Blog :: 2013

Bringing Fall Into Your Home

With over half of all homeowners planning to make some type of improvement to their home this year, the question is, what exactly are they changing? Homeowners are choosing to wait until the high temperatures break and cooler weather hits to begin outdoor work, and home improvement companies are looking to unload new products to prepare for the new season, allowing homeowners to grab some great deals as autumn begins.

The most common fall home improvement projects include fencing, interior and exterior painting, window work, flooring, and roof repair, all of which are in preparation for the cold winter weather when home improvement projects are not at the top of your priority list. By getting these projects done before winter, you can put your home improvement projects to rest until spring without worrying about leaky roofs, cold air coming through cracks in the windows, and maintaining the value of your home with fencing and a fresh coat of paint.

"The cooler autumn temperatures make for the perfect time to focus more on the home and any remodeling projects," says Jeremy Floyd of Fence Center. "Such projects like adding in bamboo or aluminum fencing, not only increases your family's security, but the value of your home. Now that autumn is officially here, people are likely beginning to get these home improvement projects rolling."

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When the weather begins to turn cold, take cues from fall to warm up your world. Think about the decorating styles that appeal to you and use the following tips for guidance:

Look to Elemental Colors: Air, Earth, Fire and Water; nature inspires the most beautiful colors. Colors reflecting air will make your home breathe. Earth inspired colors will ground and calm a room. Colors pulling from water inspire playful fun, and lastly those reflecting fire will say bold confidence.

Take Natures Cues: As the air turns cool, nature gives us clues as to which colors make your home feel warm and cozy in the fall. Look around at the fall foliage and you'll see vibrant golds, rich reds, deep chocolate browns and toasty oranges. These colors inspire life and energy as the days get darker and cooler. Look for ways to incorporate these colors and scenes into your room decor. National Geographic Wallpaper or wall murals can help create this inviting nature setting.

Go Natural: With the increasing focus on the environment, there are abundant products available today that reflect and are good for nature. These products often incorporate earthy colors and textures; a perfect theme for fall. Choose eco-friendly shades which are PVC-free and 100 percent recyclable.

'Tis the Season: Carve out a tall pumpkin and use it as a flower vase or use small pumpkins for candles. A throw pillow, bowl of fresh citrus fruit or a bouquet of cut flowers are inexpensive ways to provide some color pop while welcoming your guests with the feel of nature.

Come Together: Gather around the fireplace. Rearrange your furniture to set your fireplace, instead of the TV, as the focal point of the room. Footstools, ottomans, and floor pillows by the fire create an inviting, warm atmosphere that will get you through the harshest days of winter. If you don't want the hassle of starting and maintaining a fire, try placing tall white candles in the fireplace for a similar glow.

Go Vibrant: Add a few splashes of vibrant color. They enrich any look and keep you from feeling drab. Deep colors also inspire confidence. Use an area rug to add warmth and personality to any room.

Go Circular: Designing a wreath is one of the easiest DIY projects you could hope for. And this time of year there is an abundance of colorful items to choose from at your local craft store or around your home. Get the kids involved and make it a family project.

Prepare for Winter: Now is the time to prep your home. There are several easy steps you can take. Consider insulating cellular shades or lined window treatments such as thermal curtains or foam-backed draperies for older, drafty windows. Insulate your water heater with insulation wrap. Seal leaks and drafts with caulk or weather strips. Clean your furnace and change your air filter. And lastly, but certainly not least, install a programmable thermostat. This allows you to conserve energy during the day while you're at work and at night while you sleep, but still come home or wake up to a warm, cozy home.

A fun fall project: Create an indoor play area

John Powell (powellrenovations.com) at Powell Custom Homes and Renovations of Des Moines, Washington provides these tips:

Choose a theme - Plan the entire room around a single thematic element based on a child's favorite subject, game or character. Or use the theme to create variety, such as a "story time" theme with your child's favorite storybook characters incorporated into the decor. A themed, "special" room will give your child more incentive to spend time there, and will even help him or her to keep it clean.

Go crazy with colors - Neon paint colors are just fine here; don't worry about matching or clashing.  Think about the fantasy worlds your children are seeing on television - the more outlandish, the more tempting the space will be for them.

Think small - Kids love spaces that are sized for them. Plan the space for smaller people, but think ahead so your kids don't outgrow the space within the year.

Kids play rough - No matter how bomb proof you make the space, someone is bound to knock his head against the side of any piece of furniture or anything built into the space. Try to find things with rounded edges. If you buy a piece of furniture with hard corners, ask your contractor to sand it down.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

Feature image: thetutorializer.com

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The Ups and Downs of Interest Rates

We all know interest rates go up and down. But do we know why or how that affects each of us on a personal level?

