Remembering the Meaning of Memorial Day

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Memorial Day is more than a day marking the unofficial start of summer. Memorial Day is, first and foremost, a time to pay tribute to the men and women who have proudly and bravely served our country.

Whether grilling on the BBQ, swimming in the just-opened pools, or simply relaxing and enjoying the weather and a day off, please remember our fallen heroes who have insured that future generations of Americans will continue to enjoy the privilege of freedom.

At 3 p.m. today, please pause with Americans across the country and the world for one minute during the National Moment of Remembrance. As a small token of gratitude to the men and women who have served in our Armed Forces and paid the ultimate price, we are asked “to voluntarily and informally observe in our own ways a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever [we] are doing for a moment of silence or listening to the playing of ‘Taps.’”

The soldiers we honor this Memorial Day are all those who have served this nation from its founding 239 years ago, as well the over 1.4 million who defend us now.

Please allow me to thank you Service Members and wish you a wonderful weekend. May we never forget the courageous men and women who have served and sacrificed so much in past wars so we could enjoy the freedoms and liberties we hold dear, just as we honor those who stand duty today to keep us safe.

Please feel free to leave a tribute to a Service Member, personally known or not, in the comments below. 

Moving On Up

Moving Up

After purchasing a first home, the next big big decision is when to sell and move up to the house that more closely matches your dream. If you have visions of a larger yard, more bedrooms, a different neighborhood, or an all together different location, here a some reasons to consider buying today instead of waiting.

The two major components that determine the cost of a home – the current market price and the current mortgage rate – are both on the rise.

Buyer Demand is High & Inventory Is Low

Recent numbers show that buyer demand is at the highest peak experienced in years. Listing your current home now can increase exposure to potential buyers who are actively looking and seeking to buy now while interest rates are still low.

“Demand in many markets is far exceeding supply, and properties in March sold at a faster rate than any month since last summer,” said The National Association of Realtors, Chief Economist, Lawrence Yun.

Prices Will Continue to Rise

The most recent Home Price Expectation Survey projects appreciation in home values over the next five years to be up to 27.5%.

The bottom in home prices has come and gone. Home values will continue to appreciate for years. Waiting for your current home’s value to increase before selling could price you out of your new home if you aren’t careful.

Mortgage Interest Rates Remain at Near Record Lows

Current interest rates remain at or below 4%, a near-historic low, making this an ideal time to buy before the inevitable increase.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and the National Association of Realtors all project that interest rates will rise over the next 12 months.

As discussed last week, even a moderate an increase of half a percentage point will impact your monthly mortgage payment. Whether you are moving up or buying your first home, your housing expense will be more a year from now if a mortgage is necessary to purchase your home.

If you have determined that moving up to your dream home (or closer to that ideal) is right for you and your family, buying sooner rather than later could lead to substantial savings and a sound investment.

If you have experience with or questions about buying your next home, feel free to comment below or contact me directly.

The Cost of Waiting to Buy

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Whether you are a first time buyer or looking to move up to your next home, you should consider the housing experts’ projections in two major areas – home prices and mortgage rates.

The housing market is still in the early stages of recovery, and a rise in interest rates can make a big difference in your monthly mortgage payment. Even a very modest increase from 3.9% to 4.5% on a $200,000 home will increase monthly payments more than $70.  

Most real estate analysts concur that by the end of the year there will be a 4% appreciation in home values and an increase of a full point in interest rates. While interest rates will still be low, now is a great time to take that leap and invest in your future.

If you have been thinking about buying a home, now is the time; supply is high, interest rates are low, and housing prices are lower than they are expected to be in the upcoming months. As more homes are purchased, supply decreases, so there is the potential for home prices to continue to increase.

While it is often wise to wait and find the best possible deal (especially with large purchases), it is not necessarily prudent in the current real estate market. I encourage potential home buyers to be decisive and to act quickly when you find the property you have been looking for.

Below is a chart that puts a price tag on the cost of waiting just eight months.

CostofWaiting3

Please feel free to add your thoughts and comments below. If you have any questions, please contact me directly and I will be happy to discuss your particular housing concerns and needs. 

To Rent or To Buy – That is the Question

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One of the biggest financial decisions most people will face is buying a home versus renting. Renting comes with the security of having that (hopefully reliable) backup maintenance crew or landlord. Buying offers the potential to invest in your own future and grow your investment over time, as well as (sometimes not insignificant) upfront and recurring costs.

