Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lighten up

A home that’s welcoming and warm usually has one design element working for it that other homes do not: good lighting. This is one of designers’ secret weapons -- and for good reason. Good lighting sets a mood, creates a special feeling and turns a home into a haven. This is especially true of exterior lighting. Done right, it will make your home the most welcoming one on the block and safer, too.

Start at the door

A warm glow at the front door creates more than a cozy feeling; it also makes for better security. If you have a light fixture next to the door, consider adding a recessed fixture overhead. These won’t get in the way because they’re flush-mounted. More importantly, a recessed porch light illuminates whoever is under it better than sidemounted light -- and that’s important when you’re looking through a peephole late at night.

Move to the walkway

Adding a lamppost or lighting along the walkway to your front door is another nice touch. It brightens up dark areas in the driveway and illuminates the path from driveway to door. Again, safety is a good reason for adding this type of lighting, but it’s also a way to make your home more welcoming.

Layered lighting looks best

Lighting can set a mood and helps to play up unique features of your home and landscape. Start by adding lighting around the perimeter of the house. Adding landscape lighting around the house or just at the front looks nice. But when layers of light are added, the effect is even better.

To make a lighting plan, begin by standing out in the street or across the street to get a full view of your house. This helps you see your home more objectively and discern its distinctive features. Note any unique architectural or landscape features, such as ponds, fountains, specimen plants or trees. These are the lighting focal points you’ll want to illuminate.

If you have steps on your walkway to the front door, be sure to illuminate them. If you want the lights on the steps themselves, a landscape or lighting company may need to install them. Or you can illuminate the steps from the side. An easy and inexpensive option is to use spotlights from a low-voltage lighting set. Also add lighting at the curves and turns in walkways to create intrigue. Use fixtures with covers that cast light downward on the path.

Start slowly

With exterior lighting, as with so many aspects of home décor, less is definitely more. Too much exterior lighting looks worse than none at all. That’s why it’s best to start slowly and add one layer of light at a time. Even a few small changes can make a big difference. Inexpensive white Christmas lights on a tree on the patio can create a romantic and inviting glow in the garden. By adding or revamping your exterior lighting, you’ll cast your living space in a new, and safer, light.

Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cape Fear Cruisers Club takes pride in rides

For some, it was a chance to enter their classic cars in competition – and trade tips and stories about them. For others, it was the perfect venue to sell their cars. But for everyone who was there, the recent Cape Fear Cruisers Club car and truck show was definitely a trip down memory lane.

Earlier this month, more than 80 old cars, classic cars and muscle cars filled the Walmart parking lot in Southport. The Cape Fear Cruisers Club sponsored the event, which included many door prizes, a raffle, and a drawing for two children’s bikes, compliments of the Southport Police Department.

As the host club, members of The Cape Fear Cruisers were excluded from the competition. Judging was based on the condition of the interior, exterior, engine, paint, trunk compartment, and engine compartment.

Best of Show was won by Dennis Kunce of Holden Beach for his 1971 Chevy El Camino. Best GM car went to Frankie Thomas of Leland for his 1955 Chevy convertible. Best Ford was awarded to Gayle Eury of Supply for his 1938 Ford, and Best Mopar was a 1934 Plymouth, owned by Addison Conley of Southport. For non-car enthusiasts, Mopar is short for motor parts and is the name of the automobile parts and service arm of The Chrysler Group.

According to Steve Bisson, the club’s president, the oldest car in the club is a 1929 Model A Ford, owned by John and Sarah Whitmer of Oak Island. The oldest car at the show was a 1923 Ford, owned by John Falor of Boiling Spring Lakes, and it is for sale. “It’s Ma’s,” said Falor, “and she wants to sell it and go on a cruise.”

If there had been a category for “best memory jogger,” the prize may well have gone to the Chevy Bel Air convertible with a tray attached holding a hamburger, French fries, and a coke, and parked next to a pair of drive-in speakers.

The event was sponsored by 34 local businesses, and the entry fee was $20. All proceeds will go toward scholarships and to help the less fortunate families in Brunswick County.

The club has about 30 members from Southport, Oak Island, Boiling Spring Lakes and St. James. More information is available from the secretary, Harriett Johnson, at 228-3530 or the president, Steve Bisson, at 253-9425.

Full Article

Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

Existing-Home Sales Continue To Improve in April!

Existing-home sales rose again in April with buyers motivated by the tax credit, improving consumer confidence and favorable affordability conditions, according to the National Association of Realtors®.

Existing-home sales1, which are completed transactions that include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, increased 7.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.77 million units in April from an upwardly revised 5.36 million in March, and are 22.8 percent higher than the 4.70 million-unit pace in April 2009. Monthly sales rose 7.0 percent in March.

Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist, said the gain was widely anticipated. “The upswing in April existing-home sales was expected because of the tax credit inducement, and no doubt there will be some temporary fallback in the months immediately after it expires, but other factors also are supporting the market,” he said. “For people who were on the sidelines, there’s been a return of buyer confidence with stabilizing home prices, an improving economy and mortgage interest rates that remain historically low.”

According to Freddie Mac, the national average commitment rate for a 30-year, conventional, fixed-rate mortgage rose to 5.10 percent in April from 4.97 percent in March; the rate was 4.91 percent in April 2009.

Total housing inventory at the end of April rose 11.5 percent to 4.04 million existing homes available for sale, which represents an 8.4-month supply2 at the current sales pace, up from an 8.1-month supply in March. Raw unsold inventory is 2.7 percent above a year ago, but remains 11.6 percent below the record of 4.58 million in July 2008.