In the last 12 months we have seen interest rates as low as 3.375% on a 30-year fixed mortgage and as high as 5.00% on the same loan. Currently (9/30/13) the interest rates are sitting around 4.50%.  What has caused the large shifts in rate?

Mortgage interest rates typically inversely follow bonds, specifically the 10 year T-bill.  As the cost of the 10 year T-bill goes up and the yield on return goes down, so do interest rates.  As the price of the 10 year T-bill goes down and yields go up, interest rates typically go up.  Over the last few years you may have heard the term QE (quantitative easing).  This is an economic stimulant program from the Federal Reserve (The Fed) with which they have been putting "cash" into the market by buying assets such as mortgage back securities (MBS).  By purchasing mortgage back securities The Fed has been able to artificially drive down the mortgage interest rates.  The private investor purchasing MBS is looking for a higher return, while the Fed is more concerned with driving the economy as a whole, not padding their pocket.

As the economy struggled, the Fed continued to purchase assets, thus we had QE 2 and QE 3.  The Fed has been buying billions of dollars of MBS per month, continuing to drive the interest rates down.  As the economy has slowly improved, the Fed has threatened to slow or stop completely their asset purchasing program.  In August, there was discussion that the Fed would begin pulling back as early as the 4th quarter.   Interest rates jumped up to most recent highs of 5.00%.   In September they reevaluated the economy, jobs and the GNP to realize they may have overestimated the economic growth.  At which point, the Fed announced that they did not plan to stop or slow their asset purchasing program and rates began to drop again to our current rate of 4.50%.

How does this affect you, the home buyer?

Here is a quick example: On a $200,000 loan at 4.50% you will pay $1,013.37 / month for principal and interest. At an interest rate of 5.00% you will pay $1,135.58 / month for that same $200,000.  That is an increase of almost 11%. To look at this differently, at a 5.50% interest rate, if you borrowed 10% less or $180,000 you would have a monthly principal and interest payment of $1,022.02.  With a 1 percent increase in rate you have reduced you borrowing power by approximately 10%. As the price of houses go up and interest rates go up you have reduced your buying power by over 10%.  My suggestion, get out there and buy now while your purchasing power is still really strong.

Article written for NELR by Jeff Teplitz, Mortgage Loan Officer, EverBank - Dedicated to helping clients throughout the mortgage process, with over 8 years of mortgage experience and a thorough knowledge of the Vermont and Northern New England markets.

Featured image: homesolid.com

 

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Vermont Life Magazine Youth Exodus? Vermont Life Magazine

Vermont Life Magazine Youth Exodus? » Vermont Life Magazine.

For a long time the myth has been that young people are leaving the state, leading to economic, social, and cultural downfalls. Recently, Vermont Life Magazine has painted a different scene and with ample research found that, "Universally, the young people we spoke to said they prize Vermont's intimate scale and interconnectedness, its natural beauty and easy access to the outdoors, its down-to-earth priorities and its indefinable vibe. Vermont has a bright future. Vermont is also admired. People want to live here, and with the Web and telecommuting, more and more of them can." They do point out that indeed many young people are leaving, but they are also returning to the state with the wealth and knowledge gained from travel and life experience. They said, "The youth-flight narrative, with its aversion to nuance and context, overlooks the flow of people who return in mid career."

If more young people are going to stay in the state, they need to be able to thrive in their career and find a home to match their lifestyle. Vermont Life Magazine looked at the case of Dealer.com, "everybody's idea of what Vermont needs to stop young people from leaving the state." Dealer.com is, "a fast-growing business that provides digital marketing systems for the automotive industry, in a setting, with about 750 other employees, that has all the toys and perks of Silicon Valley culture: brightly colored warrens of open cubicles, organic café with espresso, on-site gym, rooftop solarium with putting green and a renovated building that, it almost goes without saying, is a model of green design." Sean Hurley, director of advertising and social products for Dealer.com said that, "It's a mistake for anyone to think that there aren't real businesses here making real money." In fact there are many examples of thriving local business in Vermont in order to keep young people in the state engaged and challenged within their careers. Luckily, there are also many opportunities to help first-time home buyers settle in the state.

With all of these opportunities at an arm's-length away, what young person wouldn't want to make a home in Vermont?

Please contact us for more information on buying a home in Vermont or consult the following information meant to educate first-time home buyers.

Further information for first-time home buyers:

"First-timers now represent nearly 30 percent of all existing home purchasers," said Ray Brousseau, executive vice president of a nationwide lender. "That's a big percentage, but it could be a lot higher because there are many ways first-time purchasers can finance with little down and little hassle."

