Friday, December 21, 2012

Make your old house look new again

If you own a prewar home, it's probably chock-full of charming period details -- and persistent headaches.

Quirky old-house nuisances are just a fact of life when your home has served many generations, even if it's been well maintained.
The key to trimming the cost of fixing these annoyances is finding someone who can repair, rather than replace, antique parts.
"Only kitchens and bathrooms need gut remodeling," says Les Fossel, an Alna, Maine, contractor specializing in 18th-century homes. "Most everything else is fixable."
Find seasoned pros at -- or test any contractor's proposed solutions for these common problems.
Cracked plaster walls
Fissures and chips don't mean you have to replace the handmade plaster with prefab wallboard (at $500 or more a room). That usually destroys the original wood trim, says David James, a contractor who works on old homes in Edenton, N.C. Instead, a restoration-minded pro can reattach the old plaster using special washers and then apply a plaster-like skim coat over the top, saving up to $200 a room -- and your trim work.
Drafty windows
Old windows rattle, are hard to operate, and let in icy drafts. Sure, you could replace them for a few hundred each, but for units that maintain the character -- and value -- of an older home, you'll pay $1,000 or more a pop.
Have problem windows overhauled instead, for around $100 to $200 each. A carpenter will remove built-up paint, replace hardware, wax the rails, and weather-strip gaps, making the windows easier to open and close, and about 80% as efficient as new ones.
Squeaky wood floors
Time -- and multiple refinishings -- takes a toll on old floors, sometimes leaving them deafeningly creaky.
A good woodworker can stop floorboards from rubbing together for about $200 to $500, usually by sinking micro-head screws through them and into the framing below.
The screws don't require putty, says Fossel: "When you wash your floor, the wood will expand and hide the holes."
Loose stair banister
Don't let a hack replace a rickety handrail. Spindles can be tightened at each step, and there's often a hidden pocket in the "newel" post at the base of the stairs. Inside is a nut that will firm up the post, strengthening the whole banister.
"Like so many old-house issues," says D.C. contractor Stephen Ortado, who has worked on the White House, "this is a simple $200 fix for someone who knows what he's doing."
Original Article

Ken Keegan Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail Click here for more information on Brunswick, County Real Estate St. James Plantation

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Real estate: Find opportunity next year

In Money magazine's Make More in 2013, you'll learn what's contributing to a rosier outlook for economic growth, how to get more investment income at a time of super-low rates, and how you can start exploring and how you can start exploring job opportunities again. This installment: Why, as a prospective home seller or buyer, you need to stop sitting on your hands.

