Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ten Credit Do's and Don'ts

If you're in the process of buying a house (or anticipate buying in the near future), following is a list of things you should DO or NOT DO so you'll have no issues getting your loan approved.

Ten Credit Do’s and Don’ts:

DO continue making your mortgage or rent payments
Remember, you’re trying to buy or refinance your home – one of the first things a lender looks for is responsible payment patterns on your current housing situation.
Even if you plan on closing in the middle of the month, or if you’ve already given notice, continue paying that rent until you’ve signed your final loan documents.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
DO stay current on all accounts
Much like the first item, the same goes for your other types of accounts (student loans, credit cards, etc).
Nothing can derail a loan approval faster than a late payment coming in the middle of the loan process.
DON’T make a major purchase (car, boat, big-screen TV, etc…)
This one gets borrowers in trouble more than any other item.
A simple tip: wait until the loan is closed before buying that new car, boat, or TV.
DON’T buy any furniture
This is similar to the previous, but deserves it’s own category as it gets many borrowers in trouble (especially First-Time Home Buyers).
Remember, you’ll have plenty of time to decorate your new home (or spend on your line of credit) AFTER the loan closes.
DON’T open a new credit card
Opening a new credit card dings your credit by adding an additional inquiry to your score, and it may change the mix of credit types within your report (i.e. credit cards, student loans, etc).
Both of these can have a negative impact on your score, and could result in a denial if things are already tight.
DON’T close any credit card accounts
The reverse of the previous item is also true. Closing accounts can have a negative impact on your score (for one – it decreases your capacity which accounts for 30% of your score).
DON’T open a new cell phone account
Cell phone companies pull your credit when you open a new account. If you’re on the border credit-wise, that inquiry could drop your score enough to impact your rate or cause a denial.
DON’T consolidate your debt onto 1 or 2 cards
We’ve already established that additional credit inquiries will hurt your score, but consolidating your credit will also diminish your capacity (the amount of credit you have available), resulting in another hit to your credit.
DON’T pay off collections
Sometimes a lender will require you to pay of a collection prior to closing your loan; other times they will not.
The best rule of thumb is to only pay off collections if absolutely necessary to ensure a loan approval. Otherwise, needlessly paying off collections could have a negative impact on your score.
Consult your loan professional prior to paying off any accounts.
DON’T take out a new loan
This goes for car loans, student loans, additional credit cards, lines of credit, and any other type of loan.
Taking out a new loan can have a negative impact on your credit, but also looks bad to underwriters and investors alike.
Follow these Do’s and Don’ts for a smoother mortgage approval and funding process.
Just remember the simple tip: wait until AFTER the loan closes for any major purchases, loans, consolidations, and new accounts.

This information is compliments of Cornerstone Mortgage Group and Jackson Bass Homes .

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Home Sales Rise in Atlanta, New Median Price in Buckhead $700,000

2nd Quarter Home Sales Rise in Atlanta

The 2nd Quarter of 2011 results are in and some very interesting and positive trends have emerged.  In the 2nd Quarter, Metro Atlanta sold 10,447 single family detached homes which represents a 3% increase in sales volume through June this year compared to the first half of last year and up 8.8% over same time period of 2009.  This is significant because the first half of last year had government incentives which artificially boosted sales.  So far this year, we’ve topped those sales without government incentives. 

High End and Low End Properties are Selling!

Resales priced under $200,000 are the majority of the sales of the market, which brings the median price down, but surprisingly, homes priced between $750K-999K increased by 35% and sales of homes over $1million increased 65% last quarter!

Foreclosure & Short Sales Down –6%

While foreclosure sales were down -3.7%, short sales  increased, bringing the total to 40.9% of all sales were distressed sales (foreclosures + short sales) which was a 6% decline over the 1st quarter this year.  But take a closer look and you'll see the percentage of distressed sales drop drastically in Buckhead, Midtown, Brookhaven, High Point and Dunwoody.  Read on.. I’ll get to that in a minute.  It gets good.

Higher Priced Category Homes are Selling Faster

Days on the Market for homes under $299,000 rose last quarter, but decreased from 201 days on market to 154 days on market for homes that sold priced $500K-749K, and dropped from 355 days on market to 214 days on market in price category of $750K-999K, and also dropped from 369 to 240 days on market for homes priced in the $1million + category. 

1274 Homes in 2nd Quarter Sold for MORE Than List Price

One out of every 8 transactions in the 2nd Quarter of 2011 (12.1% of all sales) sold for higher than their asking price.   Bet ya didn’t see that coming.   Most of these sales were in the price category below $200,000 which represents a lot of the foreclosure and short sales.  But surprisingly, 8% of sales priced between $200K-499K sold for over asking price.  And very surprisingly, 4.9% of Million Dollar + homes sold for more than their list price.

Is it Becoming a Seller’s Market?

The market is considered balanced when there is 6-7 months of inventory– meaning that if no new listings hit the market, it would take 6-7 months to sell all inventory at the current rate of supply and demand.  Less than 6 months inventory is considered a Seller’s Market and more than 7 months of inventory is considered a Buyer’s Market. 

