Real Estate

Did You Choose Your Title Agency?

When you bought your home, did you choose the title agency to handle the title transfer? More often than not, your realtor or sometimes the loan officer may suggest a company for you. You may wonder why does it even matter? It is against federal law for a service provider to insist that you must […]

When you bought your home, did you choose the title agency to handle the title transfer?

More often than not, your realtor or sometimes the loan officer may suggest a company for you. You may wonder why does it even matter? It is against federal law for a service provider to insist that you must use their title company. It is always the buyer’s choice. Here are some things to consider.

Pennsylvania is one of the few States where the title rate is all-inclusive. That means when you pay the premium it includes the cost of the search, title examination, escrowing the funds, conducting the settlement, issuing the title policies (lender’s policy and owner’s policy), and record the documents. In PA there are 17 title insurance companies that are members of TIRBOP. These title underwriters file their rates all the same with the PA Department of Insurance. The cost for the premium is based on the coverage amount. Title agents are licensed and are contracted with a title underwriter to issue their policies. Some agents are contracted with more than one underwriter.

If the cost of the premium is the same, then why does the cost differ between agencies?

Title agencies usually will have a menu of extra charges like bank/wire fees, notary fees, printing fees, tax certification fees, courier fees, settlement fee outside the office or after hours, and so on. Ask the agent for a title quote of all their fees.

Should I choose an independent agent or an affiliated company?

Many real estate offices have a title agency in their office. The broker may own or have an ownership interest in the agency. Some brokers even sell ownership shares to their agents. The hope is that the real estate agent will refer the consumer to the in-house company.  The real estate agent must disclose to the consumer any business affiliations with the title agency. An independent agent will probably get referrals through word of mouth, or by networking and marketing.

Should cost be the deciding factor when choosing a title agency?

The owner’s policy will ensure ownership as long as the owner or their heirs own the real estate. The hope is that you will never have to use the policy. The standard in the industry is to search the chain of title back 60 years. Some agents buy the search or production as it is called from the underwriter. Some underwriters may not go back as far when considering the cost of labor versus the cost of paying a claim. When you buy title insurance, you are also buying title assurance. Ask if the chain of title was examined back 60 years.

What is a title commitment?

The title commitment is the company’s promise to issue the title policy after settlement. It contains the same terms, conditions, and exclusions that will be in the actual insurance policy. It will show the parties to be insured, the vested owners, any liens, requirements, and exceptions. The lender will need this early in the transaction to do their part. It is best for you and your realtor to go over it with the title agent.

What other questions should I ask the title agent?

Do they have a presence in your area? Larger title agencies may service many states. Make sure they know the intricacies of the areas that they service. Do they have full-time employees to conduct the settlement or will they hire a notary to collect signatures? Are they able to handle last minute changes at the settlement table? Do they have the ability to reprint checks or even hand them out at settlement? An out of area agency may not be able to meet the challenges at the settlement table. Do an internet search on the title agency and make sure they have good customer reviews.

You have heard it many times, “buying a home is likely the largest purchase you will ever make.” You received recommendations for the best realtor. You shopped for the best lender. You did your research on where you want to live, and your offer on your dream home was accepted. Choosing a reputable title agent can be just as important. If you shop for title insurance, you can find the best value and save hundreds of dollars too. Remember, it is always the buyer’s choice.

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Proving the REALTOR® Value in the Digital Age

In a world ruled by technology and automation, today’s consumer is being turned into the “expert” on things like banking (there’s an app for that), healthcare (WebMD symptom checker, anyone?), and real estate (For Sale By Owner, FTW!). When it comes to real estate, though, nothing beats the human professional, and I wholeheartedly agree with […]

In a world ruled by technology and automation, today’s consumer is being turned into the “expert” on things like banking (there’s an app for that), healthcare (WebMD symptom checker, anyone?), and real estate (For Sale By Owner, FTW!).

When it comes to real estate, though, nothing beats the human professional, and I wholeheartedly agree with a recent statement by William E. Brown, 2017 President of the National Association of REALTORS®: “There’s a human element to buying and selling a home that can’t be replaced.”

But today’s sellers are being wined and dined by the likes of OpenDoor.com and OfferPad.com, which offer attractive online platforms that promise a quick, hassle-free, cash sale. Zillow recently joined this fray, introducing its “Instant Offers” platform in Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Orlando. The platform enables sellers to receive and compare cash offers from selected investors, as well as obtain a CMA from a Zillow Premier Agent.
In addition to catching sellers’ attention, these online investor sales may be exacerbating an already tight inventory situation. Instant Offers, for example, connects sellers with a small group of investors who are partnering with Zillow. Sellers who go that route are taking their home out of the inventory for the average buyer.