“Although inventory levels remain above normal and much of the gain last month was seasonal, the housing price correction appears essentially over,” Yun said. “In fact, a majority of the markets have seen price gains recently. A return to old-fashioned responsible lending and buying will help the housing market avoid disruptive and painful bubble-bust cycles.”

The national median existing-home price3 for all housing types was $173,100 in April, up 4.0 percent from April 2009. Distressed homes accounted for 33 percent of sales last month, compared with 35 percent in March.

NAR President Vicki Cox Golder, owner of Vicki L. Cox & Associates in Tucson, Ariz., said buyer traffic is mixed. “It looks like the level of home sales that close in May and June will stay elevated, but many buyers remain in the market even without the tax credit,” she said. “Some Realtors® tell us they are very busy with clients who are entering the market now as a result of improved conditions, while others are welcoming a slowdown from frantic market conditions in recent months.

“Buyers are focused on finding the right house and taking advantage of favorable affordability conditions. For many buyers, owning a home is a lifestyle choice. They want a place of their own to raise a family, build memories, and be part of a larger community,” Golder said.

A parallel NAR practitioner survey4 shows first-time buyers purchased 49 percent of homes in April, up from 44 percent in March. Investors accounted for 15 percent of transactions in April, down from 19 percent in March; the remaining sales were to repeat buyers. All-cash sales stood at 26 percent in April; they were 27 percent in March.

Single-family home sales rose 7.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.05 million in April from a pace of 4.70 million in March, and are 20.5 percent above the 4.19 million level in April 2009. The median existing single-family home price was $173,400 in April, up 4.5 percent from a year ago.

Single-family median prices rose in 18 out of 20 metropolitan statistical areas reported in April from a year ago; six of the areas experienced double-digit increases. In data recently reported for the first quarter, 91 out of 152 metros saw price gains.

Existing condominium and co-op sales jumped 9.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 720,000 in April from 660,000 in March, and are 42.3 percent above the 506,000-unit pace in April 2009. The median existing condo price5 was $171,000 in April, which is 0.6 percent below a year ago.

Regionally, existing-home sales in the Northeast surged 21.1 percent to an annual level of 1.09 million in April and are 41.6 percent higher than a year ago. The median price in the Northeast was $243,000, up 2.1 percent from April 2009.

Existing-home sales in the Midwest rose 9.9 percent in April to a pace of 1.33 million and are 29.1 percent above a year ago. The median price in the Midwest was $146,400, up 5.8 percent from April 2009.

In the South, existing-home sales increased 8.6 percent to an annual level of 2.14 million in April and are 23.0 percent higher than April 2009. The median price in the South was $150,000, up 1.2 percent from a year ago.

Existing-home sales in the West fell 6.2 percent to an annual rate of 1.21 million in April but are 5.2 percent above a year ago. The median price in the West was $212,400, up 3.8 percent from April 2009.

The National Association of Realtors®, “The Voice for Real Estate,” is America’s largest trade association, representing 1.1 million members involved in all aspects of the residential and commercial real estate industries.

# # #

NOTE: NAR also reports monthly comparisons of existing single-family home sales and median prices for 20 select metropolitan statistical areas, which is posted with other tables at: For information on areas not included in the report, please contact the local association of Realtors®.

1Existing-home sales, which include single-family, townhomes, condominiums and co-ops, are based on transaction closings. This differs from the U.S. Census Bureau’s series on new single-family home sales, which are based on contracts or the acceptance of a deposit. Because of these differences, it is not uncommon for each series to move in different directions in the same month. In addition, existing-home sales, which generally account for 85 to 90 percent of total home sales, are based on a much larger sample – more than 40 percent of multiple listing service data each month – and typically are not subject to large prior-month revisions.

The annual rate for a particular month represents what the total number of actual sales for a year would be if the relative pace for that month were maintained for 12 consecutive months. Seasonally adjusted annual rates are used in reporting monthly data to factor out seasonal variations in resale activity. For example, home sales volume is normally higher in the summer than in the winter, primarily because of differences in the weather and family buying patterns. However, seasonal factors cannot compensate for abnormal weather patterns.

Single-family data collection began monthly in 1968, while condo data collection began quarterly in 1981; the series were combined in 1999 when monthly collection of condo data began. Prior to this period, single-family homes accounted for more than nine out of 10 purchases. Historic comparisons for total home sales prior to 1999 are based on monthly single-family sales, combined with the corresponding quarterly sales rate for condos.

2Total inventory and month’s supply data are available back through 1999, while single-family inventory and month’s supply are available back to 1982 (prior to 1999, condos were measured quarterly while single-family sales accounted for more than 90 percent of transactions).

3The only valid comparisons for median prices are with the same period a year earlier due to the seasonality in buying patterns. Month-to-month comparisons do not compensate for seasonal changes, especially for the timing of family buying patterns. Changes in the composition of sales can distort median price data. Year-ago median and mean prices sometimes are revised in an automated process if more data is received than was originally reported.

4First-time buyer and distressed sales data are from the Realtors® Confidence Index.

5Because there is a concentration of condos in high-cost metro areas, the national median condo price generally is higher than the median single-family price. In a given market area, condos typically cost less than single-family homes.

Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Garden tour and plant sale to be held Sunday

The Oak Island Beautification Club will hold its 11th Annual Garden Tour Sunday from 1-5 p.m. The self-guided tour starts on Yaupon Way and continues to King’s Lynn Drive at the west end of the island.