We have been in an Extreme Buyer’s Market for a long while, but for the first time in many months, in the price category below $200,000, there is 5.7 months of inventory, indicating a Seller’s Market for that price category.  The overall  supply of properties as of June, 2011 was at 7.1 months which has really changed the game in terms of available supply vs. demand. 

Median Price in Metro Atlanta Falls to $143,000, but is $700,000 in Buckhead
The news media is intent upon delivering grim news, especially when they talk about Atlanta median home price declines and huge foreclosure/short sale percentages of total sales.  But is that true where you live?  This is where the information takes on a whole new meaning.

As stated earlier, the total percentage of distressed properties is 40.9% of the metro Atlanta market.  But is that true for Brookhaven?  Buckhead?? 

Neighborhood    Foreclosure %   Short Sale %    Distressed % Total    Median Sale Price

Buckhead                      4.1 %               10.6%                       14.7 %                       $700,000
Midtown                        7.5%                10.5%                       18%                           $450,000
Dunwoody                     4.1%                10.7%                       14.8%                        $389,000
Brookhaven                   4.7%                14.7%                      19.4%                         $318,000
High Point                     2.0%                  8.2%                       10.2%                        $635,000

If a Buyer is looking for a “deal” in High Point, their chance of buying a foreclosure is pretty slim, only 2 % of the transactions in that area were foreclosures.  But they can still get a great “deal” because prices are much more affordable than they have been in years… and combined with the lowest interest rate in history, Buyers are taking advantage of historically phenomenal deals.

If you’ve considered moving to a better school district or upgrading to a new home, now may be the best time in history to do that.  Even if you’re “under water” in your current mortgage, there may be options that will help you reach your goals.  And there are definitely options if you or someone you know is behind on your mortgage and facing foreclosure– you may qualify for the HAFA short sale program.  Contact me so I can help.

My goal is to bring you valuable, accurate information so you can make your best and most informed decisions.  I want to be the realtor you recommend to your family and friends.  And I love to help.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Home Design Tip: Pillow Power

Use different textures together to create interest
Pillows are an easy and (can be) inexpensive way to give your room a design PUNCH.  Using pillows are one of my favorite ways to finish a room.   They can serve as artwork for a room, but they are also functional and usually inexpensive enough to change out seasonaly or to liven up a space. 

Choose pillows that speak to your decorating style.  For example, if your look is sleek and contemporary, using texture or bold color can add the pop you are looking for.  Shown here are 3 pillows used to bring in texture and style to a contemporary sectional sofa used in a modern living room.  

The pillows all speak to the netural color story of the room, as well as providing textural and graphic interest.  A sequened pillow with a graphic peace sign is paired with a natural African woven kuba cloth pillow and a very soft shag pillow.  The look says a lot about what the owner likes while warming up the neutral gray sofa that without the pillows is a little boring and depressing.  Also, the African woven pillow has a reddish brown tone that is very similar to the wood color of the coffee table.  On the other end of the sofa, the long pillow is Indian inspired and features wooden beads sewn onto a bronze silk base.  Texture and dark, earthy colors help to warm up this space.

Pillows are a great way to add bright pops of color to a room.  So many times people long for color in their space, but I usually recommend keeping wall color neutral, and bring in color through artwork and accessories such as pillows.  This way, you can change the personality of a room easily and inexpensively.  There are so many great places to buy ready made pillows.  But when you're buying, look for quality, size and style that fit the space you intend them to go.  You can find some great inexpensive designer pillow choices at Target, HomeGoods, and as well as most big department stores.  If you're looking for contemporary choices, I like CB2 and West Elm

And don't forget that when you travel, a decorative pillow case fits easily into your suitcase (you can add the pillow insert when you get home).  This is a great way to add an interesting conversation piece to your decor that brings in the essence of your exotic travel spot. 

Usually, when I stage a home for sale, I add new pillows to freshen the look of a room.  Modern styles are my favorite because they instantly update the look of any room- particularly if the furniture is a bit outdated.  It really is an easy, fun and inexpensive way to update your look.
Sofa before adding decorative pillows

The pillow colors relate to the coffee table and rug

Use texture and graphic patterns

Warm up leather with pillows.. color relates to the chest behind

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Can a Tramp Re-Vamp? Atlantic Station is Changing Her Ways

Atlantic Station has gotten a bad reputation it seems.  It reminds me of the pretty girl in high school that slept around too much, and got in with the wrong crowd.  Now she's not so popular anymore.  What's a girl to do??  Well, for one, change her looks (no more slutty tube tops and hoochie skirts), I digress, we were talking about the Midtownish development, right?

It seems that there is a new owner in town and I can already see some changes.  The new owner, North American Properties, has purchased the retail component of the mixed use development and is addressing concerns of the community regarding the late night cruising and lack-luster shopping experience.  Already, I have noticed the parking garage is now color coded in bright colors to help you remember where the heck you parked.  If you have never forgotten where you parked your car in this mammoth labyrinth, trust me when I tell you, it's no fun.  I spent more than half an hour once wandering aimlessly in the underground expanse and everything looked the same.  Much better now.