A lack of inventory has plagued the Lehigh Valley housing market over the last two years. In July, the most recent statistics available as I write this article, saw inventory levels shrink 39.5 percent to 2,321 units. Months Supply of Inventory dropped 42.4 percent to 3.4 months (a severe lean in favor of sellers). Most economists consider a balanced market to be a five- to six-month supply.

In addition, sellers who choose direct sales aren’t listing their property on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which could affect the reliability of MLS data. Not just real estate professionals but also economists and governments use that data to spot market trends, determine fair market values, and make plans.

I’m not here to tell sellers (or buyers) to not utilize online platforms for their real estate needs because it’s none of my business and illegal. While our REALTOR® members may be unhappy with technological advancements that drive consumers in a different direction, it is unlawful for associations to encourage or facilitate the withholding of listings or business from any company.

Instead, I choose to educate on the value of a REALTOR®. To the seller who is considering the option of a direct, cash sale, I want you to keep a few things in mind:

REALTORS® work in your market and know the community better than any website could.

REALTORS® will help you get your house ready for sale.

REALTORS® will market your home to the widest possible audience, not just investors seeking to make a profit on your home.

REALTORS® will aim to get you the best offer possible and have the skills to help you negotiate the terms of the sale.

REALTORS® follow a Code of Ethics that includes a pledge to “protect and promote the

interests of their client” (Article 1). These online companies may facilitate your transaction, but not necessarily with your interests in mind.

I understand the importance of an online presence, especially in real estate. According to the National Association of REALTORS®’ 2016 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 51 percent of home buyers found the home they purchased online.

Just remember that Online + REALTOR® = Best Case Scenario and Biggest Return.

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What Homebuyers are Waiting For…

Most homeowners are content with their purchase. In a recent Bank of America survey, 95 percent of current homeowners reported that they feel proud of owning their home. And it looks like there may be more happy owners in the future soon. Twenty-five percent of prospective buyers said they plan to purchase in the next […]

Most homeowners are content with their purchase.
In a recent Bank of America survey, 95 percent of current homeowners reported that they feel proud of owning their home.
And it looks like there may be more happy owners in the future soon. Twenty-five percent of prospective buyers said they plan to purchase in the next two years. The majority (61 percent) are delaying purchasing to pay off bills and debts, while 47 percent are striving to improve their credit score. Forty-five percent are saving for a new home, while 39 percent are saving for retirement. Nearly one-third are still paying off student loans, while 28 percent are saving for their child’s education. However, 35 percent of buyers have started saving for a down payment, and 75 percent said their savings would pay for their down payment. Most aspiring buyers are not sure how much they have to put down for a down payment. Thirty-one percent said 10 percent, while 29 percent said 20 percent, and 15 percent said more than 20 percent.
So, what leads prospective homebuyers to become home buyers? According to the majority (52 percent), it’s having the financial means. Forty percent are ready to have their own place, while 35 percent want a reliable job with steady income.
For those who do already own, across all generations, 36 percent believe their current home is a stepping stone to their dream home. To 68 percent of millennials, that’s their plan.
About one-third of owners said that their home’s value is determined by how much they spent to purchase it. Ninety-one percent reported that they treasure the memories made there.
Homeownership has a positive impact on their long-term financial picture, according to 79 percent of millennials surveyed. For first-time buyers across generations, 72 percent believe that is true. Eighty-six percent of millennials believe buying a home is more affordable than renting, compared to 54 percent of first-time homebuyers of all generations.
With that being said, According to the fourth annual housing survey from Neighbor Works, more adults are struggling with their student loans, making homeownership more of a dream than a reality.
In 2016, 30 percent of respondents said they know someone whose student loans were delaying them from purchasing a home, up from 28 percent in 2015, and 24 percent in 2014. More than half of respondents this year (53 percent) said their student loans are at least somewhat of an obstacle to purchasing a home, down from 57 percent last year, but an increase from 49 percent in 2014.
Affordability continues to be an issue, as only 45 percent of respondents said their community is affordable for first-time homebuyers, but 56 percent believe that rent prices are too costly for someone to save enough to purchase a home.
Additionally, more than half of respondents said that they believed home buying is complicated, down 3 percent from 70 percent last year.
However, the positive outlook on home ownership has been growing for minorities, which are the fastest-growing segment of homebuyers, according to the survey. This year, 14 percent of African Americans, along with 12 percent of Hispanics said that homeownership is the most important part of their “American Dream,” compared to only 9 percent of whites. Last year, 16 percent of African Americans, 10 percent of Hispanics and 8 percent of whites reported that homeownership was the most important part of the “American Dream.” However, 52 percent of minorities reported that rent in their area is too high to save for a home, once again, delaying them from purchasing.