After five years of tumult, order and opportunity are finally being restored to the housing market.
Home prices are expected to rise a modest 1% from the fourth quarter of this year to the end of 2013, according to the real estate research firm Fiserv. David Stiff, Fiserv's chief economist, notes that after some choppiness early on, prices should increase 3.4% from the second quarter of 2013 to the second quarter of 2014. In hotter regions out West, you can expect bigger gains.
"Housing is finally turning the corner," Stiff says. "There is no reason to be fearful of further large price declines."
This creates a new playing field for homeowners, who are finally able to sell, as well as would-be buyers who've been delaying a purchase in anticipation that prices would keep falling.
The Mortgage Bankers Association forecasts that more and more house hunters will start coming off the sidelines, with new-home loans for purchases expected to jump 55%, based in dollars, in 2013.
With that increased competition, "the days of buyers sticking it to sellers are over," says Salt Lake City real estate agent Tracie Peay.
Sellers: Don't get too excited just yet. You don't have a viselike grip on this market either. Indeed, for many, it still makes sense to wait to get better prices. This is especially true if you know that you won't be able to break even on your investment by unloading your house now, once you factor in the sales commission and other costs.
That said, don't assume that prices will be off to the races again in a year or two.
Fiserv forecasts that between now and 2017, homes will gain 3.3% a year in value. That's hardly red-hot. But at least the market isn't frozen anymore.
The price still has to be right
Homes in many markets are selling in a matter of weeks, often attracting multiple bids -- but only the ones that are properly priced. Take San Francisco. Although the city is one of the strongest sellers' markets right now, the average home there goes for 103% of list price, not 120%.
"Buyers aren't going down the road that got so many people in trouble during the bubble," says Dallas real estate agent Mary Beth Harrison.
Focus on the appraisal
Whoever bids on your home will probably finance the purchase. That means any deal is still beholden to a third party.
"You can take the highest offer, but at the end of the day the appraiser has the final say on the value of the home," says David Howell, chief information officer at McEnearney Associates, a real estate agency in the D.C. metro area.
With so much riding on the appraisal -- it can kill an agreement or require renegotiation -- your agent should be present. Harrison has a tip for making sure this happens: "The minute we have an offer, we take the keys off the door to make sure the appraiser has to meet us to get in."
Your agent should also prep a package of pertinent information for the appraiser, says Chicago real estate agent Fran Bailey. That includes the latest comparable sales data and documents detailing any upgrades or renovations to help the seller's cause. "It's part of my job to make sure the appraiser has the correct information," she says.
Be ready to deal
With competition heating up, casual house shopping isn't going to cut it anymore. If you are serious about making a move, be prepared:
Three months out. Despite housing's green shoots, getting a mortgage remains incredibly tough. The average FICO credit score for recently denied applications on conventional purchase loans was 729. The score on approved mortgages was 762, with a 21% down payment, monthly payments equal to 21% of household income, and total debt that did not exceed 33% of income.
On the bubble with any of those requirements? Now's the time to burnish your finances. And if you plan to house hunt in the spring, watch your holiday spending.
Deal time. "If you want to buy, you have to be ready to make an offer," says Howell. Plus, your first offer should be very close to your best. "If the house has been on the market for three months or longer, you can be more aggressive," says Bailey. "But if it's a new listing, a low-ball bid will get you ignored."
The Money tracker: What can upset the forecast in the year ahead...
Ben runs out of ammo. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke is lifting housing by buying bonds to keep mortgage rates low. How much longer can he keep that going?
The loss of mortgage deductions. Should the tax break on mortgage interest get cut, that would throw cold water on the real estate recovery.
Sellers sit on the fence. Homeowners could remain on the sidelines as the ranks of buyers grow. In that case, the inventory of homes would shrink even more, lifting prices faster than expected.
Homeowners get bullish. A spate of home construction is already taking place in several major markets. In those regions, the housing stock is likely to stabilize, keeping price gains modest.
Banks loosen their grip. If tight lending standards return to historical norms, realtors argue, the market could see an additional 500,000 to 700,000 home sales next year.
Employer confidence rises. Since jobs are the engine of the housing market, a pickup in hiring later in the year, which economists are predicting, could accelerate a real estate rebound in the second half of 2013.
Original Article

Ken Keegan Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail Click here for more information on Brunswick, County Real Estate St. James Plantation