Also, the once pop music that flooded the outdoor shopping mall is replaced with much more sophisticated retro jazzy music- apparently appealing to a more affluent crowd.  Yesterday I noticed beautiful new plant pots line the brick streets, stuffed with brightly colored flowers and plants.. looks very nice.  The new owner is closing nightclubs or "restaurants that operate like nightclubs" like the recently closed Geisha House. 

The 47 story luxury condo, shopping and office tower, The Atlantic, is a gorgeous building with fabulous amenities and appointments located in Atlantic Station.  The building went into foreclosure but was purchased by S.T. Residential Properties last year.  Pricing was restructured (now $180,000-$1.3 Million) and the 401 unit tower has sold over 100 residences since last October.

A letter to Midtown residents from Marc Toro, of North American Properties outlines their 10 point plan for the development...

"Dear Midtown Resident,
I am writing to you today, as a resident of Midtown, to apprise you of changes underway at Atlantic Station. As you may know, we recently acquired the retail component of the master-planned community with the expressed intent of providing world-class shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities to the residents of Midtown and surrounding communities.
Following is our Ten Point Plan:
1. Listen – we are seeking the input of the Midtown community to identify retailer and restaurant preferences, in addition to preferred event programming and other experiential aspects.
2. Improve public safety - working in collaboration with the leadership of Midtown Blue, we will emulate the public safety program that makes Midtown residents feel comfortable and safe in our community.
3. Fix the parking – we have begun installation of a completely redesigned wayfinding and lighting system to make our parking deck more user-friendly.
4. Get the word out – our Digital Outreach platform has been designed to provide Midtown residents with up-to-the-minute information about events and specials.
5. Close the nightclubs – late night partying and associated behaviors are not a part of our vision and we have taken steps to assure a comfortable and friendly atmosphere, closing the nightclubs.
6. Meet the market – we recognize that the current retail and restaurant lineup does not resonate with the community and we are in the process of retooling the offering to respond to what we hear.
7. Go local – the feedback we’ve received to date indicates a strong preference for local operators, so we are reaching out to chef-driven restaurants and owner operated boutiques.
8. Reach out – we have established relationships with our Midtown neighbors, seeking to explore synergies with SCAD, Georgia Tech, Piedmont Park and Woodruff Arts Center.
9. Reprogram public spaces – Food Truck Fridays, 1/2 Street Market, Movies in the Park and other programs are the beginning of our reimagined uses of our public space.
10.Introduce non-traditional uses – whether it is classroom space, TV studios or film production, we are exploring options to expand our reach to the community and attract positive energy to the property.
Whereas we have owned Atlantic Station less than six months, much progress has been made in each of the areas listed above. As we continue to bring about change, we greatly appreciate any and all input you might offer to our Plan.
Please feel free to post your comments to one of the following forums:
Or email us at:
Thank you,
Mark C. Toro
Partner, North American Properties"

So how does a girl clean up her act and get her reputation back??  She starts acting like a lady.  I love 2nd chances, and I am giving this girl a second chance.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sky High in Atlanta's Tallest Residential Building, Sovereign

Towering over Buckhead and dominating the Buckhead skyline is the tallest residential building in Atlanta and second tallest in the city, Sovereign.  I had the great pleasure of showing this building to a client recently and toured with Kevin McBride of Atlanta Fine Homes International.  Many say that this 50 story building is the most architecturally significant building in Atlanta.  I have to say that I think this is the most cutting edge buiding in Atlanta and has brought a much needed  modern, international flair to our skyline.  Construction on this 635' tall masterpiece began in 2007, before the real estate market tanked.  The building features restaurant and commercial space with 82 residences beginning on the 28th floor. 

The commercial space has already satisfied the debt on the building which shows stability in this very volatile market.  I think it's amazing that the commercial space is leased in this building considering the glut of commercial space on the market.  Also amazing is the fact that one of the penthouses which is over 7000 square feet, just sold for over $5 million dollars with a projected $2 million to finish out the raw shell space.  The buyer already had a unit in Soverign and apparently liked it so much that he went all the way... up!  Artist Todd Murphy was commissioned to decorate the building with fine art seen throughout the public spaces.  Among the pieces are giant lit boxes on each residential floor that reveal a huge tree that grows on Peachtree Battle Avenue.    Singer/Artist Michael Stipe from R.E.M. fame created a sculpture  installation of a pack of foxes in polished bronze that greet visitors at the entrance of the building.   The Buckhead Club is located in this building and is available for residents featuring conference space, meeting and event space, restaurant/bar and fitness center.  Many other luxury amenities are the gorgeous two story club house and pool area.  Fab-u-lous~ .   There are many floor plans to choose from and one of the most outstanding features is that every unit features a huge balcony (or two or three) that have amazing views.  As you can imagine, the units are luxuriously appointed.  The look is clean lined and modern.   It is also very exciting to walk out of the buiding and have so many restaurants and shopping right at your heels.  Bistro Niko, one of the Buckhead Life Group restaurants, is prominent on the front corner of the building. 