For some, buying is the wise investment. For others, renting is the best choice for the time being. To determine which is best for you, you first need to determine whether you can afford to buy. Other factors, such as down payment, closing costs, recurring fees (both renting and buying), the time you will stay in your new home, and the home’s potential for appreciation also factor into your decision.

With mortgage rates nearing a 40 year low, buying is a tempting option for some. Many sites offer free rent vs. buy calculators to help decide which option best fits you and your specific financial situation.

Realtor.org offers a wonderful side-by-side cost comparison based on a nine year period. (See below.) The bottom line? If you can afford more than $900/month and the up-front costs – buy.

Costs after 9 years
                                 Buy                                   Rent
Initial costs               $60,000                             $888
Recurring costs        $163,793                          $107,509
Opportunity costs    $44,642                            $15,478
Net proceeds           $145,448                           $888
Total                          $122,987                           $122,987

Ginnie Mae offers another scenario to illustrate the cost/benefit analysis:

The renter starts out paying $800 per month with annual increases of 5% The homeowner purchases a home for $110,000 and pays a monthly mortgage of $1,000
          After 6 years, the homeowner’s payment is lower than the renter’s               monthly payment.
          With the tax savings of home ownership, the homeowner’s payment             is less than the rental payment after 3 years.

When it comes down to it, this is a huge and very personal situation. I encourage you to speak to a realtor, as well as a financial adviser or mortgage lender to determine which option is best for you.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog – The Cost of Waiting to Sell. 

Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions. With over 20 years in the business, I can certainly offer my advice. Your thoughts and personal experiences on this important decision are welcome in the comments below.

No Means No – Help Stop Sexual Assault

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April is National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. I would like to open a discussion about how to prevent these life-shattering events and how to best assist survivors.
“Violence against women is not a women’s issue alone. It’s a man’s issue as well… So to all of the guys out there—you have to step up. That’s how we can change the culture on campus and around the country to one that understands no means no.” – Vice President Biden
The fact is that a conservative estimate of 20% of all women and 2% of men either have been, or will be, the victim of a sexual assault during their lifetime. It is imperative that we recognize the attitudes that contribute to this number, what we can do to change these attitudes, and how we can best support survivors when they have the courage to come forward and seek justice and, ultimately, some sense of peace.
Itsonus.org offers a great resource to open a dialogue about sexual assault. In addition to informational videos by advocates, both grassroots and celebrity, the site offers a refreshingly approachable strategy:
RECOGNIZE that non-consensual sex is sexual assault
IDENTIFY situations in which sexual assault may occur
INTERVENE in situations where consent has not or cannot be given
CREATE an environment in which sexual assault is unacceptable and survivors are supported.

If you are, or someone you know is, a victim of sexual violence:

  • Contact the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE. Help is free, confidential, and available 24/7. Get information at RAINN
  • Contact your local emergency services at 9-1-1

SARA (the Sexual Assault Resource Agency) provides support and resources for Charlottesville and residents of surrounding counties who have experienced any kind of sexual assault including rape, adult sexual assault, child sexual assault, sexual molestation, incest, trafficking, stalking, sexual harassment or unwanted touching. SARA offers survivor services, as well as multiple volunteer, intervention, and outreach opportunities.
I encourage you to seek help when needed and help spread the message that sexual assault will not be tolerated and that survivors will be heard and justice pursued.
“Perhaps most important, we need to keep saying to anyone out there who has ever been assaulted: you are not alone. We have your back. I’ve got your back.” President Barack Obama, January 22, 2014.

Please share your experiences of strength and hope, as well as support services and volunteer opportunities to help end sexual assault.

Spring is the Time of Plans and Projects

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Enhancing your home’s curb appeal is a win-win investment. You get the pleasure derived from owning, and returning to, a visually-appealing home tailored to your tastes. It is also a great return on investment, as it will attract more potential buyers if you decide to sell. As we discussed last week, you can do amazing remodels and upgrades in the home’s interior, but if it lacks curb appeal, chances are they will never be seen.

Adding or enhancing curb appeal can be a fairly easy and affordable project that can be undertaken in a weekend or just a few hours. And, as we just mentioned, the return on your investment is huge. Below are some fixes to your home and yard that will add lasting value to your home.

Replace hardware
These are quick changes that can make an immediate improvement. House numbers, the entry door lockset, the mailbox, the door knocker, and light fixtures are all elements that can add style and interest to your home’s exterior curb appeal.