Monday, November 19, 2012

Charles Dickens Christmas Festival to ring in holiday season

When Brunswick Arts Council president Jeanette Serens shared her idea to hold a local Charles Dickens festival with member Sue MacCallum last year, MacCallum felt a sudden charge of energy.
That is because, MacCallum said, Dickens is in her DNA.“It was like a light bulb went off inside me,” she recalled. “This is in me.”
MacCallum, who has become co-chairman of the council’s Charles Dickens Christmas Festival, has a connection to the beloved author, and to his homeland of England, that spans generations.
The premier event, organized in cooperation with the City of Southport, Brunswick County Schools and area venues, churches and organizations, celebrates the 200th birthday of the beloved English author on Friday, November 30, and Saturday, December 1.
The two-day celebration in downtown Southport will feature a variety of family-friendly activities in a number of local venues, including a kick-off parade, a Christmas tree lighting, band and choir concerts, costume contests, literary readings and theater performances.
Southport itself will be turned into a Victorian-era village complete with actors and volunteers in period costume, carolers and street performers.
The momentum for the festivities began about a year ago when Serens began brainstorming about ways to raise funds to support the Brunswick Arts Council’s mission.
Founded in 1981, the non-profit organization relies on public funding and private donations to help support visual and performing arts countywide, including the schools. The council annually gives scholarships and grants in an effort to fulfill its mission to advocate for the arts and provide residents and visitors with high-quality education, programs and performances.
In her research, Serens read about a Dickens festival in another state. She mentioned it to MacCallum, and the idea quickly began taking shape.
“I couldn’t sleep that night; I was so excited,” MacCallum said. “All this inspiration sort of downloaded into me. … I was able to draw on my training and experience.”
Soon the council had partnered with the City of Southport and the county school district to begin organizing the event.
And for a traditional holiday festival, MacCallum and festival publicity director Bonnie Laserna believe Charles Dickens is the ideal figure.
“A Christmas Carol,” they added, sends the perfect message.
“It exemplifies every stereotype of the time period; it’s even applicable today,” Laserna said of the novella.
Written in 1843, “A Christmas Carol,” seen by many critics as an indictment of industrial capitalists, also served to restore a sense of holiday spirit.
“A lot of the (secular) traditions celebrated today were made popular by Dickens,” MacCallum noted.
Dickens’ compassion for the poor and charitable nature—integral themes in “A Christmas Carol”—have not been lost on the Brunswick Arts Council.
“This is our gift to the community,” MacCallum said. “It’s a gift in honor of a famous philanthropist.”
The Brunswick Arts Council has its own history of charity. The Charles Dickens Christmas Festival, MacCallum said, is just another way the council can give back.
“Proceeds from this go back to the community, towards arts in education and arts organization,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing this.”
But the council is using the Dickens festival to help out the community in other ways as well. Throughout the two-day event, the arts council will set up collection sites for canned-food items to benefit Brunswick Family Assistance, which provides emergency food, clothing and transportation to low-income families. The arts council will also be asking for donations of clothing and toiletries for the Coalition for the Homeless and used books for the Brunswick County Literacy Council.
The first Charles Dickens Christmas Festival is set for 1 to 9 p.m. on Friday, November 30, and Saturday, December 1, in downtown Southport.
Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children seven through 12; admission covers both days of the festival. Children six years of age and younger are admitted free of charge.
Tickets are on sale now through the Brunswick Arts Council or may be purchased at the event. To purchase tickets or for more information, visit

Article from State Port Pilot

Ken Keegan Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail Click here for more information on Brunswick, County Real Estate St. James Plantation

Monday, November 5, 2012

New-home sales hit 2-year high

In another sign of a housing market recovery, new-home sales rose in September to the highest level in more than two years, according to a government report released Wednesday.
Sales sold at an annual rate of 389,000 homes in the month, according to the Census Bureau report, up 5.7% from the 368,000 sales pace in August. The last time sales were at this pace, in April 2010, they were being helped by a short-term home buyer's tax credit.
This time, the new home market has been showing steady signs of improvement. The pace of home building hit a four-year high in September, according to a separate government report. The year-over-year sales improvement in September reached 27.1%.
The improvement in the market is part of a broader recovery in real estate, helped by a number of factors all coming together.
Mortgage rates are near record lows, pushed down by the Federal Reserve's decision to buy $40 billion in mortgages to spur greater economic growth. The low rates, coupled with years of weak home sales, have resulted in affordable housing prices. Recently, home prices have started to rise, which is attracting buyers who were waiting for prices to bottom out.
There has also been a drop in unemployment, a positive development for people looking for mortgage loans.
Foreclosures have fallen to a five-year low, reducing the supply of distressed homes available on the market.
"All the housing data has taken a turn for the better," said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist for MSUSA. "Clearly mortgage rates at such a low level and what appears to be an increase in banks' willingness to make loans has boosted activity off the lows."
New-home sales are an important component of the nation's overall economic activity. Not only do they require people working in construction to build the homes, but they also spur the purchases of appliances, carpeting and other furnishings.
Investment guru Warren Buffett said in a television interview Wednesday that the recent recovery in housing is one of the factors making him more optimistic about the U.S. economy.
Original Article