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Tackling a Giant

An Interview with Borko Milosev Regarding Repositioning Real Estate “What were you thinking?”  I inquired half-jokingly when the conversation began.   The response I received was a boisterous laugh followed by, “we studied the building, put together the right team and determined if we did something different, we could make this work.” Developers across the country […]

An Interview with Borko Milosev Regarding Repositioning Real Estate

“What were you thinking?”  I inquired half-jokingly when the conversation began.   The response I received was a boisterous laugh followed by, “we studied the building, put together the right team and determined if we did something different, we could make this work.”

Developers across the country are seeing the value in repositioning properties, and the same holds true in the Lehigh Valley. Whether it is updating an old building, redeveloping a brownfield or adaptive reuse (i.e. changing building’s purpose), the repositioning of an existing building is a popular, socially responsible approach.

As an avid mountain climber, including a recent summit climb of Mount Rainer, and one who enjoys swimming with sharks in Honduras, local developer Borko Milosev is no stranger to great adventures and taking risks. In the real estate game, his risks have included purchasing underperforming and poor conditioned properties since 2003.  “I was in college when I bought my first investment property, a single family house.  It was in horrible condition. It brought my mother to tears when I sent her a picture of a falling ceiling captioned ‘Mom, I bought my first house!’ I did not have a construction background.  I learned how to do repairs from a Home Depot Home Improvement 1-2-3 book.”

For Borko, the idea of purchasing real estate came from a mentor who often spoke of real estate investments and recommended the book Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert T. Kiyosaki.  Borko’s means for purchasing the property is one that developed from a bit of good luck.  He reminisced, “With about $300 in my bank account, I received a letter from my bank alerting me to a bank merger and initial public offering. I took the letter to my finance professor and asked her what I should do.  She advised me to buy as much stock as possible.  I was able to borrow $10,000, purchased the stock and, after paying everyone back, I had $7,000 profit.”  This served as his deposit monies, closing costs, and construction funds.

After college, Borko began working in New York City for a large financial group, but could not shake the ‘real estate bug.’  In the years that followed he purchased additional distressed or underperforming properties.  In 2015, he and a business partner decided to take a chance on the ten story, a 100,000-square-foot darkening tower located at 65 E. Elizabeth Avenue in Bethlehem.  The vacancy rate of the building at the time of purchase was 60%.  Outdated mechanical systems, lack of amenities, and inefficient layouts and finishes were part of the problem for the struggling building.

With an attorney, a lender, a broker, an architect, an interior designer, and construction team in place, the partnership began to reimagine the sad giant of a building into what is now known as The Pinnacle @ 65.  The once drab and dark building is now buzzing with activity, and commercial vacancy is down to 5%. The first four floors are occupied by an array of commercial tenants including medical, media, and service oriented business. Santander Bank and a soon-to-be-completed restaurant occupy the entire first floor.  The upper floors house 48 luxury homes which consist of 1-, 2- and 2-bedrooms plus a den units available for lease in July of 2017.  The oversized apartments are equipped with high-end finishes, wine coolers, nest thermostats, washers and dryers, double ovens and cooktops.

The building’s amenities are designed for tenants who enjoy the “live, work, play” lifestyle.  They include a health facility staffed with a fitness instructor and a nutritionist, a Package Concierge System, electronic lockers, storage lockers, and bike racks. There is a quiet room, conference room, game room, and a lunch room.  The building also features onsite management. “We focused our design to increase tenant retention.  Based upon current market trends, it is anticipated that the majority of occupants will be empty nesters and millennials,” said Borko.

For those looking to reposition real estate, Borko suggests a hands-on approach, a detailed study of the financials, and an assemblage of hardworking, trustworthy team members to raise the bar and lessen the risk.

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The Economic Bridge from Our Past to the Future

It’s often hard to get perspective when you are close to something. Those of us living in the Lehigh Valley during the last five years realize that something is going on here. We are changing, getting bigger, more cosmopolitan and diverse. The annual Site Selection Governor’s Cup ranking provides some perspective on that growth. The […]

It’s often hard to get perspective when you are close to something.