The big barrier for many first-time buyers is cash. It takes cash for a down payment, and it takes cash to close. Lenders are generally looking for buyers with 20 percent down, but given that the typical home sells for more than $200,000, there are a lot of first-time homebuyers who have not accumulated the $40,000 or more that lenders prefer. The good news: There are many ways around the 20 percent requirement with traditional loan options. "It doesn't take a lot of up-front cash to buy a home today," said Brousseau. "FHA and conventional financing are all available with little down, while VA borrowers can qualify for mortgages that require no down payment." The way such programs work is that they substitute insurance for the 20 percent down that lenders would otherwise want.

Mortgage Assistance Plans

According to DownPaymentResource.com, there are more than 1,500 assistance plans administered by more than 1,000 agencies nationwide for would-be buyers, many aimed specifically at first-time purchasers. In looking at these programs it's important to understand what the term "first-time buyer" means. It typically does not mean someone who has never owned a home; instead the usual definition for program qualification purposes is someone who has not had title to a home during the past three years. This definition is important because it provides a way for people to re-enter the housing marketplace.

"Another important point about mortgage assistance programs is that many are specifically designed to encourage local home purchases by public-sector employees such as teachers, police, firefighters, nurses, and corrections workers," said Brousseau. "There are millions of people who qualify for such assistance."

The benefits available through mortgage assistance plans vary. For instance, borrowers may be able to get financing at below-market interest rates. Down payment grants may be available, essentially meaning that little or nothing down will be required. Another approach includes programs that offer tax credits. Mortgage interest is generally deductible, but a "tax credit" is arguably more valuable. With what are called "mortgage credit certificates" or MCCs, borrowers can deduct directly from their actual tax bill. For instance, if you have $8,000 in mortgage interest you might be able to directly reduce your taxes by $1,600 while the remaining $6,400 can be treated as an itemized deduction.

"Given low interest rates and a firming housing sector, this is a terrific time to consider entering the real estate market," said Brousseau. "With today's financing choices, many buyers can own their own home a lot quicker than they might have thought."

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved. {C} {C}

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Dream Green Kitchen

Create Your Dream Green Kitchen

Family Features--Today's newly remodeled kitchens boast more than just rich hues and shiny appliances - they have an eco-conscious ambiance that marries great style with respect for the environment.

Dreaming of a fresh, modern kitchen that is also eco-friendly and strikingly beautiful? Achieving this transformation is more attainable than you may think. Environmental lifestyle expert, Danny Seo, provides these helpful tips on how to add earth-friendly updates to your kitchen:

Refrigerator

When searching for a new refrigerator, be sure to look for more than just the Energy Star label to ensure maximum energy efficiency. It is also important the new appliance fits your needs and the size of your kitchen. A larger refrigerator uses more energy. If the one you select is too big for your needs, you will be wasting energy and money.

Blocked wood countertops

With their rugged durability and timeless style, butcher block countertops are making a huge comeback. Though typically made from cherry, walnut and oak, greener options, such as high pressure laminate designs made by Wilsonart, can contribute to US Green Building Council LEED accreditation as an eco-friendly material to use in your home. For more information on their new Blocked Wood designs - Old Mill Oak and Truss Maple -visit www.wilsonart.com.

Flooring

For a more sustainable approach to kitchen flooring, there are several options available. If you love the hard, classic appeal of wood, look for reclaimed, recycled or sustainably sourced materials. Bamboo is also a beloved choice among eco-conscious remodelers for its biodegradable nature and high renewability.

"Going green at home can be overwhelming, so I always advise people to not sweat the small stuff and focus on the one room of the house where it matters the most: the kitchen," says Seo. "Being kind to the planet in the kitchen can also be kind on your wallet over time, so it's worth it to invest in sustainable upgrades."

Backsplash

Recycled materials are the star of the show when looking to add green touches to your backsplash. There are three main types of recycled materials: ceramic, metal and glass. Old bottles and windows make up the materials in glass tile; old plates and clay vases are recycled to become ceramic tile; and those old soda cans become aluminum metal tile. All of these materials come in a variety of shades and styles to fit the look of your dream kitchen.

Dishwasher

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, using an Energy Star labeled dishwasher is the most efficient use of energy and water, even more so than hand washing. When looking to update your dishwasher, pay close attention to the EnergyGuide labels, which include the annual estimated costs to run them. This valuable information can help you compare models to find the best fit for your family's needs.

A dream kitchen that is both eco-friendly and chic is easier to attain than you think. With a few changes not only will you be smiling, but so too will Mother Earth.