What I really loved about this building that I found to be unexpected was that even though it is one of Atlanta's premiere luxury residences, it has a feel that is approachable and unintimidating-much more relaxed and effortless than I had expected.  But fabulous all the same.  Home prices start at $800,000.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Buckhead Atlanta replaces "Streets of Buckhead"

Have you noticed the big, unsightly hole in the ground in central Buckhead with lots of concrete footers and rebar and cranes and not much else?  Right.. how could one miss it??  Well there is a new plan with new money and a new name for this project... Buckhead Atlanta.  Yes, that is the new name... Buckhead Atlanta (in Buckhead, Atlanta, get it? ).  “Formerly known as The Streets of Buckhead, the project was one of the highest profile developments in the country halted by the economic downturn and financing drought,” according to project spokesman Bryan Long in an email to What Now Atlanta. “The new name signifies a departure from the concept of a single destination development and a move toward a mixed-use community that will fit seamlessly within the existing Buckhead Village.”

The project's developer, OliverMcMillan, a San Diego based real estate firm that develops mixed use retail, entertainment and residential projects plans to put $300 million into the project which already has $400 million invested in it.  OliverMcMillan plas to begin construction on the six block, eight acre project late this year.

Questions and concerns arise from many Atlantans including a distaste for the name, Buckhead Atlanta.  Seems a little redundant... and lame?  "I'm going to Buckhead Atlanta in Buckhead, Atlanta" (? Huh??).   And will this project be an upscale shopping glut like an outdoor Phipps Plaza?  Or will it be more like a flailing Atlantic Station, or another Underground?  Will it create more real estate inventory in a slumping market?

I like to think positive and I am glad that someone is taking a vision to completion for our fine community in Buckhead.  I don't really think we need lots more luxury shopping and dining, but so what.  It sure beats a hole in the ground (I hope).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Behind on Mortgage Payments? Short Sale May be the Answer: HAFA Short Sale Program

Yesterday, I spent all day in a continuing education class learning about the government's HAFA short sale program.  I learned some interesting information that could be a lifeline for any of you out there that are missing mortgage payments and are looking down the road at a potential foreclosure.  Help may be on the way.  It is really surprising that lots of homes go into foreclosure without even trying to work out a deal with the bank and go straight into foreclosure.  Don't do it, there is an alternative.  HAFA stands for Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternative, which is just that... a viable alternative to foreclosure.

A short sale means that you have negotiated with your lender to sell the house for less money than you owe on it.   In an non-HAFA short sale agreement, there are some pitfalls you need to look out for- primarily two things:  1) You may not be released from liablility to pay back the short fall the bank gets from accepting less money than you owe and 2) you get $0 at closing from the sale of your property.

Here are the advantages for the seller of a HAFA short sale:
  • Sellers receive $3000 (vs. $0 non-HAFA short sale) relocation expense at closing (funded through TARP money)
  • The foreclosure sale must be suspended while eligibility for the HAFA program is determined and if approved, while the property is being marketed or closing a sale is pending.
  • Sellers are released of all liability on 1st mortgages and subordinate liens!
  • Sellers cannot be required to sign a note or pay additional amounts to satisfy liens
  • The short sale is pre-approved.   This takes more time on the front end of a transaction, but much less time after a purchase contract is accepted by the seller.  This in itself can make a short sale listing much easier to sell.
  • Buyers offers are approved or denied within 10 business days.  If the buyer's offer meets the pre-approved terms, the short sale MUST be approved and the deal gets done!
Many (in fact most) lenders (for a list of servicers who are participating in this program go to ) are participating in the HAFA program because they are getting TARP money for their participation.  If your lender is participating, they are required to offer you this HAFA short sale opportunity prior to starting the foreclosure process.  Once they have mailed you the offer, you have 14 days to respond.   Many people become overwhelmed with anxiety when they become delinquent on paying their mortgage and don't open the mail sent from their lender.   Please open your mail so you won't miss this option!  Or call your loan servicer to find out if this is an option for you.   If you want to keep your house, you may be eligible for a loan modification  program.  If you feel that you must sell or be foreclosed and your home's value is less than you owe, this program could be an answer for you.

One of the big down sides of short-selling your house is that it hurts your credit, although not nearly as much as a foreclosure.  If you simply cannot pay the mortgage and you can't sell the house for what you owe, your options are limited, but the HAFA short sale program has some strong benefits compared to the alternatives!  There is a lot more to this program and the short sale process is very complicated.  But this program (set to expire 12/31/2012 unless extended) can offer lots of American homeowners an out that will help the real estate market overall, help distressed homeowners who might othewise lose their home, release liability for sellers to pay back the short fall from the short sale, and give some money to sellers to help them fund the moving expense from their home.  For more information contact me or go to .

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What's Happening in Atlanta Housing Market (1st Quarter 2011 Results)

Good news.  The 1st quarter 2011 Atlanta area market sales statistics reveal that 7061 single family detached homes were sold representing an increase in sales of 2% over the 1st quarter 2010.  What's great about a 2% increase you might ask.  It's an INCREASE, I say.  More significantly, this increase is comparing to last years sales when there was a government incentive in place.  Last year's government incentive (tax rebate) inflated sales, and this year, we exceeded those inflated sales without any government incentives.  Good news indeed.

