said.

Low Rates, Mixed Demand

The Mortgage Bankers Association said Wednesday U.S. mortgage applications fell last week as a drop in home refinancing volume outweighed the highest demand for home purchase loans in six months, data from an industry group showed on Wednesday.

Freddie Mac said the 15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 4.39 percent in the latest week, unchanged from the the prior week. Interest rates on other types of loans were mixed.

One-year adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) were 4.25 percent in the latest week, up from 4.22 percent the prior week.

The rate on the 5/1 ARM, set at a fixed rate for five years and adjustable each following year, was 4.00 percent, compared with 4.03 percent a week earlier.

A year ago, 15-year mortgages averaged 4.48 percent, the one-year ARM 4.82 percent and the 5/1 ARM 4.85 percent.

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New proposal trims homeowners premiums in return for storm-resistant building

Coastal residents may get an insurance break next year by making their houses safer from hurricanes.

In a filing by insurance companies with the N.C. Department of Insurance, the insurers propose to give credits on annual wind and hail premiums based on rankings of a house's construction.

Condominiums and apartments are excluded from the credits, said Kristin Milam, director of public information for the Insurance Department.

If the proposals by the N.C. Rate Bureau are approved, the credits on premiums will be available to insured homeowners "who build, rebuild or retrofit certain residential dwellings, in accordance with specified standards, to better resist hurricanes and other catastrophic windstorm events," according to the filing by the N.C. Rate Bureau, an industry organization that bargains collectively with the state for insurance companies.

The filing was required under the 2009 Beach Plan reform bill passed by the General Assembly Aug. 6 and signed by Gov. Beverly Perdue on Aug. 26.

The deadline for the filing was Saturday.

The proposal works like this: There are three levels of credits for existing homes – bronze, silver and gold – based on standards of the Institute for Business and Home Safety. an organization that studies the effects of natural disasters and whose members are insurers and reinsurers.

The institute also has standards called "Fortified New" for new-construction homes.

The credits grow proportionately with the amount of insurance you have, Milam said Thursday. The credits would be effective when a homeowner's wind and hail policy is renewed, she added.

They also vary depending on where you live,

The filing explains it this way:

If you have $75,000 in wind and hail coverage on your home, and the home is rated "bronze," your credit would range from 5 percent to 7 percent of your annual premium if you live on the mainland of New Hanover, Brunswick or Pender counties.

That would amount to $41 to $57 off your premium each year for as long as your home maintains that ranking, according to the filing.

If you are building a home that will be ranked "fortified new," your credit could amount to 20 percent, or $162 off.

If the Insurance Department approves the filing, it will go into effect next year.

The whole home is rated under the bronze-silver-gold standards, said Fred Malik, fortified programs manager for the Institute for Business and Home Safety.

These retrofitting rankings apply to homes that are occupied, he said.

"At the bronze level, we are dealing with roof covering, roof attachment, attic ventilation systems – working to keep water out," Malik explained.

There are two sub-rankings under each main ranking. "We give owners two methods of qualifying," he said. The sub-ranking of "1" is a home where the roof covering does not have to be replaced, and 2 is a home where the roof covering does have to be replaced, he said.

"At silver, you have all the standards for bronze, but you're adding window and door opening protections, adding bracing for gables over 4 feet high, and improving the attachment of accessory structures such as carports," he continued.

The gold standard includes the requirements for bronze and silver, and "we're looking at making sure that the home has a well-executed load path," which Malik explained as "tying the roof down through the structural members of the home all the way to the foundation."

In late 2008, former Insurance Commissioner Jim Long approved increases in both homeowner insurance premiums and wind and hail coverage under the Beach Plan, which is supposed to be the insurer of last resort for coastal residents.

Both went into effect in 2009, after Long left office.

Homeowner insurance was allowed to rise up by nearly 30 percent on the mainland of New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender counties, and about 17 percent on the barrier islands.

The Beach Plan's wind and hail increases were based upon the homeowner insurance premiums, so area residents were hit with a double whammy. Some Wilmington residents said their total premiums went up by more than half.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Ken Keegan Receives Terry Weaver Training

Vic Rosado on left, Terry Weaver
in middle and Ken Keegan on the right. Vic and I have received the
highest awards from Terry Weaver and just took his training with CBSCR.
Please call me with questions!

