Archive for the ‘Tips for Homeowners’ Category

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Sustainable Homes No Longer Seen As Just A Fad

August 25, 2010

Carson Matthews, Buckhead Office, REALTOR®

While Atlanta’s housing market remains stuck in low gear, the trend toward certified green or “sustainable” homes has been growing.

More builders are adopting sustainable practices and more buyers are weighing the economic benefit of paying a little extra up front for a house featuring environmentally sound design, construction standards and materials.

“Even if the economy had not gone sour, people are looking at sustainable practices and materials, not just for housing, but for the entire neighborhood,” said Sibet Freides, president of Idea Associates Inc., a marketing and consulting firm with a real estate development focus. Idea Associates clients include Reynolds Signature Communities, The Settings Development Companies LLC and Urban Land Institute.

“You might have some builders who have been in the industry for a long time who are thinking this is a passing fad, but people have bought into the concept of sustainability,” Freides said. “Younger buyers have now come to expect it and I don’t think the industry, as a whole, thinks it’s a fad anymore.”

According to a report by Carson Matthews, a Realtor with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, in the first quarter of 2010, green homes comprised 8.4 percent of the new homes on the market, which compares consistently with the 2009 total of 8.5 percent,

Matthews is a certified EcoBroker and the author of a blog, www.GreenToTheScene.com, which delivers news about green residential building in Atlanta.

In April, Matthews launched the Green MLS Toolkit, a resource that can be used by any Multiple Listing Service to track green activity.

In the first three months of 2010, Matthews reported that the median selling price of a certified green home was $494,000, which is 133.5 percent higher than a conventional new construction home; however, the report shows green homes are fetching more at closing.

“In the first quarter, green houses sold at 98 percent of list, whereas standard new construction homes sold at 92.5 percent,” Matthews said. “In the custom home market, that percentage is much higher.”

“Green building is here to stay,” said Les Stumpff, president of the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association (GAHBA) and regional manager for Texas-based Standard Renewable Energy, which provides energy audits for homeowners, businesses and government entities.

“There is a growing awareness of how much energy and water and, therefore, money can be saved by owning a home built to some level of green-building standards,” Stumpff said.

Other benefits, such as better indoor air quality and overall comfort, will increasingly propel demand for green homes.

“The housing recession has made it more difficult to adopt building standards that increase new home prices, but builders who were building green in good times will continue to build green as housing starts return,” Stumpff said.

Although they cost a little more, the formula for building green houses is not very complicated, said Matt Hoots, founder and CEO of The Hoots Group Inc., a full-service green contractor, and co-chair of the GAHBA Green Building Council.

Together with the GAHBA, Hoots helped develop the EarthCraft House residential green-building program in partnership with Southface Energy Institute, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to promoting environmentally sustainable homes.

“You start with a good design,” Hoots said. “You can save 30 [percent] to 40 percent in operating costs right there.”

Every aspect of the design is critical, from sighting the house on the lot to putting windows in the best location to ease the load on the HVAC system and limit the cost of blinds.

“If you only build to the standard energy-efficiency code, you’re almost building an EarthCraft-certified house,” Hoots said. “Unfortunately, a lot of builders build around the code or to barely meet code.”

As materials, utility and appliance manufacturers jump on the sustainable bandwagon, the expense gap between building green and building traditional housing is diminishing — resulting in more reasonable pricing for higher- performing homes, experts say.

Currently, Freides’ clients are building two new showcase green homes, one in The Settings of West Point Lake near LaGrange, and one at Achasta, a golf community near Dahlonega. Both houses are being built by Johnna Barrett of SUSTAIN house, the residential division of Atlanta-based architecture and interior design firm Barrett Design Inc.

“We started with a budget and we’re learning that it doesn’t have to cost that much more to build green,” Freides said.

Among other products, the green houses incorporate a radiant barrier sheathing that reportedly reduces monthly air conditioning bills by 17 percent, green bedding products, and tile and wood components made from recycled materials.