We saw a couple of interesting trends: sales volume increased primarily in homes priced below $200,000 where 1st time home buyers and smart investors focused on distressed properties, and a sharp increase in sales of homes priced from $750,000-999,000.  There was even a hefty increase in sales of homes over $1 million.  Foreclosures represented 21.3% of total sales in 2011 1st quarter as opposed to 28.5% of total sales in the 1st quarter of 2010, but short sales sharply increased to 24.9% of total sales in 1st quarter this year compared to only 9% of 1st quarter last year.  This is partly due to the banks working out better solutions to foreclosure, which is a good thing.  Overall, distressed properties (short sales+foreclosures) represented 46.2% of all sales in the Metro Atlanta area in the first quarter this year, the majority of which were in the price range below $200,000. 

Overall the median sales price for our area dropped 13.7% from $157,000 to $135,000 this first quarter.  This is not to be confused with average sale price.  Median just means that it is the midway mark.  So more lower priced houses sold this last quarter.   This doesn't necessarily mean that prices have continued to decline, it just means that more volume of lower priced homes sold.  Every neighborhood area is so different, and some declined in value while others maintained or slightly increased in value.

The average seller took a discount of 17.5% lower than their original asking price in order to sell and the median days on the market were 132.  Ouch.   Remember when I talked earlier about the price range of $750,000-999,000 increased in sales??  Well, guess what?  They sharply decreased in days on the market from 531 to 258 days on market (1st quarter 2010 compared to same period in 2011).  I know you must be thinking - OMG.. it takes almost a year to sell a house in this price range instead of almost 2 years.. yikes!

Most sellers had to reduce the price of their house (many times) in order to finally sell.  That turns out to be a terrible strategy because when a price reduction was required to interest a buyer, the median sales show that sellers took a price hit of 26%, but if the seller priced the house right and sold without a price reduction, they were able to get 96.9% of their asking price and sold in only 32 days!  10.8% of the time, sellers even got 100%+ of their asking price.  This happens mostly in distressed sales, where bargain shoppers bidded against below market foreclosures and short sales, but also can happen in the regular market if the house is a great house, in great condition and priced to compete with distressed properties. 

The bottom line is this:  for every 100 listings in the 1st quarter 2011, 58 did not sell and 42 homes sold.  29 of those 42 sales had to reduce and reduce their price in order to sell and only got 73.9% of their original asking price and it took 188 days to sell.  13 out of the 42 sales were priced correctly and sold for 96.9% of their asking price without having to reduce the price and sold in 32 days.  If you would like to know how the market did in your own neighborhood, contact me for a free analysis.

In my opinion, the market is getting better, I am seeing my sales as much more active and I am working with more buyers compared to same period last year.  I think we've seen the bottom of prices and buyers now want to take advantage of this amazing market and especially take advantage of crazy low mortgage rates.  There are still homeowners who are in trouble, but homeowners and banks are working out short sales as alternatives to foreclosures.  The most interesting thing is that, as a buyer, you may end up paying a lot less than the asking price for a home, or you may end up paying at or close to the asking price.  It's up to you (with guidance from a good realtor) to determine what is a good deal for you.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Is a Foreclosure the Best Deal for a Home Purchase?

No doubt you've heard all about foreclosures and short sales flooding the market.  They do in fact represent more than a third of all transactions done today.  But is buying a foreclosure (bank owned property) a better deal than buying a regular house??
It might be, but then again, it might not be.  There are some things you should know about buying a foreclosure that maybe you haven't thought about.

1.  Condition:  usually, bank owned properties are sold as-is with no disclosure.  This is because the bank has not lived in the house (duh) and therefore, would not know the history of the house or it's problems.  Now do you think that if someone owned a home, and then could not afford to pay for it and lost it to foreclosure, that they somehow were able to afford to keep it up??  My guess is no.  Keeping up a house they were losing was probably not a priority, so there may be deferred maintenance or issues that may not even show up on a home inspection.
This is definitely a buyer beware situation.   A lot of times, after the bank takes back a property, they may refurbish it with new carpet, paint and possibly make repairs and replace missing appliances, etc., but these are generally cosmetic fixes.

2.  Price:  many times the bank owned price may be below market value, which is why you would be interested in a foreclosure.. right?   But the bank set price may not be below the value you could buy a regular house for.  You just have to do some homework or have a good agent who can help you determine if the price is below market or not.  Many times, if the bank set price is below market, they may get multiple offers, driving the price above the asking price. 

3.  Repairs:  if the bank allows you to conduct a home inspection after your contract is accepted, many times they will not be willing to make repairs.  Are you willing to take on the unknown expense to make such repairs after closing?  Have you already sold a house or given an apartment your notice to vacate and need to close on this home in time to move in by the date you have given up possession of your current place?  If this is the case, you might be in a tight spot to get out of this deal in time to buy another home if you find out that the foreclosure you thought was such a good deal turns out to have some major problems that the bank won't repair.  Regular sellers will usually try to make any repairs needed to close the deal.