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Photos from St. James Plantation

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Economic downturn boosts green innovation

As the environmental movement prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, there's no question the economy has taken a toll on the ability of people and businesses to be green.

It doesn't mean they aren't still trying, but they might have changed how they try to be environmentally conscious.

“As much as the market throws these terms around, it is driving people to do the right thing whether they're intentionally trying to do it or not,” said Ryan Olsen, store manager for Wilmington's Progressive Gardens.

Saving money was always one of the primary arguments for being green, even if it did often take a back seat to saving Mother Earth first.

What the economic slowdown has done, though, is allow that message to seep in even more, said Elise Rocks, co-founder of the Cape Fear Green Building Alliance.

A few years ago when the building boom was in overdrive, she said, developers and contractors didn't really have the time to embrace the economics of green ideas.

But now, with everyone watching every penny, there's more of a motivation to highlight the tax and dollar savings that can come from using, for example, less water and energy in a building.

“It's obvious that when we start coming out of this that people in the industry want to have that edge,” Rocks said. “And the public is demanding it.”

One company that has already reinvented itself to reflect the changing economic conditions is Wilmington's Mott Landscaping.

Owner Steve Mott said nearly 90 percent of his traditional landscaping business eroded during the economic meltdown.

“But the green roof industry has grown even during the recession,” he said.

Mott said the popularity of vegetated roofs is growing because of economics as much as anything to do with being environmentally friendly.

“They pay for themselves in 5-7 years,” he said, referring to the energy savings from the nontraditional roofs.

Many green roofs, like the one on New Hanover Regional Medical Center's new women's and children's hospital, also have an equally important role as a healthy and relaxing escape for the building's inhabitants.

The sputtering economy also has changed “green” patterns at the individual level.

At Progressive Gardens, $25 bags of organic soil are no longer flying off the shelves as they did a few years ago.

But Olsen said $8 bags are still moving quickly.

“There's definitely still a cost issue there,” he said. “But people still want to do the right thing.”

That includes a strong interest in home gardens and organic products – a desire fueled by the drumbeat of food recalls and worrying stories about the chemicals getting injected into our food supply.

Wednesday morning Jessica McCready joined a steady stream of locals stopping by the Wilmington store to pick up their first box of the season of chemical-free vegetables from Cottle Organics in Rose Hill.

McCready said that while $300 for 12 weeks is a chunk of change, she sees the community supported agriculture program as a learning experience as much as a way to make sure her family eats healthy.

“I want my children to know where their food comes from, what it looks like coming out of the ground,” she said, adding with a smile that she'd also have to bone up on what greens she was getting and what exactly she could do with them.

Joining McCready in claiming his first box of greens was Paul Perkins.

“There is that excitement of not knowing what you're going to get,” he said as he checked out the collard greens, radishes and rutabaga in this week's organic offerings with one arm, holding his 2-year-old son, James, in the other. “Plus I'm happy what I'm not getting, namely all those chemicals. We already have too many of those.”

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New Hanover Regional expands beyond hospital into area communities

When New Hanover Regional Medical Center holds an open house Saturday for its new medical offices in front of Brunswick Forest, it won’t be its first foray into the neighboring county, but it will be the Wilmington hospital’s most noticeable extension there to date.

The move into a new building at Brunswick Forest’s commercial village is part of the hospital’s strategic plan developed several years ago to establish more outpatient services off its 17th Street main campus.

“The population is not all going to be centered in New Hanover County or right around downtown Wilmington,” said John Gizdic, New Hanover Regional’s vice president of strategic planning and business development. “As the region grows, we’re taking those services out into the community and providing those additional access points really that patients want, and when they need that next level of care, then they can come down to the hospital.”

The new medical building sits off the U.S. 17 entrance of Brunswick Forest, the Leland residential development where 611 families already have purchased property and long-term projections call for more than 8,000 households.

Near a bank, coffee shop, sheriff’s substation, grocery store, drug store and retail space that are already opened or in the planning stages, the medical office was envisioned as another amenity for the residents in the fast-growing part of the county.

