Saturday, May 31, 2008

Good News For Home Buyers

30-Year Mortgage Rates Drop
After four weeks in an upward trajectory, Freddie Mac reports that long-term mortgage rates are falling again (Source: Chicago Sun-Times (05/23/08).

The average interest on a 30-year fixed loan settled at 5.98 percent this week, down 0.03 percent from the prior week. Rates on 15-year fixed mortgages, meanwhile, slipped 0.5 percent for the week to an average of 5.55 percent.

Borrowing costs drifted slightly higher, however, on adjustable-rate products. Five-year ARMs bumped up 0.04 percent to 5.61 percent, while one-year ARMs moved up 0.06 percent to 5.24 percent.

Banks Still Want Buyers
Some would-be buyers in today’s market might think that mortgages just aren’t available to them in today’s tighter lending climate, but buyers who are reasonable credit risks have more financing options than they might think.

For starters, Federal Housing Administration loans are back. According to NAR (National Association of Realtors) data, FHA loan originations saw nearly a 60 percent increase in 2007, and in 2008, the program’s loan limits have been increased.

In addition, tax law changes have made private mortgage insurance more attractive. PMI premiums have been deductible on federal taxes since 2006, and last year, Congress enacted a three-year extension on PMI deductibility. This helps buyers who would otherwise be financing with piggyback loans, which are harder to get in today’s market.

All of this is good news for the person who is seeking real estate opportunities in Northern Michigan. At Home Waters, we understand that your dream of owning the ideal “Up North” property is much more than real estate. You’re pursuing a lifestyle that you and your family will enjoy for generations to come. Let us help you realize that dream. With selection at its peak, great financing and our expertise; the time is right to make that dream come true.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Stylish Outdoor Living

You may be getting the itch to start on an outdoor project now that the weather is heading towards summer. A trip to your local home improvement center will confirm that yes indeed, families everywhere are planning on living outdoors this summer. You’ll see everything from the latest building materials to incredible furniture and BBQ’s that rival your indoor range. The Holiday weekend is coming up, three whole days to get going with that outdoor “room” you always dreamed of. Decks and patios give a home and yard an attractive, functional outdoor space. Home owners’ increased interest in enjoying nature and gardening is reflected in patios and decks. These outdoor spaces reflect a greater array of designs, materials, sizes, and price points than constructed in years past.

They’re getting bigger and bigger and sometimes extend off the back and wrap around one side. Many also are designed as a transition between the indoors and a landscaped yard. Decks and patios also are getting up-scaled, the equivalent of outdoor rooms with sophisticated furnishings and all the bells and whistles.

Here’s how to get these outdoor spaces the attention they deserve:

Boost Curb Appeal
Outdoor spaces have become a bigger part of the curb appeal that attracts buyers and can even increase a selling price. More than one-third of buyers want a patio or terrace (a space level with the ground) while 21 percent desire a deck (constructed above the ground), according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’

Choose Features Wisely
To get the greatest enjoyment and best return on dollars invested, home owners should study examples in design publications, drive through favorite neighborhoods to see possibilities, and ask themselves pertinent questions, such as how the desk will be used, when, and what activities will take place there.

Here are other factors to consider:
Style. Most designers recommend a style compatible with the home’s architecture. “The greatest opportunity for a successful look is for the space to be seamlessly integrated with the house rather than resemble an afterthought,” says Bob Hursthouse, a landscape architect. The style also should blend into the landscape.

Materials. More buyers seek materials that require little or no maintenance and can withstand inclement weather. In addition to perennial favorites such as brick, bluestone, and Western red cedar, materials that are gaining popularity today are recycled plastic composites; dense renewable tropical hardwoods such as vinyls that have the look and feeling of wood; and Trex, made from reclaimed wood and plastic.

Color can make a difference. Lighter materials reflect more sunlight and can be hotter. Stains can change the color and protect wood from moisture, mold, and algae growth.

Size. While shape and size should be proportional to the home, the deck or patio also needs to be large enough to accommodate all uses and users comfortably. Outdoor furniture is one-third larger than comparable indoor pieces. To accommodate multiple uses and add visual interest, more decks are built on several levels.

Placement. Where the deck or patio is situated should depend on views available.

Safety. Any deck or patio needs to meet local safety codes with the correct height of railings and spacing between and correct number of steps.

The extras. Among today’s favorites for decks and patios are fireplaces and pits, gourmet kitchens, sound systems, water features, high-end furnishings, storage, gazebos, colorful awnings, space heaters, and decorative and energy-efficient lighting.

Don’t Forget the Landscaping. An outdoor room is best accessorized with plants either permanent plantings or in seasonal containers.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Get Out There!