The plant sale begins at noon at the Oak Island Recreation Center, and continues until all the plants are sold.

Tickets are $8 and can be purchased at the Recreation Center, 3003 Oak Island Drive.

Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

Southport Historical Society adds to displays to attract visitors

There are some new faces at the Old Jail, located on the corner of East Nash and Rhett streets in Southport. Local artist Anne Thompson has put the finishing touches on two mannequins. One depicts an early 1900s sheriff dressed in a plaid shirt and bib overalls. The other mannequin portrays a policewoman wearing the uniform of a Southport, England “bobby”.

“Sometimes Ron Thompson, one of our volunteers, dresses as a convict and bangs his tin cup against the bars of the cell,” said Nancy Christianson who schedules volunteers.

Dick Slease, curator of the Old Jail, is busy turning the isolation cell into an active display. Two of the glass show cases have been illuminated. There is also a display of patches from first responders from all over the world.

Slease and a team of volunteers have done an extensive inventory of all the items in the jail. Photographs of the Old Jail have been catalogued.

“I am looking for jail specific artifacts,” he said. “If anyone would like to donate items, the donation is tax deductible”.

Since the upstairs of the jail is not accessible to people with disabilities,Slease is working on another project. He is filming a video of the upstairs that can be shown to visitors in the main room of the jail, which is located on the ground floor.

The jail is open from 12:30 until 3:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays from April through October.

It also is open for special events, such as the N.C. July the 4th Festival, Halloween and the Southport Christmas Tour of Homes. Christianson would like to recruit more docents so that the jail can be opened to visitors more often.

The Southport Historical Society has established the Susie Carson Memorial Heritage Garden next to the Old Jail.

Heritage stones have been placed to honor individuals who have given their time and energy or who had a significant impact on Southport.
Six of the stones commemorate the signers of the original charter for the town of Smithville, Southport’s former name, and became the first commissioners. Those pioneers are Joshua Potts; Robert Howe, Jr.; Charles Gause; William Espey Lord, Jr. and Benjamin Smith.

Other stones honor Rev. Alexander Betts, early pastor of Trinity Methodist Church; Eleanor Potter Smith, former postmistress and co-founder of the Southport Historical Society; Donald Johnson, artist; A.C. Caviness, former principal of the Brunswick County Training School; Jesse Stevens Taylor, a former civic leader and volunteer weather observer from 1901 to 1961; Hurricane Hazel; and Susie Sellers Carson, historian, author and co-founder of the Southport Historical Society.

For more information on the Old Jail or Southport Historical Society go to

To donate artifacts, contact Dick Slease at

To volunteer as a docent, contact Nancy Christianson at

Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

Monday, May 17, 2010

Law enforcement carries the torch for Special Olympics

Members for the Wilmington Police Department and the New Hanover County Sheriff's Office braved the wet conditions Monday to carry the torch for the Special Olympics.

The runners left Wilmington Police Headquarters at 8:00 a.m. They ran from downtown Wilmington Hampstead where they passed the torch to the team from the Pender Correctional Institution.

Law enforcement torch runs are held every year throughout the United States to build the relationship between Special Olympics and the law enforcement community.

North Carolina's Special Olympics team has been selected to participate in the 2010 Special Olympics USA National Games in Nebraska this summer. Click here to learn more about the games.

Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

Local housing market carries positive growth into spring

Spring is finally here and it has never been a better time to purchase a home! Like the weather, our local residential market is gradually warming up offering incredible opportunities for both buyers and sellers. During the 1st quarter of this year, our market surpassed levels from the previous year for the seventh straight month. The most notable improvement was seen in the number

of homes sold.
When analyzing the growth within the six major zip codes for our region, our average sales price has increased 1.8% from year-end 2009 and decreased .09% from first quarter 2009. When we look at the median sales price, we have a slight increase over year-end 2009 from $189,950 for first quarter 2010 compared to year-end 2009 of $189,900.

• Sellers received 95.22% of the asking price in first quarter 2010, compared to 95.03% for 4th quarter 2009.

• First quarter 2010 had an increase in the number of sold homes by 36.0% from first quarter 2009.

Over the last couple of years, an analysis of six major zip codes – 28403, 28405, 28409, 28411, 28412 and 28451 was conducted. The areas of focus were:

• Sellers Concessions – The amount of money a seller of a house contributes toward the buyers purchase.

• List Price – The amount of money a home is listed on the market.

• Selling Price – The price the seller accepts for his or her house.\ • Days on Market – The number of days a house remains for sale, from the listing date to the date the property is placed under contract.

• List to Sales Price Ratio – The difference between the list price and the selling price shown as a percentage.

1st Quarter 2010 - 28403 Zip Code

• The average selling price of $192,553 has decreased 8.1% from year-end 2009 average selling price of $209,581.

• 23% of sellers in 1st quarter paid a concession compared to 16% in year-end 2009.

• The average list price of $206,396 for 1st quarter has decreased 7.8% over year-end 2009 average list price of $223,749.

• The average number of days a property remained on the market for 1st quarter was 131 days compared to 142 days for year-end 2009.

• The median sold price of $143,000 for 1st quarter has decreased 15.8% from year-end 2009.

• Sold homes in 1st quarter received 93.2% of the asking price, a decrease from 93.6% year-end 2009.

1st Quarter 2010 - 28405 Zip Code • The average selling price of $271,948 has increased 8.5% from year-end 2009 average selling price of $250,612. The best of all the zip codes.