“A lot of this stuff is common sense and people need to be educated about the products and building practices that are available,” Freides said.
Read more: Sustainable homes no longer seen as just a fad – Atlanta Business Chronicle

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Does your house still “fit”? (Jack Strama)

July 16, 2010
Jack Strama, Buckhead Office, REALTOR®

Jack Strama, Buckhead Office, REALTOR®

In purchasing your present home – you took inventory of your needs, wants and capabilities and matched them as best you could against what the housing market had to offer.  The process may have taken a few weeks, a few months or extended over a longer period.  You did your homework and made a good choice.

Would you make the same choice today?   Perhaps not!

Since your last purchase, it’s likely your individual and family needs, wants and capabilities have changed.  Let’s examine some of the possibilities:

Your family may have gotten larger, smaller or most certainly a bit older.  Everyone’s has!  Your employment or your spouse’s career may have taken a new direction.  With changes in traffic patterns around the Metro area, commute time may have become a bigger consideration.  Schools for young family members may now be more or less important.  After considering these and other scenarios, you may already be asking yourself, “Why am I living here?”

So here’s the good news!  Today’s choices are greater than ever and finding a home to match your capability is easier than it’s been in years.

When it comes to housing alternatives, Atlanta has many.  It’s almost overwhelming how many different sizes, types and locations are available.  And, with today’s home prices and interest rates, these choices are extremely attractive.  Depending on location, prices have fallen 15-25% below previous levels and interest rates are at record lows, down 20-25% as well.   Purchasing a home that was $500,000 before and is now available for $425,000 (using an 80%, 30 year, fixed rate loan at 4.5% rather 5.5% in effect earlier this year) will cost about $550 less per month.  That’s $15,000 less in down payment and almost $6,600 a year in monthly savings!

Move-up buyers can capture today’s lower prices and interest rates and easily absorb the “hit” they take on the sale of their present home.   Those choosing to down-size can reap the benefits of lower interest cost financing, lower taxes, utility and maintenance expenses and “right-size” their homes for easier living.  The equity freed up, even though less than hoped for, will go a long way toward funding investment capital or retirement reserves.

Now may be the perfect time to give some thought to whether you want to take advantage of the current situation and reposition your housing choice for the future.  Home prices will rebound and interest rates will rise again.  The time to move is now!

If you would like a copy of our “Inventory of Changing Needs and Wants,” please email me at StramaTeam@AtlantaFineHomes.com and I will be glad to send it.

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Home Trends 2010: Consumers’ Most Sought-after Features (Jack and Doranne Strama)

June 2, 2010
Jack and Doranne Strama, Buckhead Office, REALTOR®

Jack and Doranne Strama, Buckhead Office, REALTOR®

From: Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council, Inc.

Those dreams are closely examined by builders, architects and designers of home spaces. To survive the current economic downturn, these professionals must be highly attuned to which home features and preferences will prompt consumers to open their wallets. More than ever, staying in business requires appealing, economical housing solutions.

Buyer’s representatives, on the other hand, must listen to buyer-clients one at a time-understanding individual preferences and helping buyers find the home of their dreams.  That said, it’s also helpful for today’s REALTOR® to share their knowledge of larger consumer trends with their client.  Most buyers want to make sure the home they buy now will appeal to a future buyer once it’s time to sell.

To understand today’s housing trends, it’s helpful to first review some of the recent facts about the residential construction industry. Housing starts began declining in 2006 and have yet to show any significant rebound.

No matter how you look at the data, new homes are definitely smaller:

  • Homes with at least three bedrooms: down in 2009, for the first time since 1992.
  • Homes with four or more bedrooms: falling since 2007.
  • Homes with two or more stories: peaked in 2006 then began downward trend.