Those of us living in the Lehigh Valley during the last five years realize that something is going on here. We are changing, getting bigger, more cosmopolitan and diverse.

The annual Site Selection Governor’s Cup ranking provides some perspective on that growth. The Lehigh Valley was the fifth leading metropolitan area in 2016 for growth and development in the Northeastern United States. The only metros with more growth were New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Boston, in that order.

What makes this even more significant is that Site Selection is the premier magazine for the economic development and location consultant crowd. Its annual ranking is based exclusively on objective criteria such as the number of new projects, the amount of investment and number of jobs created, not on subjective observations.

This is not your grandfather’s Lehigh Valley.

The annual economic output of the two-county region has hit $37 billion in GDP, that’s more than the entire state of Vermont and 97 countries in the world. Job creation of 5.5 percent in the Lehigh Valley since the Great Recession of 2008 outranked every other region in Pennsylvania. The next highest was the Lancaster region with 4.5 percent job growth.

Most importantly, the growth has been broad-based and balanced. The Lehigh Valley is not just a one or two industry economy. All of our eggs are no longer in a single basket.
GDP in the Lehigh Valley is very balanced in four economic sectors with manufacturing at the top generating $5.6 billion in economic output. Not far behind is the financial and real estate sector with $5 billion of GDP, followed by education and health care with $5 billion and professional and business services with $4.9 billion.

Health care still leads the way in the number of jobs with about 55,000. The growth of e-commerce drives the industrial economy, and the Lehigh Valley’s location in the middle of the Northeast with 40 percent of American consumers within an 8-hour truck drive, is the fastest growing sector.

Since 2014, 10 million square feet of industrial space has been added in the Lehigh Valley, leading to the region being deemed a new Inland Empire of the Northeastern U.S. There is another 6.1 million square feet of industrial space under development.

Not all of the industrial space is for e-commerce and warehouse centers. Manufacturing is a big part of the industrial market. There are more than 680 manufacturers in the Lehigh Valley employing about 32,000 workers. The products produced here cover a wide range of goods from medical devices to food and beverage to traditional heavier manufacturing like cement, Mack Trucks, and metals.

As the industrial base and manufacturing have grown, contrary to what is taking place across many areas of the U.S., there has been a rebirth and resurgence in the Lehigh Valley’s three cities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. Riding a groundbreaking state economic incentive, which created a 130-acre Neighborhood Improvement Zone in the downtown and on the Lehigh River waterfront, Allentown has seen more than a $1 billion in new office, residential and downtown development, including the 10,000-seat PPL Center arena.

City Center Development has led the way in developing a new skyline and luring major companies and institutions back to the downtown of the state’s third-largest city, along with building new apartments for Millennial workers and Baby Boomer retirees.

Easton has taken full advantage of its river town vibe developing a wide variety of restaurants, shops, and nightlife to go with the Crayola Experience and State Theater. Bethlehem has continued its urban growth on both sides of the river as the former lands of Bethlehem Steel Corp., which stretch for 1,800 acres on the South Side of the city, have become a nearly fully redeveloped industrial and commercial job center. New apartments and townhouses, along with an office complex, are being added to the core of the South Side neighborhood near the Greenway walking path. Lehigh University and St. Luke’s Hospital will be the lead tenants in the new 127,000 square foot Greenway Park office building, anchored by a new municipal parking garage.

No matter where you look in the Lehigh Valley the landscape is changing, and jobs are being created, and the rest of the world has begun to take notice.

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Searching for Your Dream Home?

 Make Sure You’re Prepared It’s home buying season! While interest rates have risen slightly, they continue to remain low which has fueled buyers to look for homes. Currently, we are seeing the demand for homes listed for sale exceeding supply, so it is important you are properly prepared to start the home buying process. Most […]

 Make Sure You’re Prepared

It’s home buying season! While interest rates have risen slightly, they continue to remain low which has fueled buyers to look for homes. Currently, we are seeing the demand for homes listed for sale exceeding supply, so it is important you are properly prepared to start the home buying process.

Most often buyers look for a home before contacting a lender to be pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage; however, it is important to know how much of a home you can afford to buy before you begin the search. Buyers need to realize how much money will be needed for a down payment and closing costs as this impacts the amount for which you will be approved. Many times, people qualify for a higher price home based on income, but do not have the adequate funds for down payment and closing costs and realize too late that their “dream home” is, in fact, out of reach.

Unless you can make an all-cash purchase, it is important to be pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage before you begin to look for a home. This will show you are a qualified buyer and allow your realtor to offer a copy of the pre-qualification or pre-approval letter to the sellers.