Reprinted with permission from RISMedia. ©2013. All rights reserved.

For further information about creating your green home in Vermont: http://www.vermontgreenhomealliance.org/

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A Home's Material Facts: Let us Ask and Disclose

Today's real estate climate is not the "Buyer Beware" of decades ago.  No longer do you hide the facts and hold your breath that the Buyer doesn't ask the right questions.

Even with the most honorable intentions, issues can arise. Typically, the more serious issues that come up between buyers and sellers are questionable boundary lines (location of, easements, rights-of-way), septic problems (failing system), and moisture issues around rot and mold. These can become contentious, leading to terminated contracts or legal battles.

Disclose, disclose, disclose. That is the key to keeping things moving forward and avoiding the post-closing litigation. A property owner who lists with a professional will be asked to fill out a 6-page Seller's Property Information Report. This facilitates full disclosure of material facts regarding the home. It encompasses 7 sections: Land, Mechanical systems, structural components, water supply, sewer/septic wastewater system, additional information, and condo/homeowners' associations.

Sellers are expected to fill this out accurately and to the best of their knowledge. Such disclosures protect both the buyer and the seller.

If a home is not listed with a professional, a buyer needs to ask all the right questions, and a Seller needs to come clean about everything related to the house. This includes, but is not limited to, information regarding flood areas, underground storage tanks, accurate boundary lines, rights-of-way/easements, condition of appliances, septic maintenance, and results of radon and water tests. Getting this information in writing is essential.

This is not a don't ask, don't tell situation. If you are aware of or should be aware of material facts about the home, you need to disclose.  There is no perfect home and buyers understand this.  They just want there to be no surprises after the fact. They want to be aware of everything before jumping in.

The home inspection is a time when the unknowns should come to light, including home issues that the seller was not aware of. If an inspector's list of issues includes a handful of things the buyer was told about pre-inspection, those things are not deal breakers. It's the surprises that tend to slam the breaks on a deal, or at least make everyone head back to the negotiation stage.

So, whether you are using a real estate professional or going it alone, make sure you disclose everything about the home. If you are on the buying side, ask lots of questions. When it comes to the material facts of the home, nothing is off limits.

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Financing Your Vermont Home

If you've been following home-buying news and trends over the past four years, you have heard that lending is tight and it is hard to get a home loan. With expertise in the Vermont market, I have to say this is not the reality of the situation.  Mortgage underwriters are requiring more verification's than the pre-2008 era and you may need to provide a bit more documentation, especially if you are self-employed, but loans to purchase Vermont real estate are still readily available.

If you are a first time home buyer looking to get into the Vermont real estate market you are in luck.  This is a great time to purchase a home, especially in the Burlington, Richmond, Waterbury, Stowe or Morrisville area.  Mortgage interest rates are still low, home prices are beginning to recover, and there are plenty of good lending programs to allow you entrance into the market.

One such lending program is the FHA program, allowing you to purchase a home with as little as 3.5% downpayment, possibly a gift from a parent or grandparent, and the seller can pay your closing costs.  FHA will allow as low as a 640 credit score and a debt-to-income ratio as high as 50%.

Another great program available to interested buyers in Vermont is Rural Development. This product allows 100% financing, though it does have a few more restrictions, such as income limitations and geographic restrictions. Luckily, most of the Vermont real estate market will allow buyers to qualify for such financing. In addition, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have low down payment programs, with as little as 5% down on a primary residence or 10% on a second home.  For the most success using a conforming loan such as this one, you will want to have a stronger credit score.

The best thing to do is to meet with a loan originator to go over your situation, see which programs you qualify for, how much you can borrow, and decide how much you are comfortable paying each month. Then you will be ready to go out and shop in whichever Vermont real estate market you choose. So, get pre-qualified and happy house hunting.

Article written for NELR by Jeff Teplitz, Mortgage Loan Officer, EverBank - Dedicated to helping clients throughout the mortgage process, with over 8 years of mortgage experience and a thorough knowledge of the Vermont and Northern New England markets.

Vermont Real Estate News: Time to Jump Into the Market

To buy, or not. That is something many people have struggled with over the past 5 years.  Will home prices decrease further? Will interest rates stay low or continue to rise? Can I time it just right to get the best value for my money? Well, if you are out there looking now, then I would say that you have timed it well.

But now your worry may be, will my offer be better than the competition's offer? News flash: homes are getting looks from buyers...many buyers.  And we are seeing multiple offers on properties in varying price ranges. Wait a minute. Is this a flash back to 2006? 2006 is often referred to as the end of the hot market but if we compare today's market to that of 2006, it becomes clear that now is an ideal time to jump into the housing market.