Brunswick Forest developers, who built and own the medical building, put out a request for proposals for a health care provider to occupy the building. New Hanover Regional beat out other offers and now leases the space at $20 per square foot, officials said.

New Hanover Regional has set up diagnostic services, including multi-slice CT scans, full-field digital mammography, ultrasounds, bone density scans and X-rays with imaging to be read by Delaney Radiologists.

Patients have been using the services at the new facility since late March, and lab services are slated to begin soon.

Just having the CT scanner on site already has helped a number of Brunswick County patients get a CT done the same day their doctor requests one instead of having to wait, said Leann Stoddard, site coordinator for the Health & Diagnostics facility.

In addition, doctors from New Hanover Regional’s physicians group opened primary care and urology practices.

Through sublease agreements with New Hanover Regional, Atlantic Orthopedics and Wilmington Health Associates also will see patients in the building, providing primary and speciality care.

About 20,000 square feet of the planned 42,000-square-foot building has been built out, with room for more medical services, said Lannin Kerry, property manager for Brunswick Forest.

New Hanover Regional in recent years has partnered with the Wilmington-based practice New Hanover Radiation Oncology Center to open a cancer treatment office in Supply and with Dosher Memorial Hospital to open Dosher Medical Plaza in Oak Island.

But the Brunswick Forest location is the hospital’s most significant presence in the county where competitor Novant Health is currently building a new hospital in Supply and has urgent care and affiliated physician offices dotted around the county.

But Brunswick County is not the only focus for New Hanover Regional as it implements its hub-and-spoke strategy.

The hospital established imaging services in Porters Neck and near Mayfaire Town Center on Military Cutoff Road, where New Hanover Regional also plans to open its first off-campus urgent care center May 1.

Gizdic said he foresees the hospital having a stronger future presence in Pender, Onslow and Duplin counties.

In a recent state-of-the-hospital address to county commissioners, New Hanover Regional CEO Jack Barto pointed to the expansion strategy as one way the hospital is responding to challenges facing the industry.

“Not everybody’s going to come here,” he said, speaking at the main hospital. “We have to get off this campus. We have to provide alternatives.”

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Brunswick County maps new trails for horses, bikes at nature park

Expanded hiking trails and new ones for horseback riders and mountain bikers are in the works for the county’s new Brunswick Nature Park, on N.C. 133 at Town Creek.

The county is currently mapping the trails using mobile GPS technology and seeking approval for the plans from the Coastal Land Trust, said Parks and Recreation Director Jim Pryor.

But the park, which opened in December, is already gaining popularity.

“There are some existing natural trails on the property that go through the woods, and we have had some people on horseback out there. We have people out there running and walking,” Pryor said. “It’s getting a lot of activity.”

The Cape Fear chapter of the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association, or SORBA, is working with the county to design the mountain biking trails, and the beginner’s loop has already been mapped out. The first loop will be two miles long, and the next intermediate loop will cover three to four miles.

“The first loop is something that a beginner could come and ride, and most kids could ride it too,” said Cape Fear SORBA president Greg Brinson. “But there are some gullies and ridges that will give the trail a little bit of a climb. The intermediate loop will have more technical features like rocks and maybe some dirt jumps.”

Brinson said a third and fourth biking loop will also be added eventually, creating between six and 10 total miles of biking trails.

Pryor said the county hopes to have the beginner’s loop open this summer and the intermediate loop finished by fall.

The N.C. Horse Council is also partnering with the county to develop equestrian trails for the park.

“We’ve been involved in the pre-planning for several years now doing the initial layout of the trails,” said Barbara Oslund, Eastern Trails consultant for the council. “The basic design of the equestrian trails will be the same as the others, but you have to look at what kind of user groups are going to be involved. You also look at what’s of interest, so it’s an interesting ride and not just a straight line.”

The county recently applied for additional funding through the North Carolina Trails grant program, Pryor said, and hopes to receive approval in coming weeks.

Oslund said she expects the equestrian trails to draw visitors from across the region.

“There are very few public trails for equestrians in the state, and this will be one of the only parks with public trails, especially in the eastern part of the state,” she said. “So just by being there it will be an attraction. But the land is also just very beautiful.”