What is the difference between Pre-Qualification and Pre- Approval?

For a pre-qualification, a tri-merged credit report is pulled which is a credit report from all three credit bureaus consolidated into one. Most often the information needed is obtained in a phone call between the borrowers and the mortgage consultant. Based on this verbal conversation, the consultant can work the numbers and issue a pre-qualification. This is done without seeing documentation proving the borrowers’ income and assets. Instead, the pre-qualification is provided based on the information provided, which will be verified when you apply for the mortgage. In most cases, a pre-qualification can be done quickly, usually within hours.

For a pre-approval, there are additional steps taken. Like is done for a pre-qualification, borrower information is obtained, and a credit report is pulled. In addition, all supporting documentation is collected such as recent pay stubs, W-2’s, tax returns, bank statements, driver’s licenses, etc. These are processed and underwritten which provides the seller and realtors with confidence the pre-approval is accurate, and it is likely the sale will go through.

Another benefit of getting pre-qualified or pre-approved is that you will know what your monthly payment will be. To calculate the amount of your pre-qualification or pre-approval your total housing debt needs to be determined. This includes estimates for annual property taxes, homeowners’ insurance, and mortgage insurance. These expenses are then added to the anticipated monthly principal and interest mortgage payment to determine your total monthly cost. Knowing this figure can help you determine what will work for your budget. You can then shop for homes in the price range with which you are comfortable.

One thing to keep in mind is that property taxes can vary greatly depending on the county, city, borough or township and school district in which the property is located. When looking at homes always ask your realtor how much the taxes are on each property even if you are looking at homes in a similar price range all located in the same general area. Borough and township lines as well as school districts often divide neighborhoods and can impact taxes for similarly priced homes just a street or two apart.

Purchasing a home is likely one of the largest purchases you will ever make. While it can sometimes feel like an overwhelming process, working with the right mortgage consultant can help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety. Do not hesitate to ask questions, and then more questions, until you fully understand the details of mortgage for which you are applying. Your mortgage consultant should explain the process and be happy to answer questions. If you are ready to begin your home search, please contact me at 484-347-2586.

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GLVR Annual Report

With the release of a new Annual Report on the local housing market, the Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS® (GLVR) has continued its reign as the premier source of real estate information in the Lehigh Valley and its surrounding communities. The Annual Report offers a snapshot of eye-opening information that spans a five-year period. The information […]

With the release of a new Annual Report on the local housing market, the Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS® (GLVR) has continued its reign as the premier source of real estate information in the Lehigh Valley and its surrounding communities.

The Annual Report offers a snapshot of eye-opening information that spans a five-year period. The information that follows is an overall look at the 2016 housing market, in addition to our predictions for 2017.

2016: A Measured Success

After several years of housing market improvement, 2016, as predicted, was not a pronounced triumph but more of a measured success. Markets took a steady and mostly profitable walk from month to month. Even as supply was short and shrinking, sales and prices were often increasing.

In 2016, we saw pending sales increase 6.5 percent to 7,996 to close out the year. Closed sales increased 7.2 percent to 7,876 in 2016. Inventory was lower in year-over-year comparisons. There were 2,025 active listings at the end of 2016. New listings decreased by 8.7 percent to finish the year at 11,400.

Home prices rose compared to last year, and sellers received 97.2 percent of their original list price received at sale, a year-over-year increase of 0.6 percent. The overall median sales price was up 2.9 percent to $178,000 for the year. When inventory is low, and demand is high, prices will rise. Prices should increase in most areas in 2017 but at a slower growth rate. Single Family homes were up 4.1 percent compared to last year, and Townhouse-Condo homes were up 1.8 percent. We will likely need years of improved wage growth to account for recent price gains.

Inventory Woes with a Touch of New Construction

Low home supply is expected to continue throughout 2017. While new construction is being seen throughout the Lehigh Valley, the properties are still being built, and the majority aren’t yet ready for sale. We don’t expect to see the benefits of this new construction, which is still lagging behind as a whole, until future years.

Interest Rates and You

Interest rates were expected to rise throughout 2016, but they did not. Just as happened in 2015, the Federal Reserve waited until December 2016 to make a short-term rate increase. Incremental rate hikes are again expected in 2017.

Mortgage rates, meanwhile, are not expected to grow by more than .75 percent throughout 2017, which should keep them below 5.0 percent. If they rise above that mark, we could see rate lock, and that could cause homeowners to stay put at locked-in rates instead of trading up for higher-rate properties. Such a situation would put a damper on an already strained inventory environment.