• 37% of sellers in 1st quarter paid a concession compared to 22% for year-end 2009.

• The average list price of $293,620 for 1st quarter has increased 10.4% from year-end 2009 average list price of $265,960. The best of all the zip codes.

• The average number of days a property remained on the market for 1st quarter was 179 days compared to 138 days for year-end 2009.

• The median sold price of $177,625 for 1st quarter has decreased 1.5% from year-end 2009.

• Sold homes in 1st quarter received 92.6% of the asking price, a decrease from 94.2% for year-end 2009.

1st Quarter 2010 - 28409 Zip Code

• The average selling price of $265,767 has decreased 8.7% over year-end 2009 average selling price of $291,090.

• 18% of sellers in 1st quarter paid a concession compared to 20% in year-end 2009. The lowest of all the zip codes.

• The average list price of $273,241 for 1st quarter has decreased 12.6% over year-end 2009 average list price of $312,455.

• The average number of days a property remained on the market for 1st quarter was 136 days compared to 133 days for year-end 2009.

• The median sold price of $227,000 for 1st quarter has decreased 3.4% from year-end 2009.

• Sold homes in 1st quarter received 97.2% of the asking price, an increase from 93.1% for year-end 2009.

1st Quarter 2010 - 28411 Zip Code

• The average selling price of $308,023 has increased 7.9% over year-end 2009 average selling price of $285,365.

• 31% of sellers in 1st quarter paid a concession compared to 22.0% in year-end 2009.

• The average list price of $325,592 for 1st quarter has increased 6.6% over the year-end 2009 average list price of $305,422.

• The average number of days a property remained on the market for 1st quarter was 112 days compared to 126 days for year-end 2009.

• The median sold price of $240,570 for 1st quarter has increased 11.9% from year-end 2009. The best of all the zip codes.

• Sold homes in 1st quarter received 94.6% of the asking price, an increase from 93.4% for year-end 2009.

1st Quarter 2010 - 28412 Zip Code

• The average selling price of $178,402 has decreased 8.0% over year-end 2009 average selling price of $193,872.

• 28% of sellers in 1st quarter paid a concession compared to 27% in year-end 2009.

• The average list price of $187,143 for 1st quarter has decreased 7.7% over the year-end 2009 average list price of $202,816.

• The average number of days a property remained on the market for 1st quarter was 105 days compared to 139 days for year-end 2009. The lowest of all the zip codes.

• The median sold price of $163,000 for 1st quarter has decreased 6.9% from year-end 2009.

• Sold homes in 1st quarter received 95.3% of the asking price, a decrease from 95.5% for year-end 2009.

1st Quarter 2010 - 28451 Zip Code

• The average selling price of $219,428 has increased .04% over year-end 2009 average selling price of $218,453.

• 26% of sellers in 1st quarter paid a concession compared to 31% in year-end 2009.

• The average list price of $224,409 for 1st quarter has increased .08% over the year-end 2009 average list price of $222,709.

• The average number of days a property remained on the market for 1st quarter was 115 days compared to 124 days for year-end 2009.

• The median sold price of $190,000 for 1st quarter has increased 3.8% from year-end 2009.

• Sold homes in 1st quarter received 97.7% of the asking price, a decrease from 98.0% for year-end 2009. The best of all the zip codes.


Our first quarter started the year with a positive increase in units compared to 1st quarter 2009 by 36.0%. A lot of these sales were driven by the Homebuyer Tax Credit that is set to expire on April 30, 2010. While we might have sold more homes, our average sold price from first quarter 2009 showed a .09% decline. Our current inventory of homes is high with over 11.9 months of supply.

Five zip codes had average sold price decreases from .09% to 13.5% over first quarter 2009 while 28411 posted an increase of 14.5% in average sold price. Our list to sales price ratio for the first quarter 2010 is 95.22%, a slight increase from 95.1% for year-end 2009. The average list price of the sold properties is $255,330 and is down 1.5% from first quarter 2009. For the first time, our average list price is ahead of year end 2009 by 1.7%.

Concessions offered to buyers are now offered in 18% to 37% of the transactions in first quarter 2010. Our median sales price for first quarter ($189,950) reflects a downturn of 3.6% from first quarter 2009 ($197,000). Our overall average days on the market are 125, an decrease of 3 days from 4th quarter 2009. Sellers in 28451 got about 97.7% of their asking price while those in 28405 only got 92.6% of their asking price. All six zip codes had an increase in units sold over first quarter 2009.

2009 will be looked at as the year in which our market bottomed out and started to stabilize. 2010 presents us with several housing opportunities that make it the most affordable year in generations. These are just some of the reasons that now is the time to buy:

1. Home prices are down at least 10% from 2008
2. Foreclosures and Short Sales make for excellent buying opportunities
3. Mortgage rates have reached historic lows
4. We have a large housing inventory


Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

No tax increase in Southport budget

If you don’t like property tax increases, and hoped you would not pay more for water, sewer and electricity next fiscal year, you’ll be pleased with Southport city manager Alan Thornton’s proposed budget for 2010-11.

His “hold-the-line” budget presented to city aldermen Thursday night keeps property taxes at 18 cents per $100 of valuation and includes no fee increases for city utilities. Maintaining those rates in a sluggish economy, Thornton explained, was no small task.

“It wasn’t done without pain,” Thornton told aldermen in his annual budget address. “But I think you’ll see this budget shares the pain with all departments. It’s one of the more difficult budgets that I’ve put together.”