4.  Timing:  As mentioned above in number 3, you may have either put your existing home under contract to close in say 60 days or have given your 30 day notice to terminate your lease and you need to move in 30 or 60 days.  In this case, you may not have time to negotiate with a bank.  Once submitting your offer, you may not even hear back from them for a week or two.  You may not be able to negotiate in a timely manner to even know if this property will work out for you.  It is much safer to negotitate with a regular seller than the bank.  I know this from experience in dealing with banks and REO companies.

5.  Bank Addendums and Contracts:  Most banks require lengthy, wordy addendums to any agreed upon contract that favor the banks.  At this point, you may need an attorney to help you understand the addendums, your liablity and the bank's liability and limitations to the contract.  Even if you are working with an experienced buyer's agent, a realtor is not an attorney and can't advise you on legal matters.  A regular house purchase will most likely be using a Purchase Contract form that is standardized by the Georgia Association of Realtors and is fair to both parties, and fairly easy to understand by all.

6.  Clear Title:  If you do purchase a foreclosure, there is a something called GAP insurance on the title insurance policy you would purchase at closing that would be especially important when buying a foreclosure. 

All that said, it is much easier, cleaner and less frustrating to deal with a regular home purchase.  In this market, regular sellers are pricing their homes to compete with distressed property sales, and in many cases, are better deals overall than foreclosed, bank owned properties.  Still, I have had some great success in getting great deals for buyers who purchased bank owned homes.  You just need to know the ropes ahead of time.   Knowledge is power!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cheaper to Buy than Rent a Home in Atlanta

The Atlanta real estate market is making a comeback!  If you're renting a house, condo or apartment, now is the time to take advantage of one of the very best times in American history to buy a home and invest in real estate! 

According to a recent article written in Fortune Magazine and an online article in  CNN Money (online) , Atlanta takes the cake with the number one spot in the country where it is cheaper to own vs renting a home.  I love cake.  And I love that we're number one. 

Deutsche Bank does a  study which measures affordability in two ways: the share of income that Americans are paying to own a home, and the cost of owning vs. renting.  They found that in Atlanta, the average monthly rent is about 50% more than the average mortgage payment (after taxes).   The chart featured here shows that rent is 151.2% as a percentage of the average after-tax mortgage payment in our fair and (windy today) city.  A major contributing factor to this surprising nugget of info is that the median home price fell 33.2% in the period from 2006-2010.

The simple truth of the matter is that with a few exceptions, if you stay, you gotta pay.  If you're paying rent, there is no hope to recoup any of the money you've paid over the life of the lease.  Not true for owning.  You will get a return of some sort when you sell.  You may not recoup all of your money, or you may make money- but unlike renting you have something to sell when you're ready to move on.  And now that home prices are so low, and rates are LOW-LOW, it is the perfect time to get your piece of the American Dream Pie. 

The market is coming back.  There is no more land.  Prices are like being at a clearance sale or yard sale (no pun intended).  Contact me if you want to take advantage of this wonderful, historic opportunity

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Home Staging Tips

If you're thinking of selling your home anytime soon, now is the time to start getting your house ready for the market.  In fact, you really should be evaluating what can be done to your house to maximize buyer appeal well before you are ready to list your home for sale.  A good realtor will be able to help guide you through the process to stage your home.  There are also professional staging companies that specialize in staging properties for sale to increase marketability and your bottom line.  These staging companies can bring in furntiure, art and accessories that work with things you have to give you the biggest bang for the buck.