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Riverfront farmers' market opens

Hundreds took advantage of the warm temperatures Saturday to welcome back the Riverfront Farmers' Market to town. Local producers, artists and other vendors were on hand as patrons strolled along the riverfront.

Patrons said they look forward to the farmers' market every year for the vast array of fresh and local produce and for what they can find to plant their own garden at home.

"We like to come here because they have a variety of vegetable plants for the garden that I'm growing right now," said Dennis Sullivan of Rocky Point. "We get a lot of fresh vegetables that we love and they are right off the farm so you can't beat that."

The farmers’ market will be held on North Water Street every Saturday through the middle of December from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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Tour Greenfield Lake using your iPod

Ever felt like exploring Greenfield Lake? Well now you can take a new self-guided tour on your iPod.

The Cape Fear River Watch has started a podcast tour to highlight ten major points throughout the lake. Visitors can rent paddleboats and bring along their mp3 player with the downloaded tracks and find the markers on the water.

“The main purpose was to get people out to Greenfield Lake,” says lake director Joe Abbate. “I hope this new technology and innovation and learning will get people to come and understand how valuable this resource really is.”

The tour highlights the rich history and ecology of the lake. You can rent a paddleboat for ten dollars an hour. All proceeds go to benefit the Cape Fear River Watch.

For more information and a link to the mp3s you can visit their website at:

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Wilmington Convention Center books its first event

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- It may still be months away from completion, but the Wilmington Convention Center has already booked its first event.

Friday, in an announcement at City Hall, the North Carolina Engineers Association signed a contract to hold three conventions in Wilmington beginning in 2014. The group will also have a small meeting here next spring. The Convention Center is on target to be completed late this fall. Wilmington beat out seven other areas for the NCEA's business, including Myrtle Beach.

"We're the North Carolina Health Care Engineers, and we wanted to bring our annual conference back to North Carolina, so that's one of the reasons. Then, we just like Wilmington. Wilmington is just a great city," Donald Bayes, the President-Elect for the North Carolina Engineers Association said.

Because it's still up in the air which hotel will accompany the Convention Center, the organization booked rooms at the Blockade Runner and the downtown Hilton for its three conventions.

According to the Cape Fear Convention and Visitor's Bureau, the total estimated economic impact of the conventions will be more than $2 million.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Housing Starts, Permits Show Some Strength in Real Estate

U.S. housing starts rose more than expected in March to their highest level since November 2008 and permits to build new homes scaled a 17-month peak, offering hope the housing market recovery remained on course.


The Commerce Department said on Friday housing starts rose 1.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 626,000 units. February's housing starts were revised up to show a 1.1 percent increase, which was previously reported as a 5.9 percent drop.

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected housing starts to rise to 610,000 units. Compared to March last year, starts were 20.2 percent higher.

"Some of the worries about the housing market have been alleviated by this report," said Cary Leahey, an economist at Decision Economics in New York.

U.S. stock index futures held on to small losses after the data, while Treasury debt prices were steady at slightly higher levels. The U.S. dollar was little changed.

Groundbreaking for single-family homes slipped 0.9 percent last month to an annual rate of 531,000 units after rising 5.7 percent in February. Starts for the volatile multifamily segment surged 18.8 percent to a 95,000-unit annual pace after falling 21.6 percent the prior month.

The housing market recovery has stalled in recent months and sales have dropped after strong gains in the second half of 2009. The sector, a key factor behind the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, remains one of the headwinds confronting the recovery.

Analysts are cautiously optimistic the improving economic conditions, particularly the resumption of job growth, will help put the sector back on an upward trend and March's housing starts data will be seen as a step in that direction.

A National Association of Home Builders survey on Thursday showed home-builder sentiment rose to a seven-month high in April as consumers rushed to take advantage of a home buyer tax credit. Better economic conditions also helped.

New building permits, which give a sense of future home construction, jumped 7.5 percent to a 685,000-unit pace last month—the highest level since October 2008, the Commerce Department said.

That compared to analysts' forecasts for 630,000 units.

Permits rose 2.4 percent in February.

Permits were up 34.1 percent from March 2009, the biggest year-on-year gain since February 1992.

New home completions fell 3.1 percent to a record low 656,000 units. The inventory of total houses under construction dropped 1.4 percent to an all-time low of 489,000 units in March, while the total number of units authorized but not yet started soared 7.5 percent to 103,200 units—the highest level since June.