Looking at Vermont real estate trends, specifically in Chittenden, Lamoille and Washington County, we see that the average number of homes sold in quarter 2 (about 900) and the average sell price (about $280,000) is about the same this year as it was in 2006. The difference is, homes aren't selling quite as quickly in this market even though interest rates are lower now than they were then. In 2006, interest rates in Vermont were at 6.75% and with that rate a $300,000 loan for 30 years would cost about $1945 a month in principle and interest. Now, if you were to get the same loan with today's interest rate of 4.75% it would cost $1565, about $400 less. It is also important to note that people are employing much more creative financing these days. In Vermont in 2006, the home selling market was fueled almost entirely by conventional loans. Now, in 2013, there are many more low-income loans, cash sales, and with many veteran's returning from war, there is a large increase in veteran's association financing for home sales. There are certainly more financing options available to you than just the conventional loan.

If you look at the numbers, it is a buyer eye-opener. Supply is low; demand is high. The Vermont real estate market, as well has national trends, show that inventory has been decreasing in the last six months and while Interest rates have risen 1 point in last year and 2 points in last 5 years inventory is having a more significant impact on the market. National Association of Realtors Chief Economist Lawrence Yun said last month that compared to interest rates "the bigger concern remains too few homes available for sale, especially among homes in the lower price range" (http://speakingof realestate.blogs.realtor.org). So, while there has been talk about rising interest rates, they still remain historically low and owning is often more economical choice than renting. In fact, the mortgage you will pay on that $250,000 home is comparable to what you would pay to rent a modest 2-bedroom house.

Let's not forget the other advantages of owning your home.  Every month you pay your mortgage you are putting money into your own pocket. You have a tax deduction as well as a payment toward equity.  And don't forget appreciation. All market indications show that home prices have leveled, with the average sell price remaining about the same in the Vermont real estate market over the past seven years, leaving us to expect housing prices to see modest appreciation in the next few years and beyond. That should prompt you to start your home search.

As wonderful as all of this sounds, it still is only attainable for those who feel a sense of job security, have taken care of their credit, and have managed to save money for their required down payment and closing costs.

Go out into the home buying arena prepared. Talk to your lender to see what you can afford. Go out there with your eyes wide open. You may be surprised. And as always, feel free to contact us at New England Landmark Realty with any questions you may have.

Summer Storm

Local photographer Andrew Gimino captured the beauty of a VT summer storm through his camera lens. This is quite an artistic feat because by this time in the summer I know we were all pretty tired of the rain. Locally, we have seen oppressive heat, record high precipitation levels, and frequent thunderstorms in the month of June and the first half of July. While this doesn't seem to follow past trends for summer weather in Vermont, we are all wondering if it will shift to become the new norm in our area.

While the effects if climate change may seem subtle, it is important to protect our homes from the damage it may cause in the future. John Banta, author of the "Extreme Weather Hits Home" said, "Our homes are one of the most expensive investments we will ever make. They are also our refuge from the elements, and we must protect them so they can protect us." In the past, protecting the home in Vermont has often meant preparing for the cold weather and harsh conditions of winter, but with changing climate it may also mean increased protection from flooding, strong winds, and severe storms. Regular maintenance is a good preventative tool, as the weather patterns may have shifted since the time your house was built or even in recent years. Some suggestions include, refastening exterior light fixtures, trimming trees and shrubs, reinforcing or shielding windows, maintaining roofing, as well as revisiting home insurance policies. While we are fortunate in Vermont to be protected from many natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and forest fires, it is still important to protect our home according to the changing climate.

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Shelburne Museum Names New Art & Education Center Vermont Life Magazine

Vermont Life Magazine Shelburne Museum Names New Art & Education Center » Vermont Life Magazine.

This building will be a "new and important cultural and educational resource for Vermont." It features gallery space, an auditorium, educational classroom, and meets the criteria as a LEED certified building, using local materials and energy efficient technologies. We hope that this building can be used as an engaging resource for local residents. The Shelburne Museum is a very valued local space that brings many people to the area and contributes greatly to the local community. This is one of the many attractions that might make you consider making Shelburne your home.

Arianna Huffington's Secret to Success: Sleep

"Shut your eyes and discover the great ideas that lie inside us. Shut your engines and discover the power of sleep." According to Huffington, this is what's best for our personal health and well-being as well as what's best for the condition of the world. As a small business we are always looking for ways to improve the health of our employees and the community and if sleep is one simple step in the right direction then we will embrace Huffington's secret to success. Through doing so we hope to foster new and innovative ideas, engage with the local community and grow.

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