Ken Keegan Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail Click here for more information on Brunswick, County Real Estate St. James Plantation

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Foreclosures fall in 62% of U.S. cities

Foreclosures fell in nearly two-thirds of the nation's largest metro areas during the third quarter, according to RealtyTrac Thursday.
With 62% of the nation's 212 largest markets seeing foreclosure activity shrink during the latest quarter, the ongoing decline is yet another sign that the housing market is starting to stabilize.
During September, foreclosure activity in 58% of the major metro markets had even dropped below September 2007 levels.
The numbers indicate that "most of the nation's housing markets are past the worst of the foreclosure problem," Daren Blomquist, RealtyTrac's vice president said in the report.
Major cities like San Francisco, Detroit, Los Angeles, Phoenix and San Diego saw foreclosures fall by double-digit percentages of 26% or more.
Stockton, Calif., which saw a 21% decline in foreclosures, still managed to claim the nation's highest foreclosure rate, however. "That foreclosures there are still the highest in the country speaks to how severe the problem was," said Blomquist.
Other California cities in the top 10, Riverside, Vallejo, Modesto,Merced, Bakersfield and Sacramento, all posted year-over-year declines of between 22% and 34%.
Yet, there are still some trouble spots, particularly in Florida.
In Miami, which had the 10th highest foreclosure rate, filings rose 11%. InJacksonville, foreclosures were up 32%, Palm Bay saw a 64% increase,Tampa was up 43% and Orlando notched a 15% jump.
Blomquist attributed Florida's problems to the after effects of the robo-signing scandal. Florida is a "judicial state," where foreclosures get processed through the courts. Lenders hesitated to bring foreclosure cases before a judge until they were confident their paperwork would stand up to the stepped-up scrutiny that followed the scandal. But now that new rules have been put in place through the $25 billion mortgage settlement, they are playing catch-up.
Of the metro areas with the 20 highest foreclosure rates, all are still in California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida, with two notable exceptions.Chicago saw a 34% jump from a year-ago, and had the ninth highest foreclosure rate. Atlanta had the 15th highest rate. The good news there: Foreclosures fell 20% year-over-year.
In Las Vegas, filings fell dramatically -- 71% -- because of state legislation passed last year that requires lenders to file affidavits vouching for their paperwork and their foreclosure action against a borrower, Blomquist said.
Many lenders now bypass the foreclosure process entirely in Nevada, working with troubled borrowers to arrange short sales even before filing notices of default. That's not all good news, however. "[For cities like Las Vegas,] it's a shift in the way the distress is handled rather than the distress evaporating," said Blomquist
Original Article
Ken Keegan Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail Click here for more information on Brunswick, County Real Estate St. James Plantation

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mortgage rates at record low again

Mortgage rates fell to record low levels once again last week, as the Federal Reserve's decision to buy billions in home loans for the foreseeable future helped bring lending costs down for home buyers and owners.
Mortgage finance backer Freddie Mac's weekly survey of mortgage rates showed the average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage fell to 3.49% from 3.55% the previous week. That matched the previous record low set in July. The fixed-rate 15-year mortgage reached a new record low of 2.77%, down from 2.85% a week earlier.
The Fed announced last Thursday that it would be buying $40 billion in mortgage-backed securities each month for the foreseeable future. The idea of the purchases, popularly know as QE3, is to spur economic activity buy pumping more cash into the economy and driving down rates. Those taking out new home loans, either to purchase or refinance, will be among the first beneficiaries of the Fed's policy.
Keith Gumbinger, vice president of, a provider of mortgage information and analysis, said he would expect rates will likely go about 0.2 percentage point lower in the coming weeks as the market reacts to the Fed's mortgage bond purchases.
"I don't think you've seen the full effect of the Fed's influence in the market yet," he said. "I think we'll have to see a slowdown in mortgage applications, working through some of the volume in the pipeline."
The low rates can help the economy even beyond the effect it has on the housing market, by putting more money in the pockets of homeowners who refinance. Someone who bought a house a year ago by borrowing $200,000 at the 4.09% 30-year rate a year ago can still reduce their payments by more than $1,000 a year by refinancing at the current rates. Savings are larger if they borrowed more money or paid higher rates.