Even though today’s homes are smaller, builders, architects and designers insist that they don’t necessarily have to feel smaller. Indeed, some consumers actually prefer a smaller home, complaining that some houses had grown to excessive proportions.  Just like driving a Hummer carries a negative connotation in some circles, living in a space-wasting, energy-guzzling home is not desirable. Although homeowners still want the “wow” factor, builders are looking for ways to achieve that without breaking the bank.  That point was evident when the National Association of Home Builders surveyed builders earlier this year and learned that 9-foot ceilings on the first floor were one of builders’ top ten priorities in 2010.

There is a prime emphasis on good design that helps homes feel larger by raising overall ceiling height, adding more light through windows, and using space more efficiently.  “Efficiency” has become a buzz word in the industry for virtually every aspect of new homes. Its has meant the death of the two-story family room atrium.  Instead, the trend is now towards one-story multi-functional space. Kitchens, eating areas and family rooms are open and connected, catering to busy families that want optimal useable living space from their home.  Food prep, entertaining, homework and relaxing can all be accommodated in a cohesive layout that relies on strategically placed architectural details or area rugs to define where one area begins and another ends. Storage elements, including laundry spaces and mini mud rooms help bring much-desired order to life at home.

Still in demand: Master bedroom suites

Consumers are reluctant to give up full-featured master bedrooms.  You may not see multiple shower heads but most consumers still want the master bath to feel like a small oasis, providing features that are a significant step above other bathroom in the home.

What ‘s not on the list?

With affordability and efficiency in mind, what feature won’t be included?  Builders say that an outdoor kitchen is the first to go. Other features least likely to make the list are: an outdoor fireplace, a sunroom, a butler’s pantry and a media room.

10 Most Likely Features that builders will include in 2010:

1. Walk-in closet in master bedroom

2. Laundry Room

3. Insulated front door

4. Great Room

5. LOW-e Windows

6. Linen Closet

7. Programmable thermostat

8. Energy Efficient appliances and lighting

9. Separate Shower and Tub in master bedroom

10. 9-Foot Ceilings or higher on 1st floor

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How foreclosure impacts your credit score (Robin Ives)_

June 1, 2010

Robin Ives, REALTOR®, North Atlanta Office

Robin Ives, REALTOR®, North Atlanta Office

Submitted by Robin Ives; extracted from CNNMoney.com.

If you’re delinquent on your mortgage, your credit score will suffer. Everyone knows that. The question is, by how much?

Until recently, those answers were hard to come by. Credit bureaus were uncommunicative about expressing, in points, just how much impact different foreclosure types of mortgage delinquencies have on scores.    

Recently, Fair Isaac, which developed FICO scores, pulled back the curtain a bit, revealing some estimates of point-score declines following mortgage delinquency problems.

Here are the average hit your credit will take:

30 days late: 40 – 110 points

90 days late: 70 – 135 points

Foreclosure, short sale or deed-in-lieu: 85 – 160

Bankruptcy: 130 – 240

To come to these figures, Fair Isaac created two hypothetical consumers, one who starts out with a fair-to-middling score of 680 and the other with a very good one of 780. (FICO scores range from 300 to 850.)

The hypothetical person with the 780 FICO has 10 credit accounts versus six for the 580, plus a longer credit history, lower utilization of total credit limit and no missed payments on any account. The other consumer has two slightly damaged accounts. Neither have any accounts in collection or adverse public records.

See the chart above to see how each scenario affected each borrower.

Notice that for both borrowers a single one-time black mark results in steep drops, but it is when they fall further behind that things get really harsh, according to Craig Watts, a spokesman for Fair Isaac.

“The lending industry tends to regard an account differently when it has become 90 or more days late,” he said, “The likelihood that consumers will resume paying their overdue obligations drops off significantly after the delinquencies have reached 90 days.”

One reason credit companies were so closed-mouthed is that they often can’t definitively state how much each delinquencies will affect scores because there are too many variables.

Some borrowers will fall much more steeply than others for the same payment problem, according to Maxine Sweet, vice president for public education at Experian, one of the nation’s main credit bureaus.

“If you picture someone who has just one mortgage and one other credit account versus a mature credit user like me with 15 accounts, if they miss one payment that would impact their scores a lot more,” she said. “For me, one missed payment would just be a blip.”