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Preservation of historic structures creates local jobs

Downtown revitalization is not about "making buildings cute," according to Don Rypkema, an expert in the economics of preserving historic structures. Instead, it is about making good use of scarce resources. Adaptive reuse of buildings that might otherwise be called functionally obsolete is economically rational, environmentally sensitive, and sustainable, he said.

An author and the president of Heritage Strategies International, Rypkema was invited to the city by Downtown Wilmington and the Historic Wilmington Foundation. He toured the downtown and met with community leaders Thursday before giving a presentation on the benefits of historic preservation.

Rypkema said downtown revitalization is important to economic development because rehabilitating buildings provides jobs, in a higher proportion of labor to cost than new construction, and the workers spend money locally. It also spurs more revitalization around it. The vast majority of downtown businesses are local and small, which do a better job of keeping people employed than big firms, he said.

Protecting downtown heritage advances every principle of smart growth, he said, including walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods, distinctive character, collaborative efforts by stakeholders and concentration of transportation options.

Downtowns are also where infrastructure is concentrated, making revitalization cheaper and more efficient than sprawling outward. But the revitalization also helps attract industrial development, even in suburban business parks, Rypkema said, since thriving downtowns boost institutional leadership and quality of life. Also, suburbs are homogeneous, but historic buildings help differentiate a town.

Rypkema urged "sensible land-use regulations" to discourage urban sprawl and encourage revitalization. Property-rights advocates have loud voices, but with rights come responsibilities to the community, he said. Through zoning and planning, a community can make doing the right thing easy and doing the wrong thing hard and expensive.

Rypkema said construction debris constitutes a quarter of materials dumped in landfills, and it makes more sense to reuse historic buildings. Asked about green growth, he said green energy standards don't consider construction or demolition costs, which can far outweigh annual usage.

Rypkema said Wilmington had "block after block of great buildings," not just monumental ones, but a "context of urban character." With the vacant lots he saw, the city also has "extraordinary opportunity to accommodate growth."

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Golf ladies raising money to fight breast cancer

The golfing ladies of Brunswick Plantation are looking for donations for their annual Susan G. Komen Rally for the Cure Golf Tournament. The tournament isn’t until September but the organization will try to raise money from now until the fall. For the past 13 years the golf tournament has raised funds to fight breast cancer. Volunteers will be canvassing businesses soon for donations, according to a press release.

Co-chairwoman Kathy Rosenberg stated in the release: “We have all been touched by this awful disease, and this is our small way to make a contribution toward finding a cure.”

Last year the tournament brought in nearly $15,000. Anyone wishing to inquire about making a contribution or sponsoring a hole can contact Marie Krut at 287-5857.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Stand Out From The Rest

Stand out from the rest
Nine ways to make your home more appealing to buyers
BY KATHRYN WEBER Tribune Media Services

When you’re ready to sell your house, it pays to assess your home and make improvements before the for-sale sign goes in the yard. By doing so, you’ll help buyers see the beauty of your home -- and that helps put the sold sign up faster. Especially in today’s tough market for home sellers, attention to details and a willingness to go the extra mile can make all the difference.

Here is a list of tips to make your home stand out from the rest.

• Be objective.

One of the hardest things for homeowners is to see their house from a buyer’s perspective. If you can’t be objective about how your home looks, take pictures of it. Take photos from the street, the kitchen, living room and master bedroom. These are the rooms that matter most to buyers.

• Start at the front.

Give the front of your home a makeover.

Hire a landscape company to freshen the grounds, trim shrubs and trees, and add mulching. Repaint the mailbox, add new house numbers and hide trashcans. These improvements help hook buyers at the curb, enticing them to view your home.

• Put money where your mouth is.

Investing in the kitchen is one of the best returns on investment for homeowners. The kitchen is the one room that really excites buyers, so make it work for you by adding a new backsplash, fresh coat of paint on the cabinets and trendy pulls. Dated lighting, peeling laminate and crowded countertops will have buyers backing out of the house.

• Make a focal point in every room.