Aldermen will hold a public hearing on the budget Thursday, June 10, at 6 p.m. They plan to schedule a couple of workshops before then to review Thornton’s proposal, which must be adopted prior to July 1. Copies of the proposed budget are available to view at City Hall and the Harper Library.

Overall, the total proposed general fund is $4,091,500, which is a decrease of $266,800 from last year’s budget. Of that amount, the 18-cent property tax levy is expected to generate $1,550,000 and the remainder is derived from state funds and sales tax revenues. The largest item accounted for in the $266,800 reduction is the completion of Lowe-White Park.

Full Article
Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coldwell Banker offering home buyer bonus

Home sales surged in March and April as home buyers hurried to take advantage of the federal home buyer tax credit that expired April 30, 2010. Eager to maintain that momentum, Coldwell Banker launched its own home buyer incentive program.
Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Realty hopes its Coldwell Banker Buyer Bonus program will encourage buyers who haven’t found a home
“We think the Coldwell Banker Buyer Bonus program will make participating homes stand out from the competition.”
yet to continue looking. It also aims to bring a new audience of home buyers who were unable to qualify for the tax credit into the market. The program offers benefits similar to the federal home buyer tax credit without any income or property eligibility requirements.
Buyers of participating Coldwell Banker Buyer Bonus homes get a refund of 3 percent (up to $8,000) of the purchase price of their home at closing. That’s great news for home buyers, because it means less cash that they’ll need when they close on their home. They also won’t have to wait until tax time to get the money back from the government.
“I think it’s a fabulous idea. [Glenda Newell] told me about it when I was filling out the listing information,” said Susy King of Wilmington. This week, she listed her condominium in The Village at Mayfaire with Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Realty sales associate Glenda Newell. “I saw what kind of activity the home buyer tax credit had, so I immediately said, ‘yes,’ because I want to sell my house.”
“We think the Coldwell Banker Buyer Bonus program will make participating homes stand out from the competition,” says Coldwell Banker Sea Coast Realty president Tim Milam. He says that since the Buyer Bonus program kicked off last week, several buyers have shown interest in the participating homes. He expects even more inquiries from home buyers and sellers as print, online, and television advertising for the program ramps up locally and across the nation.
Unlike the federal tax credit, there are no income or property eligibility requirements. The Coldwell Banker Buyer Bonus program is open to all home buyers and sellers. The program won’t last forever. The deadline for making an accepted offer on a participating home is July 31, 2010.
To search for homes participating in the Coldwell Banker Buyer Bonus program or to read program details, please visit

Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

Finding home values in a red sea of foreclosures and short-sales

“Where's the bridge to Bald Head Island?”

The question is part of a story making the rounds in the area's real estate industry.

The answer, of course, is that there is none.

But it was an honest question asked of a Southport real estate agent by an out-of-town home appraiser.

He had arrived, clearly from Somewhere Else, without a boat to Bald Head or the ability to use the local multiple listing service to check statistics, the story goes.

How could he appraise a home in the Wilmington area when he didn't live here?

Though lenders and real estate agents say bad appraisals are not derailing the closings of home sales, they wonder whether it's wise to add another variable to the area's complex real estate equation: foreclosures, investor homes, and values that historically have varied from one part of town to another or from one subdivision to the next.

With all those factors in a changing market, sellers, buyers and lenders might not be blamed for wondering whether an appraiser from Pinehurst can fairly evaluate a home in Pine Valley.

This is where Bald Head guy comes in. He had been sent to Southport by an appraisal management company, or AMC. Such companies act as middlemen between banks and appraisers. And they sometimes send appraisers from hundreds of miles away to value property.

Stricter controls

AMCs are an outgrowth of the Home Valuation Code of Conduct. It became effective May 1, 2009, when mortgage company Freddie Mac said it would no longer purchase mortgages from lenders that did not adopt the code.

The code is meant to, among other things, build a firewall between the lender and appraiser to block any conflict of interest between the two. Some banks, especially large ones, use the AMC as that barrier.

But the code can – and is – being followed without the use of AMCs.

While most in the housing industry agree the code was needed, the emergence of AMCs raises hackles.

“AMCs are a train wreck,” said longtime Wilmington appraiser Howell Graham. The appraisers that AMCs hire for lenders are “looking for the cheapest guy they can get.”

That often means a novice and/or someone locally who is hurting enough financially that he or she will work for cheap, Graham said.

That, in turn, puts pressure on the veteran Wilmington-area appraisers who have seen their business fall with home sales.

Actual bank practices

There are, however, alternatives to using AMCs to satisfy the new conflict-of-interest rules, said Michael Lopez, president of Wilmington-based mortgage bank Alpha Mortgage Corp.

“We have our own appraisal department,” Lopez said. “We use local appraisers we've used for years. We know their track record.”

Lopez added that Alpha puts appraisals in rotation by ZIP code.

“A lot of appraisers will call Realtors and ask them to look up (comparable sales) because they are not a member of the local MLS,” Lopez said. “That goes against everything that the whole thing's about.

“A loan officer (at Alpha) has no connection at all to who the appraiser is,” Lopez continued. “If there is a request for an appraiser you cannot use that appraiser.”

Waccamaw Bank, the last of the locally based banks, uses only local appraisers, and it maintains a data bank for that purpose, said Rick Norris, chief credit officer at the Whiteville-based company.

“When I was a lender, the lender would order an appraisal and review it before it got to closing. I probably knew the appraisers (and saw them) on a regular basis,” Norris said.