Following are some helpful tips to guide you preparing your home to get buyer's attention and interest.
  1. Boost curb appeal:  the first things buyer's and their agents see is the front picture of your house on the MLS or home selling internet sites.  Take a critical look.  Are the bushes overgrown?  Trim away low lying or lanky limbs from trees.  Fresh pine straw beds will dramatically improve the visual impact of your lawn by sculpting defined areas for trees, shrubs and flower beds, and when done properly, will guide the eye to the front door in a welcoming fashion.  Also, freshen up exterior paint.  Plant flower beds.  Clean the area around the front door/front porch.  Spiders love the covered area at the front door.  Buyers typically don't like spiders.
  2. Remove clutter:  this cannot be understated.  Act viciously towards clutter, it is your enemy.  This means remove all toys, most all knick knacks, most all framed family and personal photos, streamline bookshelves so that they artfully display objects and books.  If you have lots of indoor plants, get rid of them.  A very few beautiful and healthy plants properly placed will work for you, lots of lanky tired and suffering plants are not your friends.
  3. Create a sense of entry:  if you have a formal entry, make sure there is a focal point as an interesting furniture piece with artwork or mirror.  Fresh flowers will say "welcome".
  4. Create focal points of interest:  as the buyer walks through each room, there should be a focal point that furniture is placed to bring attention to.  The focal point will work best if it is at the far end of the room as the buyer enters that room.  An example is an antique armoire or large display bookshelf or media center.
  5. Remove extra furniture and rugs:  a common mistake I see is too much furniture.  Or those clunky "chair and a half" things.  They are usually awkward and suck up visual space.  They may have to go, because you are selling space and buyers need to see the rooms as large as they can possibly appear to be.  A large rug to anchor a seating area is a good thing, but small accent rugs must go, they visually cut up the space and diminish the feeling of "flow" that buyers are looking for.
  6. Lighten up:  If you don't have great lamps, you need some.  Buying modern, updated looking lamps can refresh a rooms appearance and provide a warm glow to supplement lighting.  They don't have to be expensive, I typically find great buys at Target or HomeGoods.  During a showing, every light and lamp in the house needs to be on.  Buyer's hate dark caves.
  7. Fresh color:  Evaluate your home's color scheme.  Does it even have a color scheme?  I find it best for visual flow to have a centralized color theme.  Each room should relate or complement the others.  Avoid bold or loud colors, neutral colors are safe.  I like warm, light or mid-tone colors.  Sometimes a striking color will work for you, but remember that buyers need to be able to visualize themselves living in your house.  Not everyone has the perfect furniture to go with pink or yellow for example.  And if you have floral wallpaper... rethink it.
  8. Evaluate kitchen appliances and countertops:  today's buyers are not only looking for great deals, they are looking for move-in condition.  Kitchen and baths are the highest priority for most buyers.  Stainless steel appliances and granite countertops have become the standard.  There are ways to work around this and a good professional realtor will guide you to make good decisions if you need to and are in the position to make kitchen and bath updates.
  9. Refresh with pillows and artwork:  it is amazing how the right pillows, artwork and accessories can really transform a space.  These items can create a strong color scheme and visual interest in a space.  They pull a room together and make it feel cohesive and comfortable.  Artwork should be properly hung and placed where it can make the most impact in a space.
  10. Organize and clean:  it doesn't cost anything but time and effort to organize your closets and storage areas and clean your home.  This is a no-brainer, but you would be surprised at how many homes I show that are not clean or organized.  This is a major turn-off to buyers.  Who wants to buy a nasty house?  If you don't have a professional house cleaner, I recommend having a professional deep clean your house in preparation for entering the market. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Lower Your Property Taxes

One of the upsides of the declining home values in Atlanta (I know, the bright side-right?) is that, theoretically, property taxes may also decrease.  My own property value decreased sharply last year since my purchase in January 2008, so more than likely, I am way overpaying for property taxes.  But I plan to make a change right now with regards to overpaying my property taxes, and you can (and should) too.

I did a little research on the internet to determine how to go about the process of appealing the tax valuation.  I found an article at written in 2009 regarding this subject (see article) and a recent Clark Howard article on WSB's site plus I called the friendly people down at the Fulton County Tax Assessor's office to get the scoop.

They all make it sound very simple.  First, find out what your property was valued at last year.  Now, determine what you think your fair market value is this year.  Before you can appeal your property taxes, you must file a simple form called a Taxpayer's Return of Real Property (click here).  The deadline for most counties to receive this Return is March 1, and April 1 in Fulton County.  Once the helpful, friendly folks down at the county tax assessors office (diction and speaking skills are not a hiring requirement there, btw) receive your return, they will look at it and then send out a response between April and June.  They might lower your taxes, but if they don't, you will have 45 days from the time the notice was sent to appeal your taxes.  Remember, you can't appeal your taxes this year until you have been sent a notice for this year's valuation, and based on my understanding, after your county tax office has received your Taxpayer's Return of Real Property. 

There are several firms who can and will help you with this entire process if you just hate the idea of dealing with your local government on your own.  One such firm mentioned in Howard's article is My Property Tax Appeal.  Also, if you don't know what your value may be this year compared to last, please contact me and I will be glad to help you determine that based on similar properties to yours in your neighborhood that sold last year. 

Remember at the beginning of this article when I mentioned that lowering your property taxes is one of the upsides of the declining values in the local real estate market?  Well another upside is the huge savings you could get right now to buy an investment property, move up home, or first home.  Please contact me if you know of someone I could help with a real estate need at  And here's to us all lowering our property taxes.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Atlanta Real Estate Sales- 4th Quarter 2010 Market Statistics

Single family home sales in Atlanta were down in 2010 7.9% below 2009.  Early gains in sales in 2010 fell off mid-year after the government homebuyer incentives expired.  4th Quarter 2010 sales fell -19.9% compared to the 4th Quarter of the previous year following increases in the first two quarters of 2010. These early year increases show that the government incentives artifically boosted sales and that the upwards sales trend failed to sustain once those incentives expired.  The chart at left shows the months of supply by pricing category.  The total months of supply is 11.1.  This means that if no new listings were to come on the market, it would take 11.1 months to sell all of the homes currently on the market given the current demand.

Foreclosure sales as a percent of total sales declined slightly in 4th Quarter 2010 and represented approximately 19.5% of the market, but when you include short sales to the category of "distressed sales" they represented 39.9% of total sales in the 4th quarter and 36.3% of total sales for the year.  This means that sellers who are not in a distressed situation still have to compete with short sales and foreclosures in order to be successful in this market. As the number of distressed  sales increased, the median price of non-foreclosure properties decreased.