The point loss also depends on the borrower’s starting point: People with very high credit scores have more to lose than low-score borrowers; the impact of a single blemish on an 800 score is more than on a 500.

Of course, it just gets worse when you face foreclosure.

Mortgage borrowers can lose their homes three basic ways: a foreclosure; a short sale, where the home is sold for less than than is owed and the bank (generally) forgives the difference; or a deed-in-lieu, in which the borrower gives back the property and the bank again forgives any unpaid balance.

Sweet said credit bureaus generally slash scores equally for those three resolutions to someone losing their home. The important factor, she said, is that “it’s reported that you paid less on a settled account.”

Some borrowers may think that because they never missed a payment, they can “walk away” from their homes with relatively little impact on scores. Not true. “When a deed-in-lieu or short sale is reported as a partial payment, it’s treated as a serious delinquency,” Watts said, “just like a foreclosure.”

Even if borrowers made payments faithfully for years before short selling or doing a deed-in-lieu, their credit score will still take a hit. The total decline will run about 85 points for the 680 score borrower to as much as 160 for the 780 score.

Mortgage debt, combined with other financial problems, can send borrowers into bankruptcy, the worst thing that can happen to your credit score.

The effects are long-lasting, according to Sweet. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which involves partial repayment over several years, the stain will take seven years to remove. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which involves liquidation, takes 10 years to get over.

It’s gonna cost you

Absorbing a big credit-score hit can make many transactions more costly. It’s not just paying more for credit card debt and auto loans, insurance can cost more as well.

The average savings for someone with a good versus mediocre credit score is about $115 a year for auto insurance and $60 for home, according to Loretta Sorters, of the Insurance Information Institute.

A low credit score can even make it harder to rent a home because landlords often use credit scores to weed out prospective renters.

Despite the problems a poor credit score can cause, Experian’s Sweet recommends that people who are in financial dead ends, like totally unaffordable mortgages, it’s better to recognize that and cut your losses quickly; don’t prolong the problem.

“You need to do what you need to do to get your finances back in order,” she said. “Don’t worry about your credit score.” 

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Exposure to elevated radon gas is a serious risk but is easy to mitigate

April 8, 2010

Radon gas exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths in nonsmokers,  and Georgia leads the Southeast with an average of 822 deaths yearly.  What is radon? What can be done about it?  As a homebuyer what should I be aware of?

Chuck LeCraw, owner of The Cornerstone Inspection Group, explained in our Buckhead sales meeting what radon is:

  • Radon is an invisible and odorless radioactive gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
  • Radon occurs naturally in mines, caves and water treatment plants. Radon that creeps out of the ground can enter houses and other buildings through cracks in concrete, floor gaps, small holes in walls and drains. Radon enters a house through the foundation and travels upward and through the attic.
  • The gas is measured in picocuries per liter (pCI/L) of air.  A picocurie is a measure of the radioactivity of about a quart of air. Outdoor air is about 0.4 pCI/L.  The average indoor level is about 1.3 pCI/L.  Because it is a natural part of the enviroment, there is no “0” level.
  • The U.S. EPA has established 4.0 pCI/L level as the “action level” for radon in homes, schools and workplaces.  A reading of 4.0 pCI/L is the equivalent to smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day.  The damage is not immediate, but from long-term exposure.

There are two general methods of radon testing: charcoal canisters which are not as effective as the more technologically advanced electronic monitors.  Testing for radon takes a minimum of 48 hours in a closed house condition.  Adverse weather can also affect results. 

As for mitigation, the solutions are typically straightforward and are very effective.  A venting system can be installed when a house is built for as little as $300 and to fix an existing problem, which usually involves installing piping from the basement/crawlspace with a small electric motor that draws air from the soil to the exterior an average of $25oo to mitigate the most serious radon problems.

“In this housing market I recommend that listing agents be proactive with inspecting for radon levels with a pre-listing inspection” states Chuck LeCraw.