Now, however, “we have someone working for us in our headquarters order the appraisals from a revolving list, and add them to a central list,” he explained.

Where is the market?

No matter where the appraiser comes from, the facts of life are: We're in a deep recession and housing prices have taken a dive after a huge run-up.

From nearly more than a thousand sales a month amid the boom, we're down to 300 or 400 now, and many of them are foreclosures or short sales, according to the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors.

Though prices vary by region, “by and large the average price on one- to four-family dwellings is down 25 percent,” said Dale Hall, chief banking officer of First Federal Savings and Loan of Charleston, which took over the failed Cape Fear Bank last April.

“If a house appraised for $200,000 before the recession, on average it would come in now at $150,000,” said Hall, who emphasized that First Federal uses local appraisers in each of its markets.

The biggest challenge appraisers have is “to determine what our market is,” said David DesChamps of DesChamps Appraisal Group in Wrightsville Beach.

For instance, “there are market areas within Landfall – condos, town homes, waterfront homes.”

Not all towns and neighborhoods are affected equally by the down market.

You can't be “geographically incompetent” and know neighborhood nuances, said DesChamp, who is president of the Southeast Chapter of the N.C. Professional Appraisers Coalition.

Pete Frandano, principal with Southport Realty, sees money as a motivation to use of AMCs. “A lot of it is being driven by the banks trimming costs, and the consumer is being hurt.”

Fees are also a point of contention between local appraisers, bankers and AMCs.

With some banks, “you pay them a fee of about $400 to $450,” Lopez said, and then the AMCs they use charge the bank $500. “Then they shop appraisers willing to do appraisals in my area, and work for reduced fee,” he continued. “They try to get them for 50 cents on the dollar.”

He said Alpha collects $450 from the mortgage applicant “and it all goes to the appraiser.”

Three other banks were contacted for this story. First Bank, the Troy-based institution that took over the failed Cooperative Bank last June, declined to participate.

BB&T and Wells Fargo were asked how they are applying appraiser-lender conflict-of-interest rules, and whether they use local appraisers.

Both responded only with prepared statements issued through their spokeswomen.

BB&T, the largest state-chartered bank in North Carolina, said:

“We are engaging qualified, approved appraisers; we're meeting regulatory requirements and the home valuations code of conduct; and we are comfortable that our appraisal practices are sound and allow us to serve our cllients and investors appropriately.

We have multiple approaches to engaging appraisers.”

Wells Fargo owns an AMC, a California-based joint venture with First American Corp. called RELS LLC (Real Estate Solutions).

Wells Fargo's statement said:

“Accurate appraisals are critical to the mortgage lending process. Wells Fargo has invested substantial time and resources in the quality control of the valuation process to, among other things, ensure that individual appraisers have relevant knowledge of the markets and properties they review.

“In addition, we support the separation of the work of the loan broker and the property appraiser … .”

Bank of America also has an AMC through Texas-based LandSafe Appraisal Services, part of the bank's wholly owned subsidiary LandSafe Inc.

The code has its base in the era of easy money: With prices thought to be rising forever, many banks would make a loan even if the house being bought was overvalued. After all, the bank wanted to make the loan, the buyers wanted to buy and agents wanted their commission.

But appraiser Graham said that because his office “was known to be conservative office, Realtors would not call us to ‘make it work' ”

Regulators became “worried about home cooking,” said Waccamaw's Norris.

Wilmington-area residents realized the folly of it all when the housing bubble burst and Cape Fear and Cooperative banks failed.

It's a different story these days.

“The lenders I've spoken with want the fairest appraisal they can get,” said David Small, sales manager at Prudential Laney Real Estate. “They're not after overachievers. Lenders are cautious and the appraisers are conservative.”

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Thalian Hall celebrates major renovation

After major renovations, Historic Thalian Hall in Wilmington's Downtown District will host the 'Gala Reopening' series of events.

The $4 million renovation project has focused attention on preserving the historical aspects of the theater while enhancing audience comfort & the theatrical experience with the very latest in technology.

A spectacular new 'center-piece' chandelier, an hydraulic orchestra pit lift, luxurious 'comfort seating' and enhanced box office & lobby facilities are just a few of the innovations and surprises that audiences & visitors will now find at Thalian Hall.

Below is the 'Gala Reopening Celebration' schedule of events. For more information & tickets call the Thalian Hall box office at (910) 632-2285 or visit

Sunday May 16 & 23 3:00 PM (matinée)
Thursday – Saturday May 20, 21, 22 8:00 PM
The Madness of May: Wilmington NC playwright/composer R. V. Fulk's
critically acclaimed musical is based on the John Galsworthy classic short story “The
Apple Tree”. It showcases a talented cast highlighted a sumptuous array of sets &
costumes, a lush musical score, all directed & choreographed by the award winning
Ray-Lee Kennedy. Experience the magic of the newly renovated Thalian Hall and
be a part of the exciting gala reopening celebration. Tickets $25.