A bright spot in the market is that two price categories had sharp increases in the 4th quarter of 2010.  Sales of homes priced at $750,000-999,000 increased by a whopping 35%  and sales of homes priced from $1 million and up increased by 25%.  This trend seems to be continuing into this year and it indicates that smart money is now investing in luxury homes here in Atlanta as investors feel that the bottom of the market is here or has already passed.

The median sales price also dropped last quarter by -9% from the 4th quarter of 2009.  As previously stated, this is in part due to an increase of sales of distressed properties and an increase in sales in the under $200,000 price category.

In the 4th quarter of 2010, 64 out of every 100 listings failed to sell.  Of the 36 sellers who did sell, the vast majority (70%) had to reduce the price at least once in order to sell.  Their median days on market were 181 days and they ended up taking 23.7% less than they originally listed their property for.  On the other hand, the remaining 30% of the total sales were able to get 96.7% of their asking price in under 30 days on the market without reducing the price.  What this tells us is that sellers who priced aggressively (meaning very close to what the recent sold comps in their market sold for) were able to sell quickly, and for very close to the asking price.  Their net was much higher than sellers who priced too high to start with.  In this market more than ever,  pricing strategies are extremely crucial to be able to sell- and for the highest dollar amount. 

If you are considering selling your home this year, it is important to understand what is happening with sales in your neighborhood and how it relates to the overall Atlanta market.  Please contact me at  and I can supply you the information you need to make your best decisions.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ken Rainey to the Rescue- New Loan Program Offsets Mortgage Insurance Premium

It's a bird, it's a plane, blah,blah, blah.. it's Ken Rainey from Sharpe Mortgage to the rescue on a recent transaction for one of my clients.

These days there is misinformation floating around that you can no longer buy a house with less than 20% down.  That is SO false.  Today, as in the "golden age" of real estate (that's what I'm now calling the years 2000-2006), you can still buy a house for as little as 5% down- maybe even less than that in some cases.  You do have to have good credit (meaning really good credit).  Typically, when you put down less than 20% as downpayment, you have to buy pesky Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP).  This is basically an insurance premium your lender requires to cover their ass, I mean back, if you were to default on the loan.  They figure if you put 20% of your own money down, you are less likely to walk away from paying your housepayment as you would lose a lot of your own hard earned money.  Anyway, this insurance is pricey and makes your payment higher.  So many times, a buyer would put 10% down as downpayment and take out a 2nd mortgage for the remaining 10% so they could avoid paying expensive MIP. The problem here, though, is that the 2nd mortgage rate is a good bit higher than a 1st mortgage rate.  Still, paying a house payment of a combined 1st and 2nd mortgage is cheaper than paying MIP. 

Ken Rainey from Sharpe Mortgage has educated me and my client about a new program that allows the buyer to put as little as 5% down and not have to pay the expensive monthly MIP.  The MIP is paid upfront in a lump sum.  My client bought a house for  $363,000 with 5% down.  He is able to pay 1.95% of the loan amount up front and avoid the MIP which is saving him $270 per month.  And the coolest thing of all, is that we were able to negotiate the Seller to pay enough closing costs on behalf of my client, that there was enough money to cover my client's closing costs plus the upfront MIP.  My client is happy.  I am happy.

For more information about this and other loan programs, contact Ken Rainey from Sharpe Mortgage at 678-358-4602 or .  By the way, Ken does not wear a Captain America suit (usually).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Top 10 Things Home Buyers Are Looking For

If you are thinking about selling your house this year, read on to see what today's buyers are looking for.  While more than 60% of listings last year failed to sell, the ones that did sell were either audacious bargains at below- market foreclosure sale prices or were in great condition and priced aggressively.

What condition is your home in?  Is it updated? Does it have fresh paint?  Does the curb appeal make buyers slow down when driving by? Does it have any distinguishing or special features?  Following are the top 10 features buyers are looking for in a house.

  1. Updated AppliancesStainless steel has become the standard for kitchen appliances.  Buyers are looking for style, quality and energy saving features.
  2. Solid Surface Countertops. Granite is tops in (counter) tops.  Don't have granite?  Get it.
  3. Hardwood and/or Ceramic/Stone Tile floors.  Carpet is still good in bedrooms.  Floor should be in great condition.
  4. Two  Car Garage.  Even better than a one car garage.  Buyers have a lot of stuff to store- plus cars.
  5. Master Suites.  Love 'em.  Big, sexy, romantic... and attached luxury bath.
  6. Walk-in Closets.  Again.. Big, sexy, and ORGANIZED. 
  7. Whirlpool Tubs.  Again.  Big, sexy with updated plumbing fixtures (that means no shiny brass).
  8. Finished Basements.  Buyers love the extra space and options provided by finished basements.  Good lighting a must.  Windows a major plus.  Drop ceilings, not so good.
  9. Separate Tub and Shower.  Frameless glass enclosures and stone or stone look ceramic tile for showers.
  10. New or Updated WindowsThermapane (double paned) is the standard.  If you have single pane windows, you may need to at least get an estimate for replacement to deal with buyer objections.