Ken Keegan Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail Click here for more information on Brunswick, County Real Estate St. James Plantation

Monday, August 20, 2012

What your home is really worth!

When it comes to assessing a home's value, real estate agents and homeowners tend to be an optimistic bunch.
In the post-bust world, appraisers are a different story. They have to predict a realistic value for your home that the bank can use to extend credit to a borrower -- and that number can make or break your sale or refinance.
Appraisers say the following five areas are where homeowners often misjudge the worth of their abode.
1. The outside
The appraiser sees: Overgrown bushes and chipped paint.
What he does: Slices as much as 3% off the value of an average-size home.
Why: Curb appeal is primo. And an unkempt yard is a sign that there may be other issues.
"A good-looking lawn and bushes imply that you also take care of the internal systems in the house," says Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of a New York City-based appraisal firm that works throughout the tri-state area.
Moreover, the more meticulous your neighbors are about grooming, the more your appraiser will downgrade the value of your home.
"If a lot of the nearby properties are professionally maintained, the one that sticks out like a sore thumb will get a harder adjustment than in a subdivision where there's more variation," says San Diego appraiser Armando Ortiz.
2. Basic systems
The appraiser sees: A brand-new roof.
What he does: Nothing.
Why: Just as a knee replacement won't make you look 20 years younger, a new roof, furnace, or boiler isn't considered an improvement to your home.
That said, if your roof is in disrepair, replace it: Signs of leaks or discoloration can knock a significant amount off the home's value.
"When people buy a home, they expect the roof to be working," says Columbus appraiser Mike Armentrout. "So while a new one isn't an added feature, it will help your chances of a sale."
3. The basement
The appraiser sees: A recently finished basement with a half bath.
What he does: Adds about 2% to the value of the home.
Why: Yes, your finished basement adds value -- but don't expect it to count like first-floor space.
The addition of a bedroom and quarter bath on the ground floor could increase your home's value by up to 20%, especially if you've got only one other bathroom.
"A below-ground basement normally isn't included in the square footage of the house," says Miller.
The same rule applies to outbuildings like a pool-house casita, painting shed, or studio.
4. The market
The appraiser hears: Two nearby homes just went into contract above their asking prices.
What he does: Nothing.
Why: While a broker might pump up a home's asking price based on the sense that the market is "hot," by and large, appraisers are bound by the data of recent comparable sales.
What if prices are suddenly up in your area, and you're nervous that your house won't appraise for contract price? In that case, you might want to delay your appraisal until one of those recently contracted sales closes.
5. A remodel
The appraiser sees: An expensive, custom-made, built-in entertainment center.
What he does: Makes a negative adjustment to the valuation.
Why: "Cost doesn't equal value," says Miller.
Renovations that are at all trendy -- or not in keeping with the historical period of the home -- will be assessed at the cost of ripping them out.
Timeless improvements, on the other hand, such as a deep sink or new wooden cabinets in the kitchen, will add value.
So if you're thinking of remodeling, ask a local real estate agent to tell you what's on the wish list of today's buyers.

Ken Keegan Real Estate Broker
(910) 523-0903 mobileEmail Click here for more information on Brunswick, County Real Estate St. James Plantation