Each room should have a feature that defines the space. A focal point helps visually draw buyers into the room -- and where the eyes go, the heart often follows. Using the photos you’ve taken earlier, plan a focal point for the main rooms of the house, including the kitchen.

• Empty closets by half.

When buyers look at your closets, less definitely is more. Reducing your belongings by at least half will allow buyers to actually see storage instead of stuff. Rent a storage unit if that’s what it takes, but reduce by 50 percent.

• Open the door to sales.

The front door is the first place on your home a prospective buyer sees and touches when they arrive. Repainting or revarnishing the door and polishing up the hardware will create a vision of beauty and buyer anticipation because it says the house is cared for right up front.

• Back off the wall.

Move furniture out in the room and away from walls. Of course, if your house has too much furniture (as many do), you may need to pare down. Make sure to put sofas and loveseats or chairs across from each other rather than in an L-shape. This conversational arrangement is more appealing to buyers.

• Add life.

Invest in good quality real or silk plants.

Spindly plants are eyesores. Look in any d├ęcor magazine and you’ll notice how plants are placed attractively in the room. Use these as guides on what plants to buy and where to place.

• Set the table.

Model homes and homes in design magazines always feature a dining room table that’s set, but few homeowners with homes for sale set the formal dining room table. Setting the table makes the room inviting and helps buyers imagine themselves in it.

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Friday, April 9, 2010

Boiling Spring Lakes bike run raises funds for rescue gear

The annual Spring Bike Run in Boiling Spring Lakes will be held Saturday. Registration is from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at First Baptist Church, 45 Boiling Spring Road, behind City Hall.

Motorcyclists will ride about 90 miles on a route that goes through Shallotte, Ocean Isle, Sunset Beach and back to Boiling Spring Lakes. A law enforcement escort will be provided.

The event is open to the public. Registration is $20 per rider and $10 per passenger participating in a ticket drawing at each of the four stops on the route, said Mary Stillwell, Boiling Spring Lakes special event coordinator.

Proceeds will go toward the purchase of a defibrillator for the Boiling Spring Lakes Volunteer Fire Department. “We do not have a defibrillator on (any) of our first-response vehicles in the city right now, so we feel this is important,” Stillwell said.

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Orton Plantation hosts first Azalea Garden Walk of the season

Can’t get enough of Wilmington’s famous flowers? Orton Plantation will host its first guided Azalea Garden Walk from 9-11 a.m. Saturday. Local horticulturist Bruce Williams will lead a walk and talk about the azalea bloom, according to the plantation’s Web site. Bring your azalea gardening questions and dress appropriately. All garden walks are regular garden admission.

Orton Plantation is located at 9149 Orton Road S.E., Winnabow, just off N.C. 133 before you get to Southport.

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Virtual Tour of the 12 Azalea Gardens - Azalea Festival

Azalea Gardens

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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Spring is in the air in Southport

Looking for something to do this Easter weekend? Southport’s annual spring festival continues today from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The weather is supposed to be warm and sunny. Each year more than 100 crafters congregate at the Franklin Square Park. The event includes live entertainment, a chili cook-off from 11 a.m to 2 p.m., a bike give away and more.

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Dump stuff at landfill for free during Brunswick Spring Cleanup

Spring Cleanup Week in Brunswick County begins Monday and runs through April 17.

During the week, Brunswick County residents can dispose of all materials except regular household trash and land clearing debris at the Brunswick County landfill, 172 Landfill Road NE, off Galloway Road.

The free disposal applies only to items brought to the landfill in Bolivia. Items will not be picked up during regular trash service. Businesses and those driving commercial vehicles and trailers will be charged regular tipping fees.

The four county drop-off sites will maintain regular fees.

Hours at the Brunswick County landfill are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Ken Keegan Discusses St. James Plantation!

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Coldwell Banker On LocationSM Hits the 1 Million Views Mark!

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Bald eagles starting to show up in increasing numbers in Cape Fear region

They have made a rebound nationally, to such a degree that they’re no longer found on the Endangered Species Act.

And now there’s at least anecdotal evidence that bald eagles are starting to show up in increasing numbers in the Cape Fear region.

Established eagle nests in Hampstead and Bolivia have been joined by a suspected nest site in the Scotts Hill area and another one farther down the Intracoastal Waterway in New Hanover County, said Andy Wood, education director for Audubon North Carolina.