Who’s Buying? Some Millennials, Many Boomers

Millennials continue to command attention as the next wave of home buyers, yet the rate at which this massive population is entering the market has been less than stellar. This may be due to a cultural change away from settling into marriage and parenthood until later in life, high student loan debt, or even reservations about a home being a wise investment in the wake of what the last recession did to their elders. That said, some have suggested that this group is simply willing to wait longer to buy, thus skipping the entry-level purchase altogether to land in their preferred home.

At the other end of the age and price spectrum, baby boomers are expected to make up nearly one-third of all buyers in 2017.

By and large, this group is not looking to invest in oversized homes, yet we could see improvement in higher price ranges as a hedge against inflation and risk. Shifting wealth away from the stock market into valuable homes may be seen as a safer bet during a transition of power and a period of pronounced change.

What to Expect in 2017

With an economy that shows unemployment at a nine-year low coupled with higher wages, there is confidence as we head into the summer. This is evident with increased open house traffic and multiple bid situations that Realtors® are reporting throughout the Lehigh Valley. Our only hope is that inventory doesn’t dip too low for our selective buyers.

About the Data:

The new Annual Report provides thorough data on the 2016 real estate market in Lehigh and Northampton counties. A school district review for Carbon County is also reported. The research is collected from the Greater Lehigh Valley REALTORS® Multiple Listing Service (MLS), which is utilized by more than 2,500 REALTORS® and Appraisers.

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Emotional-intelligence

Emotional Intelligence Puts Money in Seller’s Pockets

I often hear sellers say that they didn’t replace the flooring because they don’t know what buyers will like.  They don’t want to install carpet, and then someone doesn’t like the color or replaces soon after with hardwood.  Although I understand the hesitancy to spend the money, it demonstrates how most people don’t understand the […]

I often hear sellers say that they didn’t replace the flooring because they don’t know what buyers will like.  They don’t want to install carpet, and then someone doesn’t like the color or replaces soon after with hardwood.  Although I understand the hesitancy to spend the money, it demonstrates how most people don’t understand the buying process.

Sellers focus on the potential of their home and why it’s worth the money, but buyers focus on the present.  They see with more than their eyes.  They use their sense of smell, listen to the neighborhood, and look at the home with a critical eye.  For most, it’s easier to focus on what’s wrong with the home, and that limits the potential they might see.

The bottom line is that it’s an emotional purchase.  They are either feeling the home, or they are not.  Immediately upon pulling up to the home, they assess its curb appeal.  Upon entry, the odors make an impact. Then, if there are obvious updates or improvements needed, the buyers are noting them one by one.  At some point, many begin to hit their limit and tell themselves, “This home needs too much work,” and they move on to the next house.  They rarely come back!

Sellers have to take into consideration that today’s buyer is different than in years past.  When the housing market collapsed in 2008, there were a number of homeowners that had not experienced such a dramatic downturn in the economy.  They hadn’t been saving much and, when they either needed or simply wanted something, credit was an easy solution to satisfying their desires immediately by paying over time.  As a result, many people had significant debt and minimal savings.  Another factor was that, in many cases, homeowners who made a home purchase in the past five years or so had paid top dollar due to the steady demand driving up home prices.  They weren’t prepared for the series of unfortunate events that unfolded soon after.

Fast forward about five years and a number of things have changed people’s mindset.  The Millennials graduated college but couldn’t find jobs, so they moved in with their parents.  The 30-40-year-olds had ridden out the mortgage crisis, and some lost their homes, which also meant their credit tanked. For those that hadn’t over-extended themselves financially, they rode out the storm, started saving, and become increasingly conservative. On the other end of the spectrum, the Baby Boomers started downsizing if they could afford to sell and many began thinking about retirement communities.

So, when the economy started to improve in 2014, the middle-aged homeowners didn’t want to make a move at all.  They were scared and unsure of the future.  This left a gap in listings. Normally, this age group would sell their modest family home and move up to a larger place.  Meanwhile, Millenials finally got their first job and desperately wanted to move out of the parent’s home, but had minimal savings.  That means they had no money to improve a home after the purchase.  Time is also a factor because they are nervous about getting their career started and lack experience doing any sort of home improvement.  Lastly, the Baby Boomers that hadn’t already downsized are now looking to simplify life.  They’ve already done a fixer upper in the past and don’t want to do it again.
The end result is that today’s buyer doesn’t want to take on a project.  They don’t have the money or time to devote to a remodel.  Most are using up their savings just to purchase the home and don’t have the money to improve it afterward.  Others lost their equity in the recession and were lucky to break even on the sale of their current home.  Move-In Ready is their preference.