While it's pretty broadly known that most of the agents and brokers within Homewaters are passionate fly anglers, it's very difficult for us to find time on the stream. We spend so much time in the office and in the field with clients that fishing gets pushed aside more aften than we would like. Last week, however, I set aside work (sorry to those who received delayed responses to your inquiries!) and took some time on the river to recharge my batteries. It reminded me that, regardless of how much work is stacking up, you need to just get out there and take some time for yourself.
Among the experiences I would have missed out on are; A 6' 6" client stepping out of his AuSable Boat into a 6' 10" hole in the river and completely submerging himself in 55 degree river water. An Osprey flying right over our heads at tree level. A small brown trout with a chestnut eel attached to its flank. A couple of mink, a beaver, and a lot of changes in the river since last year due to the ice this winter. The first Sulphur of the season. A 20" + brown trout that has taken up residence right in the middle of the river in front of my cabin. He stays right in the open and taunts me with his ever present knowledge that an angler is attached to the other end of the the line that has just been cast in front of him. Most importantly, I spent some great time with my wife and kids along the river doing nothing but getting dirty and looking around for bugs.

I'll apologize in advance because I have a feeling that, for the rest of the season, I'll be taking one day each week to get out of work mode. If you get my voice mail, please do leave a message because I will be checking it and will get in touch if it's some immediate need. I suggest that anyone reading this think back to the last time you completely got away from the day to day grind. It's the best way I know to remind myself of what's truly important in the big scheme. Enjoy the rest of the spring. We hope to see you up north soon.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Home Inspections

Before you make your final buying or selling decision, you should have the home inspected by a professional. An inspection can alert you to potential problems with a property and allow you to make an informed decision.

What a Home Inspection Should Cover
Home inspections will vary depending on the type of property you are purchasing. A large historic home, for example, will require a more specialized inspection than a small condominium. However, the following are the basic elements that a home inspector will check. You can also use this list to help you evaluate properties you might purchase..

Structure: A home’s skeleton impacts how the property stands up to weather, gravity, and the earth. Structural components, including the foundation and the framing, should be inspected.

Exterior: The inspector should look at sidewalks, driveways, steps, windows, and doors. A home’s siding, trim, and surface drainage also are part of an exterior inspection.

Roofing: A well-maintained roof protects you from rain, snow, and other forces of nature. Take note of the roof’s age, conditions of flashing, roof draining systems (pooling water), buckled shingles, loose gutters and downspouts, skylight, and chimneys.

Plumbing: Thoroughly examine the water supply and drainage systems, water heating equipment, and fuel storage systems. Drainage pumps and sump pumps also fall under this category. Poor water pressure, banging pipes, rust spots, or corrosion can indicate problems.

Electrical: Safe electrical wiring is essential. Look for the condition of service entrance wires, service panels, breakers and fuses, and disconnects. Also take note of the number of outlets in each room.

Heating: The home’s heating system, vent system, flues, and chimneys should be inspected. Look for age of water heater, whether the size is adequate for the house, speed of recovery, and energy rating.

Air Conditioning: Your inspector should describe your home cooling system, its energy source, and inspect the central and through-wall cooling equipment. Consider the age and energy rating of the system.

Interiors: An inspection of the inside of the home can reveal plumbing leaks, insect damage, rot, construction defects, and other issues. An inspector should take a close look at walls, ceilings and floors, steps, stairways, and railings.

Ventilation/insulation: To prevent energy loss, check for adequate insulation and ventilation in the attic and in unfinished areas such as crawlspaces. Also look for proper, secured insulation in walls. Insulation should be appropriate for the climate. Excess moisture in the home can lead to mold and water damage.

Fireplaces: They’re charming, but they could be dangerous if not properly installed. Inspectors should examine the system, including the vent and flue, and describe solid fuel burning appliances.

10 Questions to Ask Home Inspectors
Ask these questions to prospective home inspectors:
1. Will your inspection meet recognized standards? Ask whether the inspection and the inspection report will meet all state requirements and comply with a well-recognized standard of practice and code of ethics.

2. Do you belong to a professional home inspector association? Insist on members of reputable, nonprofit trade organizations; request to see a membership ID.

3. How experienced are you? Ask how long inspectors have been in the profession and how many inspections they’ve completed. They should provide customer referrals on request.

4. How do you keep your expertise up to date? Inspectors’ commitment to continuing education is a good measure of their professionalism and service. Advanced knowledge is especially important in cases in which a home is older or includes unique elements requiring additional or updated training.

5. Do you focus on residential inspection? Make sure the inspector has training and experience in the unique discipline of home inspection, which is very different from inspecting commercial buildings or a construction site.

6. Will you offer to do repairs or improvements? Some state laws and trade associations allow the inspector to provide repair work on problems uncovered during the inspection. However, other states and associations forbid it as a conflict of interest.

7. How long will the inspection take? On average, an inspector working alone inspects a typical single-family house in two to three hours; anything significantly less may not be thorough.

8. What’s the cost? Costs can vary dramatically, depending on your region, the size and age of the house, and the scope of services. The national average for single-family homes is about $320, but customers with large homes can expect to pay more.

9. What type of inspection report do you provide? Ask to see samples to determine whether you will understand the inspector's reporting style. Also, most inspectors provide their full report within 24 hours of the inspection.

10. Will I be able to attend the inspection? The answer should be yes. A home inspection is a valuable educational opportunity for the buyer. An inspector's refusal to let the buyer attend should raise a red flag.