Tuesday May 18 5:30 PM
Public Dedication Ceremony: The public is invited to be a part of the
Thalian Hall Renovation / Restoration Reopening Ceremony in the City Hall /
Thalian Hall lobby. Join the festivities as Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo & City
Council formally dedicate the grand reopening of Thalian Hall Center For The
Performing Arts and tour the beautiful, newly renovated & restored Historic theater!
Free public event

Monday – May 24 6:30 PM (includes special pre-film reception)
Tuesday & Wednesday - May 25 & 26 7:30 PM
Cinematiqe - “The Last Station”: The popular film series returns to
Thalian Hall's main stage with this critically acclaimed film starring Academy Award
winning actress Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer who was nominated as 'best
actor' for the film. It's the compelling biography of Leo Tolstoy and explores his
troubled marriage & the turbulent final year in the life of one of the most
controversial writers & philosophers of modern times. Co-presented with WHQR.
Tickets: Monday $15 (includes reception); Tuesday & Wednesday $7

Friday May 28th – 7 PM
There's No Business Like Show Business: Thalian Hall's tribute to
our stars-to-be with an 'American Idol' style talent show featuring the best young
talent from the areas musical theater groups plus youngsters from our regional
school systems. Tickets: free to the public with generous support from
C3 - Greater Wilmington Arts & Cultural Alliance.

Saturday May 29th - Special Matinée 3 PM
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: This Stageworks Youth
Theater production of the popular, classic story by C.S. Lewis uses shadow masks,
puppets, and full-body actors to create the land of Narnia. It's a unique and
delightful performance medium rarely seen in Wilmington. Tickets: free to the
public with generous support from
C3 - Greater Wilmington Arts & Cultural Alliance.
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Leland gets grant for new park

Leland has received a large grant from the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. The town received $500,000 to develop a nature park off Highway 17 behind the Westgate Development, which includes Walmart.

Almost 150 acres were donated by Westgate developer Nathan Sanders. The park will host the town's second playground and second picnic area. It will also have walking trails and an outdoor classroom.

"Westgate Nature Park will be the Town of Leland's first major park," parks and rec director Neil Brooks said. "We're really looking forward to it, because it provides a lot of different kinds of amenities that we just don't have in Leland right now. A large component of the is environmental education. This is gonna be the perfect site for that."

The town plans to begin the project by the end of the year. The park will be developed in several phases, with the first phase done within six months.

Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

4106 Wrightsville Avenue

What clubs and groups plan to use the new St. James Community Center when it opens this fall?

That’s exactly the information the community center board of directors is looking for from St. James residents.

There is already an event scheduled at the St. James Community Center for October 4, and other groups in the area have been asking to schedule events this fall and winter.

“We have had a lot of outside people showing an interest…but we want to try to accommodate everyone,” Jim Devine said during the regular town council meeting Tuesday afternoon. Devine heads the community center board of directors.

Even if an event is booked in the large banquet room, Devine said, there is enough flexibility in scheduling that other groups could still use smaller rooms. But the board needs to hear from those groups with what dates they normally meet, if they’ll need to use the kitchen or if their bringing their own food and similar details.

Devine also said the town will hire a full time manager for the community center, but wants to hear from residents who might

See St. James, page 15A

want to help staff the building as well.

“We also see a role for volunteers,” Devine said.

Residents can contact Devine or other community center board members.

“We’re trying to get some enthusiasm, some input from the community,” he said.

As far as costs, Devine said the board would give council a fee schedule for review at the work session later this month, but that St. James groups would not be charged for using meeting rooms.

Construction is progressing, town project manager Walt Madsen said, and the community center and town hall are under budget and on schedule, though he acknowledged that the schedule is getting tighter.

The town hall in particular got between three to four weeks behind; weather has delayed some of the construction. But the contract calls for a September 13 completion date, and that is still within reach, Madsen said.

Access road

In other business, council also discussed the town’s work to get an access road out to the western Oak Island bridge corridor so residents south of Polly Gully bridge will have a way out if that bridge floods.

Mayor Bob Morrow, who is one of those residents south of the Polly Gully bridge, said he and council member Bruce Maxwell would meet this week with N.C. Department of Transportation division engineer Allen Pope. The town has to meet with state and federal environmental and transportation agencies for permission to put an access road to the bridge corridor, and Pope will facilitate that meeting, Morrow said.

St. James asked for support from the Town of Oak Island for the project. But after Oak Island council members said they wanted more information before weighing in on the request, Maxwell said he’s met with that town’s manager, Jerry Walters. He has also been meeting with Oak Island council members individually.

Approximately 800 feet of the access road would be in the Town of Oak Island jurisdiction, Maxwell said, so that town’s support would be “helpful and very much desired” if not absolutely necessary.

“I’m trying to present our case in a positive manner and we’ll take it from there,” he said.

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Ken KeeganReal Estate Broker(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail

Monday, May 3, 2010

Leland to launch farmers’ market this summer

It will be held noon to 5 p.m. the third Sunday of every month at Leland Town Hall. The first one is June 20.

Sunday is a good fit for the market because it’s a different day from other local farmers’ markets, and people are off work and already out and about going to church and such, Parks and Recreation Director Niel Brooks said.

Lisa Britt, who organized the Waterford Farmers’ Market in Belville, said holding that on Thursdays brought in fewer visitors than she had hoped.

Britt said she’s helping Brooks set up the Leland Farmers’ Market and has given him her vendor contacts.

Waterford will no longer hold a farmers’ market, she said. Britt, a property manager for Waterford’s developer, says she doesn’t have the time to dedicate to it and couldn’t get enough other people to help.

Brooks has repeatedly talked about wanting to diversify residents’ recreation options, adding a bluegrass jam session, dance lessons and now a farmers’ market to the mix at Leland Town Hall. The town council unanimously approved the market plan Friday.

The market will feature local fruits and vegetables, plants, baked goods and more.