If they’re out of date, replace them. If they are weather-worn, a thorough cleaning or fresh paint can make a huge difference. These elements add the most appeal when they function collectively, rather than as mix-and-match pieces.

Refresh the front door
A peeling or worn front door can be a serious deterrent to potential buyers. This is an inexpensive project that can be finished in just a few hours and make a huge positive impression for both the returning homeowner and buyers. Repaint the door, or personalize it with a color that matches the rest of the exterior. The current trend seems to be a contrast between the front door and the home’s façade. Be sure to check with your Home Owners’ Association, if applicable. 

Exterior facelift
New paint, siding, or trim details automatically transform the look of a home. Periodic maintenance of that exterior surface is the most affordable way to maintain the aesthetic of the home. Obvious defects, such as cracked material or missing elements, can quickly turn away potential homebuyers. Another option is to add or refinish shutters to update the appearance of the home.

Plant, plant, plant
Perhaps one of the most rewarding and personal ways to increase curb appeal is lawn maintenance. Your home will look neater and well-cared for with consistent mowing, edging, and fresh mulch in the foundation planting beds.

Window boxes offer a fast, easy way to bring color and charm to your home. Choose boxes made from copper or iron for a traditional look, or paint wooden boxes to match the home’s appearance.

Consider brightly colored annuals in the spring and summer and plant flowers with autumn hues in the fall.For instant change, purchase flats of already inbloom like pansies, Black Eyed Susans, Impatiens, and Petunias. They grow quickly, bloom for longer, and are inexpensive.

Make it shine
One final and virtually free (except for the elbow grease) way to bring positive attention to your home –sparkling clean windows show a house is well-cared for and maintained.

What are your plans for an exterior refresh this spring? 

Home Improvements – If It’s Broke, Fix It

Home Improvement 2

Whether you plan to sell your house in the next few years or are just looking to increase your home’s market value as an investment, there is a good chance that you have, or will, consider some renovations. But not all renovation investments yield the same results.

Perhaps the most important work you can do on your home, as either a seller or an owner, is maintenance. This is not the stuff reality shows are made of, but fixing or replacing a roof is decidedly a better investment than that sexy kitchen remodel. According to Remodeling Magazine, you are less likely to recoup your investment on a major kitchen or bathroom remodel than you are to get back what you spend on basic home maintenance. Example – siding replacement returned 92.8% of its cost, according to a recent study, and roof and window replacements returned 80% or more at resale.

Buyers don’t want to think about the basic systems of a house. They assume that the roof won’t leak and the plumbing works. Both of which are clearly just as important to the homeowner who is not looking to sell.

Kitchens and bathrooms. This is the stuff of real estate shows. Major renovations are not necessarily a better investment. According to the magazine mentioned above, a major kitchen remodel yields less ROI than a minor ($15,000 range) kitchen remodel (69% and 83% respectively).

Some good options for a lower cost kitchen makeover include all-wood cabinets, commercial, higher-end appliances, stone countertops, and wood or stone flooring. For bathrooms, walk-in showers yield a high return and add square footage to the room. One major consideration is the bathroom to bedroom ratio. If you have a three bedroom house with only one full bath, you would do well to either add a bathroom or turn that half bathroom into a full. If space is limited, showers are a perfectly fine (see above) option to complete the room.

A National Association of Realtors study by Florida State University professors G. Stacy Sirmans and David Macpherson found that adding a bathroom increased the sale price of a home by 8.7 percent, more than twice the rate for adding a bedroom.

Speaking of adding rooms, additions can be a great investment, particularly in an active housing market. Every 1,000 square feet added to a home boosts the sale price by more than 30 percent, according to the 2005 study for the National Association of Realtors. The addition of attic bedrooms, family rooms and sunrooms are solid investments.

For those of you who like lists, the top ten home remodeling projects according to the “2014 Cost vs. Value Study” in the order of largest to smallest ROI are:

  1. Entry Door Replacement
  2. Deck Addition (Wood)
  3. Garage Door Replacement
  4. Minor Kitchen Remodel
  5. Window Replacement (Wood)
  6. Siding Replacement (Vinyl)
  7. Attic Bedroom
  8. Window Replacement (Vinyl)
  9. Basement Remodel
  10. Kitchen Remodel

If you’re not planning to move in the near future, spend your money remodeling in a way that you’ll most enjoy. You cannot put a price tag on happiness.

Remember to check back next week for tips to improve a home’s curb appeal. If the house isn’t inviting from the street, chances are that amazing remodeling job done on the inside will never be seen.