In addition to addressing defects prior to marketing a home, sellers need to consider presentation.  Staging a home to sell, means presenting it in the very best way possible. By updating the color schemes, it can make a home feel newer. Arranging the furniture to accommodate the flow of people moving through the home during showings makes a home feel larger.  As well as adding personal touches can make a home feel warmer. Essentially, it involves changing a home from living condition to showing condition.

My team includes a Professional Stager that understands what buyers want and how they view a home emotionally. Sometimes, only a consultation is required to share tips and provide guidance on what they need to do prior to entering the market. Other times, the home just needs some added décor to create a homey feel.  Still other times, the home needs to have furniture removed and the rooms de-cluttered.

We work with an investor that flips homes, who tried staging his homes with full living room, dining room, and master bedroom sets.  He even goes as far as adding blinds, curtains, and artwork.  Since he started staging his homes, they’ve been selling in weeks or even days.  In fact, one home that he had on the market for months was removed and staged.  It sold within 2 weeks after we put it back on the market.  So it works!

Whether you hire a professional stager or utilize staging tips from watching those home improvement shows, sellers need to spend money to make money.  Of course, you’ll want to get a professional opinion on what improvements will provide the best return on investment, but selling “as is” will surely cost you money in the end.

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community

Beyond the Transaction: Realtors® helping to build strong communities

What does the word Realtor® mean to you? One could argue that traditionally, Realtors® have been seen simply as part of the real estate transaction, but beyond that, there was really no love lost. An out of sight, out of mind kind of philosophy, if you will. The Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors® (GLVR) and its […]

What does the word Realtor® mean to you? One could argue that traditionally, Realtors® have been seen simply as part of the real estate transaction, but beyond that, there was really no love lost. An out of sight, out of mind kind of philosophy, if you will.

The Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors® (GLVR) and its members are aiming to change that image of yesterday’s Realtor®. As GLVR’s CEO, Justin Porembo, always says, “We’re not just here for the transaction, we’re here to help build the community. We soon hope the word ‘community’ comes to mind when you think of our Realtor® members.”

To that end, GLVR is excited to announce the creation of its Quarterly Community Events Program, which will take place in concert with charitable organizations throughout the Greater Lehigh Valley. The events are a joint effort between GLVR’s Young Professional Network, Diversity Committee, and Affiliate Committee.

The Quarterly Community Events Program came to fruition after a successful Halloween-themed scavenger hunt in October 2016 that raised money and supplies for the Third Street Alliance for Women and Children in Easton.

“After the event, many members contacted us and expressed interest in helping with future community-based events,” said Tammy Lerner, GLVR’s Sales Director. “They saw the impact that just one tiny event could have, and they wanted to continue that positive community impact, in whatever form that may be.”

For the first quarter of 2017, a blood drive was held in partnership with Miller Keystone Blood Bank. Future community outreach events will include:

  • Cleaning up parks in Carbon, Lehigh, and Northampton counties.
  • A Team walk, for the March of Dimes.
  • Game day with the Boys and Girls Club of Bethlehem.
  • A Summer art opening at the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center of Allentown.
  • A Halloween party in partnership with Autism Speaks.
  •  A food drive for the Second Harvest Food Bank.

“The Greater Lehigh Valley Realtors® is proud to have several committee and task force members step up and take part in multiple community outreach events this year,” said Matthew Marks, GLVR’s Government Affairs Director and liaison to the YPN group and Diversity Committee. “Realtors® serve their clients and assist them in obtaining the American dream of home ownership and becoming part of a community, so it is only natural for our members to continue engaging with families and organizations throughout GLVR’s footprint.”

Charities interested in learning how to partner with GLVR can e-mail Tammy Lerner, Sales Director, at Tammy@GLVR.org.

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Open-the-Door

Opening the Door

Off the coast of the Peloponnese in southern Greece, a small island mourns.  It has lost one of its favorite sons who, while adopted, loved the island as much as it loved him.  And so this November 2016, Hydra Island mourns the great Leonard Cohen. It was my great pleasure and honor to have represented […]

Off the coast of the Peloponnese in southern Greece, a small island mourns.  It has lost one of its favorite sons who, while adopted, loved the island as much as it loved him.  And so this November 2016, Hydra Island mourns the great Leonard Cohen.