Vendors will be charged a $10 application fee, plus $20 a day or $80 a season if they want to use Town Hall’s recreation building, or $10 a day or $40 a season for exterior space. That’s comparable to the Waterford Farmers’ Market and cheaper than the Riverfront Farmers’ Market in Wilmington, Brooks said.

The purpose of charging a fee is to get reputable vendors who already go to other local farmers’ markets and avoid having it become a flea market, Brooks said.

He also said Leland will have to spend very little money on it, between staff time and a few hundred dollars on advertising. Among other places, he plans to advertise at the Riverfront Farmers’ Market, held on Saturdays.

For more information on the Leland Farmers’ Market, contact Brooks at or 332-4818.

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Thalian Hall to debut new look in May

“We've got right much more room here,” said Thalian Hall executive director Tony Rivenbark, showing a visitor through the facility's newly expanded offices. “But we're still living in a state of chaos.”

Not for much longer.

With grand reopening galas scheduled for May 14-15 to be followed by a series of public events, the historic and revered Wilmington theater built in 1858 was buzzing with activity last week, as it has since its main stage was closed for renovations at the end of September. As laborers finished up work on the $3.6 million project – painting, installing carpets and rebuilding the bathrooms, among a dozen or more other tasks – Rivenbark moved between Thalian's three floors, overseeing it all.

“1999 is when we began the planning for this,” Rivenbark said.

While giving his visitor a tour, one of the first things Rivenbark showed off was a line of skyward-facing windows above the stairs leading to the balcony. The windows delineate the original stage house, the exterior wall of which has been on the inside of the building since Thalian's 1990 expansion, from the lobby.

“We tried to give a better feeling for the fact that you're going into an older building and this is a newer lobby,” Rivenbark said. “But the real work is inside the auditorium.”

Passing through an area with a revamped box office and concessions booth, whose locations have been switched in an effort to create better patron flow through the lobby, Rivenbark came to the newly created “idea of a portico” that now marks the entrance to the main stage.

Inside, newly installed seats await under plastic covers. They're comfortable, with considerably more legroom than in the previous seating arrangement, which caused patrons to squirm, making the 35-year-old seats squeak. Watching a movie or play at Thalian Hall in recent years was rarely a comfortable, or quiet, affair.

A new seating configuration has dropped Thalian's capacity from 675 to 645. (One hundred of those seats are in the third-tier “gallery” area, which is seeing minimal renovation and is used for overflow seating.) Most of the 30 seats that have been lost are in the second-floor balcony, Rivenbark said, but he contends that the new arrangement makes for more “good seats” in the center sections.

Another improvement is the new hydraulic orchestra pit lift, the excavation for which sparked headlines in December when human bones, possibly from a 17th-century burying ground, were found beneath Thalian.

The pit lift, which Rivenbark calls “a stunning piece of equipment,” makes the stage more flexible. In its fully raised position it's a stage extension; when fully lowered, it's an orchestra pit. And while the lift isn't designed for use during productions, it can be fixed in any position, creating, say, a level between the stage and the floor, if that's what a particular production calls for.

Elsewhere in the auditorium, Wilmington artists and artisans John Sharkey and Chappy Valente finished up decorative painting work on the balcony's iron support posts, baseboards and a few other places. If you stand at the base of the stage and look straight up, you can see a “sky,” adorned with clouds and cherubs, the duo painted on the ceiling behind the proscenium arch.

These once-in-a-generation renovations to one of Wilmington's most significant buildings are Thalian Hall's first in 20 years.

That renovation, completed in 1990, closed the entire theater for nearly two years. This time around Thalian's staff was able to use the studio theater for movie screenings, and they moved the Main Attractions performance series into the ballroom, which is also used for Wilmington City Council meetings. (Thalian Hall and Wilmington City Hall are in the same building.)

The '90 renovation was mainly focused on the stage house itself and an expansion that included the current lobby. Very little was done to the main stage space at that time, and the current renovation “is really finishing up the work that began in '75,” Rivenbark said, when Thalian had to be restored after a fire damaged the theater.

Funding for the 1990 project fell short, so “some of the things we're doing (now) were planned in 1990,” Rivenbark said, including the construction of a new, energy-efficient main entrance and, perhaps most grandly, the installation of a $75,000 chandelier designed to look as if it dates from the mid-19th century.

The chandelier, which arrived last week and will likely be installed sometime this week, is a nod to history; a chandelier formerly hung in the main stage space.

As of last week, Rivenbark and Cole Marquis, who is Thalian Hall's production manager, were still waiting on the arrival of new sound and light boards, as well as on new spotlights and “top of the line, brand-new JBL speakers” that just came out earlier this year, Marquis said.

A new lighting plot and better equipment will add more lighting positions, said house technician Dallas LaFon, who also designs lights for several Wilmington theater companies.

Keeping Thalian Hall a state-of-the-art facility while paying homage to its past has been a lifetime mission of sorts for Rivenbark, a Duplin County native whose first experiences with the building came when he was a student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in the mid-1960s. He's been Thalian Hall's executive director for more than 30 years and has spent at least half of them planning one renovation project or another.

A plan still exists to add a new, 200- to 300-seat theater to Thalian Hall that would fill what is now a parking lot adjacent to North Fourth Street. But considering the difficulty of raising money for the current renovation – the project was delayed several times – the future expansion of Thalian Hall remains, for now, an ambitious idea.

“It's all planned and permitted, so we've not thrown out the idea of expanding the theater,” Rivenbark said. “But we're getting through this section first. I'm not planning to start on that next week.”

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