Sightings of the country’s national symbol are up across the region and the state, too.

All in all, it’s a nice change from the situation just a few decades ago when fewer than a thousand nesting pairs were found in the lower 48 states – and almost none in the Wilmington area.

“This is a result of decades now of DDT being taken out of our environment, at least directly,” Wood said, referring to the insecticide that softened the shells of birds’ eggs.

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission began reintroducing eagles in 1983, and now there are more than 100 nesting “territories” scattered across the state.

But changes in how humans view the birds – and to some degree how the large birds of prey now view humans – also have helped the population rebound.

Wood said tough federal laws have raised awareness about what the birds need to survive and thrive, namely to be left alone and to have good nesting habitat.

“Their preferred tree here is an old loblolly pine, which is probably 40 to 50 years old, near water ... and we have lots of those,” he said, adding that it’s also illegal to mess with a tree that has had nesting activity within the past few years.

But the eagles, which don’t migrate far from their nests, also have adapted to living among humans.

“They appear to be getting more comfortable around people, so now they’re successfully nesting within hundreds of feet of human activity,” Wood said.

While the birds’ plumage and size might be majestic, their behavior isn’t quite as noble.

Wood said eagles are equal-opportunity carnivores, willing to catch their own food or steal a fish from an osprey.

Then there’s the fact that they won’t pass up the occasional carrion, even sharing a dead animal with vultures.

Still, they’re a special sight to many when seen soaring.

But because of the legal protections given to the birds, including several federal laws and a continued presence on the state’s “threatened” list, they haven’t always been favorites of landowners.

But in Hampstead, a developer has embraced the birds’ presence after initially being a little leery about having a nest on his property.

He even named his development Eagle Watch after the pair.

Across Nixon Creek from the nest, Jim Tompkins has been observing the eagles for more than a decade.

“We’re absolutely delighted,” he said about having eagles as a neighbor. “It’s a treat because more often than not we see them while having breakfast, and it’s a great way to start the day.”

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Ken Keegan
Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobile
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Study to shed light on cracks

Chuck Pollock peered up the silo-like Oak Island Lighthouse and put his finger to a crack in the concrete exterior. It ran as far up as eyes could see.

The lighthouse’s interior bore the same affliction.

“Some of these cracks go all the way through,” Pollock, a Friends of Oak Island Lighthouse (FOIL) board member, said on site last Wednesday as engineers fiddled with gear that would help ascertain the problem’s severity.

Oak Island Lighthouse, the tri-colored concrete tower at Caswell Beach, has stood a half-century with only a single layer of skeletal rebar within its eight-inch-thick walls.

Inside the 140-foot-tall cylinder are top-to-bottom streams of runny, white lines, blaring indicators that moisture has invaded from the windy, salty beach environment.

With cracks in the concrete, there’s a chance the rebar may be corroded, which Pollock said could affect the lighthouse’s structural integrity.

“There are a lot of questions with this,” said E.B. Pannkuk, a structural engineer paged to the site last Wednesday. He works for Wilmington-based Andrew Consulting Engineers, which has designed or analyzed a number of concrete and historic structures in the area.

“It’s your lighthouse for the next day and a half,” Pollock told Pannkuk last Wednesday as his crew disappeared inside the structure with heavy equipment, one piece of which resembled a small cannon.

To put the building’s potential issues in perspective, Pannkuk said today’s standard would be 12-inch-thick walls and two layers of rebar, a web of steel bars reinforcing the structure.

Compare that, he said, to Oak Island Lighthouse’s eight inches and single layer. Then add the beach element.

“Think of a car parked at the beach all day,” he said. “You come back to it at the end of the day and there’s that residue on it.

“This thing,” he said, pointing to the lighthouse, “has been here more than 50 years” with daily whippings of salt wind. “The beach is just a very difficult environment.”

After a half-hour of prep came a shrill of heavy gear from inside the lighthouse’s reverberant base. Pollock and tour guide Bob Ahlers filed in for a look.

In the dark interior, lit only by a puffy sunglow from a small window, field technician Serge Stroehmer was boring into the wall with the cannon-like machine, a hollow-shaft drill a little more than three inches in diameter at the tip.