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True Story: Buying and Selling A Home In Four Weeks (Rhonda Haran)

April 2, 2010

Extracted from an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution titled, “The Search: We’ve got to find a house”

Alan and Traci Guerry’s first home was in Alpharetta’s massive Windward community, where they lived for 15 years. They had been thinking for a while about buying another home and decided to start looking last year because of the market conditions.

“There were a lot of great opportunities for us to explore,” Traci said. “We were nervous, on the [other] hand. How long was it going to take our house to sell?”

The answer: Just four days.

Traci credits her agent, Rhonda Haran with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, with helping determine a price that quickly landed a buyer.

Then they were faced with: “Oh, my goodness, we’ve got to find a house,” Traci said.

The couple, who has a 6-year-old son, Tristan, wanted to stay near financial planner Alan’s office in Alpharetta. It took about four weeks for them to find their next home, and they closed within a week of each other.

 Choice No. 1: Impressive kitchen

The home on Gaineswood Drive in the Grand Veridian subdivision had an intriguing cul-de-sac location, a small lake, fenced back yard and three-car garage. Built in 2001, the home was priced at $638,900. The kitchen, which opened to the family room, wowed them because it had been updated with granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances and plenty of built-ins. But they could smell cats as they went into the partially finished basement and worse, evidence that a dog had relieved itself in a bedroom.

 Choice No. 2: Curb appeal

The brick and stone home on Rolling Links Drive in Alpharetta’s White Columns neighborhood had curb appeal and was on a big corner lot with a flat, fenced back yard, Traci said. She immediately had visions of her son playing outside. The six-bedroom, 6 1/2-bath home with a finished basement was reduced to $639,900, and the couple thought it was a fabulous price. But for the savings they would be getting, they needed to determine if they would spend the money to make interior changes, including the kitchen, to fit their taste.

Choice No. 3: New and detailed

The new home on Manor North Drive in Alpharetta’s The Manor Golf and Country Club also was on a corner, flat lot with a long driveway. The home was priced for $759,000, and the builder had dropped the list price by $200,000. Interior features such as the detailed trim work and the domed faux ceiling in the foyer were like what they saw in million-dollar-plus homes, Traci said. “It takes your breath away,” she said. Despite the details, the home didn’t have a big family room, which they were used to having.

 The choice

No. 3. It stood out because it was new construction. The builder also accepted their offer, which was lower than the asking price, and agreed during the negotiations to build an iron fence for the back yard. The neighborhood has proven to be just right for the family, which moved in last April and enjoys amenities such as the tennis courts and pool for daily use and lessons. “We just feel very fortunate,” Traci said. “The timing couldn’t have been better.”

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Let’s take a walk (Jody White)

March 30, 2010
Jody White, REALTOR ®, Buckhead office

Jody White, REALTOR ®, Buckhead office

In real estate it is all about location, location, location.  Buyers want to know a home’s proximity to good schools and commercial districts.  Sellers want to utilize every possible feature available to market their homes.  In this time of economic downturn and a new era of  environmental awareness, a home’s location takes on a whole new dimension.

More and more buyers are asking for – even demanding- homes in walkable neighborhoods.  How can a real estate agent know when a neighborhood is truly walkable?  “When people can walk or bike their kids to school or to the store, etc., they get to know their neighbors and their neighborhoods.  This instills a sense of community that has an intrinsic value and makes people want to live there,” says Jim Duncan, a REALTOR®  in the Charlottesville, Va., area.   Walkability equals a quality of life issue- less time in a car equals more time you have for family and friends.

How do you determine or demonstrate a neighborhood’s walkability for a home?  There is a free website (www.WalkScore.com)  that agents can access that utilizes Google maps to show the walkability of any address.  Here’s a suggestion on how to use the website to determine the walkability of a neighborhood:  upload photos of nearby places of interest, or restaurants or historical sites to your listings on Realtor.com or your own website. Read the rest of this entry ?