It was my great pleasure and honor to have represented Leonard Cohen and his family for several years with regard to legal matters in Greece, including his beloved house on Hydra Island.  Even now, after his death, “Cohenites” from around the world plan their annual weekend gathering on the island to celebrate his music and writings. Mr. Cohen’s enduring love for his house in Hydra Greece led me to reflect on my experience in owning a summer home in Greece.

I am fortunate to have a small home in the southern Peloponnese, nestled in olive groves and overlooking the blue Aegean. In front of my balcony is the crystal blue sea Odysseus sailed on and behind me the orange grove covered plain of Sparta. I hesitated to buy it until a good friend asked me,” What price do you put on the memories you will make with your family there?”  Also, I was moved by author Frances Mayes, after reading her book Under the Tuscan Sun, about her buying an old villa in Tuscany, in which she stressed the value of being in a place where you “walk out of your footprint.”  I have met Frances Mayes, and she gushed about how much she loved the Peloponnese region of Greece.   For Leonard Cohen, his home in Hydra Greece (off the coast of the Peloponnese), was the driving force of his creativity and inspiration.  For me, a lesser mortal, the house in Greece regenerates and revives my spirit so that I am psychically able to continue to practice law – often an extremely toxic occupation.  It is the medicine of the highest order.  Sometimes in life, we need to dare to open a new door.  Cohen valued his Greek house due to its essential “otherness” – and so do I.

And so, in 1960, Leonard Cohen was struggling to write novels, books, poems and lyrics. Exhausted, drained and desperate for inspiration, he found himself wandering the gray and rainy streets of London.  He saw the door of a branch office of the Bank of Greece and decided to go inside. Seeing the tanned clerks, he asked about the weather in Greece.  He had never been to Greece.  Upon hearing what the weather was like, he left for Greece two days later.

After arriving in the port city of Pireaus, he took a ferry to Hydra, a beautiful Greek island in the Saronic group of islands, which even today bans motor cars and motorcycles.  He discovered many artists in Hydra, including American, British and Australian writers and poets.  He spotted a house on a hill overlooking the Port of Hydra.  It was an old, traditional sea captain’s house built in the 1800’s.  With $1,500 in inheritance money from his grandmother, Cohen purchased the house.  Cohen often said that this purchase in 1960 was the best decision he ever made.  As his lawyer, more than half a century later, I can attest to that fact from a financial investment viewpoint.  However, Cohen, I know, was not reflecting on the financial return of his Hydra home.  He was reflecting on the priceless gift of sunlight, inspiration, and renewal.

It is not the easiest thing to purchase a house in a foreign country.  Even for me, a lawyer also licensed in Greece, there was red tape and tribulations.  Additionally, accessibility can be an issue for some homes overseas, although the world is getting smaller every year.

There may be currency fluctuations against the Dollar or the real estate values may plummet (as they have in Greece due to the crisis). In addition to the legal and building permit and zoning bureaucracy and uncertainty, local contractors and workers may not respect contracts or quotes leading to protracted litigation that can last for years. In Greece for example, there is no title insurance and a legal title dispute can take ten years in the courts. “Caveat emptor” is the rule and I will say, in a self-serving fashion, local trusted legal counsel is a must. On the other hand, local real estate taxes(if any)often are a fraction of the taxes on a summer home, say, in Florida or the New Jersey shore.

And so Leonard Cohen became at home with the rhythm of the small Greek island, its coffee houses, the markets, the fishing boats and the donkeys carting vegetables and fruits for sale. Ever present in Hydra in the 50’s and 60’s was a bohemian and diverse assemblage of actors, poets, musicians and painters including Sophia Loren, Alan Ladd, Melina Mercouri, Tony Perkins, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Joan Collins, Richard Burton and Michael Cacoyianis (of Zorba fame). Cohen immersed himself in the creative process on his sun- filled terrace overlooking the sea, finding his creative fuel and drive. He fell in love with his muse in Hydra and often said that the livable pace and tranquility of the island “made cities less frightening”. One day he was upset to see telephone poles and wires outside his window. He was distraught at this encroachment of civilization until he saw that birds came to the wires. This scene inspired him to write “Bird on the Wire.”  “Like a bird on the wire …I have tried in my way to be free”.

This Summer I will visit Hydra and like hundreds of others lay a wreath at the door of Leonard’s house. It is now owned by his also talented son Adam and his daughter Lorca. What is the value of owning a home in a foreign land?  The place itself can become the poetry of your life.  In return for the headaches, you may find your soul. In the end, few have said it better than Leonard Cohen in “Hallelujah”:

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.

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