The bore was a meticulous process of dial-turning and sign language between Stroehmer and project manager Harry Slater as the screaming machine overruled any conversation.

Stroehmer withdrew the drill after several minutes, and Slater pulled from the wall a thick, stone rod roughly the size and look of a decorative candle.

Slater said the piece, bored out smooth as marble and containing rocks of various colors, would help Pannkuk determine the condition of the concrete.

The next step was a look at the rebar, which required another hole in the wall.

But on first impression, it didn’t look so bad, said Ahlers.

“There was just a very little bit of rust” on the exposed rebar, he said. “But we won’t know the extent until we get the report back, in a couple weeks.”

The report will examine the corrosion and the bore samples taken at various elevations in the lighthouse. Pannkuk pointed out that the tower’s three colors are not painted, but actually the color of concrete used. It was essential, he said, to look at each layer.

While the results are outstanding, “the fundamental structure remains sound and will continue to be open, in my opinion, for quite some time,” Pollock said. He added that with the rebar appearing about as healthy as hoped, the source of the weepy salt lines may be openings at the top of the lighthouse rather than cracks in its concrete.

Tours on tap

In the meantime, FOIL is readying the site for public tours available Wednesdays and Saturdays beginning May 26.

Ahlers added that he’s looking for volunteers — “no experience necessary” — to help FOIL’s efforts. Interested persons may e-mail for information.

Tour hours, requirements and other need-to-knows are available at

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Ken Keegan
Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobile
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Thursday, April 1, 2010

What is a Market Analysis?

Before you think about selling your home, make sure you have done your homework, including doing a comparative market analysis or CMA. This will give you the facts you need to price your home accurately and fairly.

Trained real estate professionals have access to up-to-date geographic-related information about:

An area’s recent highest, lowest and average home sales prices
Active, pending and expired real estate listings
Comparable home sales
Market trends including the average number of days area homes remain on the market before they are sold
When you enlist a real estate agent to provide you with a CMA, you are likely to get more complete information faster. An agent will also help you to analyze the information in a comparative market analysis.

A CMA is in no way a price guarantee. There are many factors that go into pricing a home and some of them are very personal including a seller’s motivation.

Some sellers are financially distressed, or are under pressure to relocate for employment purposes and are willing to drop the price of a home for a quick sale. Other sellers are willing to wait for the right buyer to purchase his or her home at a premium price.

The depth of comparative market analysis reports varies. Call me today to receive a CMA on your home!

Ken Keegan
Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobile
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New Brunswick island bridges expected to be ready this fall

Brunswick County motorists could be driving over two new high rise bridges this fall.

The new Oak Island and Sunset Beach bridges are expected to be completed about the same time, giving motorists easier access to the barrier islands.

Oak Island's new bridge is scheduled to be done in September, nine months later than expected because of a fatal accident December 2008 and an issue with cracks in some beams.

All of the beams are set over the 65-foot-tall Sunset Beach bridge, and workers are beginning to pour the decks, N.C. Department of Transportation Resident Engineer Wayne Currie said.

Workers are still setting the beams, or girders, over the waterway in Oak Island and then plan to move to pouring the deck.

The old Sunset Beach single-lane, wooden pontoon bridge is expected to be removed by December.

The bridges haven't been named yet, but Oak Island has decided to name the corridor leading up to the new bridge E.F. Middleton Boulevard, Oak Island spokesman Kyle Thomas said.

The town took suggestions from the public for naming the corridor last summer, and the council settled on E.F. Middleton, Thomas said.

Ernest Felder Middleton, a timber exporter from Charleston, developed part of Oak Island in the late 1930s.

The corridor that will now bear his name runs from Middleton Avenue on the south side of Oak Island Drive to the intersection of Midway Road and N.C. 211.

Although the Oak Island bridge was supposed to be completed a year before the Sunset Beach bridge project's completion at the end of this year, several delays have stalled the project.

In December 2008, a concrete girder fell during bridge construction, killing one man, injuring two others and delaying the project significantly.

Work resumed in May 2009, only to be halted from June to October because the DOT twice rejected pre-set, pre-cast girders because of cracks it deemed unacceptable.

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Ken Keegan
Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobile
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