Most expensive house on the market

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Candy Spelling, the widow of famous television producer Aaron Spelling and mother of Tori Spelling, has decided to list her estate for a record $150 million – the most expensive home ever listed in the United States.

The home is dubbed “The Manor” and is located in the Holmby Hills neighborhood in California.  It is the largest home in Los Angeles County at 56,500 square feet and sits on more than 4.6 acres.  The home was built in 1991 and is three stories.  The room tally exceeds 100.

Some of those rooms include: a bowling alley, wine cellar, wine tasting room, gift-wrapping room, a humidity-controlled silver storage room, China room, library, gym and media room.  There is also a 17,000 square foot attic which has a barber shop and beauty salon.  A kitchen and seven bedrooms are available to staff working in the home.  On the exterior, there is a tennis court, fountains, a waterfall, pool and spa, reflection pool, a poolhouse with a kitchen, and 16 car ports.  There’s also a garden, rooftop rose garden, and citrus orchard.  For large gatherings, there is a winding motor court that holds more than 100 cars.

Candy told The Associated Press that she let her dog, a soft-coated Wheaten Terrier, help her choose her real estate agent, Sally Forster Jones with Coldwell Banker Previews International in Los Angeles.  Her security brought her dog into the room every time she interviewed an agent.  If the dog didn’t like them, they were not chosen.

Spelling is planning to move to a two-story condo in Los Angeles that she purchased last year for $47 million.

For more information, you can view the USA Today article. I can be reached on my Web site.

Home sales on the rise

With the biggest increase since July of 2003, existing home sales in February were up 5.1%.  Prices have been falling because of the increase in foreclosures and bank-owned homes.  up20arrowThe National Association of Realtors has just released a report that with the new percentages reversing the decrease that we had in January 2009.

Economists are hoping that the rise in prices could lead to more stabilization in the housing market.  Sales rose from 4.49 million homes in January to 4.72 million in February.  Distressed properties made up 45% of the transactions and first-time buyers made up about half of all the transactions.

Lower interest rates for mortgages are helping to move some of these distressed homes.  Mortgage loan applications increased 21.2% for the week of March 13th from the previous week.  The average interest rate for a 30-year fixed nationally is now 4.89%.

“If the economy stabilizes around midyear and financial conditions improve, then sales will probably begin to slowly increase as buyers step back into the market,” wrote JPMorgan Chase analyst Abiel Reinhart.   Reinhart also noted that homes are becoming more affordable to the average American because of the lower interest rates and lower prices. 

The Fedral Reserve is also trying to boost the economy.  Last week it printed $1.2 trillion and moved it into the economy by purchasing mortgage-backed securities and treasury debt. 

If you’re ready to help boost the economy by purchasing a home, please visit me online.

Buying a new house? Here’s how to unload your old one…

The Chicago Tribune has a great article for those buyers that have purchased a home for new construction and are having trouble unloading their old one.  Many people purchase a new construction home months or even years before it’s completed, figuring they have plenty of time to sell their existing home.  With this housing market, if you’re stuck, consider these tips:

builder_main1. Have your builder visit your current home to see what tips they can offer to make it more saleable.  They might suggest a different paint color and send over their painter.  They might offer to use some of the extra furniture they use for their model homes to make the home look more “lived in.”  The builders might offer to do a lot to help make sure their sale closes. 

2. Consider offering your home as a trade-in.  In the past, builders would consider taking their buyers’ current homes in a trade.  When their buyers’ home didn’t sell before the new one was complete, the builder would often purchase it.  It’s worth a shot to get the builder to unload the buyer’s home.  The builder might have a portfolio of investment properties or know someone who might be interested.

3. Consider using the builder’s construction lender to qualify for your mortgage.  If the particular lender keeps his loans in his own portfolio rather than selling them, it might make sense that he’d be willing to help the buyers out.  If an agreement can’t be reached, it might be worth it to see if the builder will buy down some of the purchasers’ interest rate. 

4. Consider bartering.  Perhaps you can get the builder to agree to a lower purchase price or a discount on your appliance package by offering up your own skills.  Maybe you can agree to help with the landscaping on their model homes (if you’re a landscaper), for example.

5. Be willing to rent out your home, rather than sell it.  The rental market is on the rise during the slump in home sales.  You might make enough from a tenant to cover your mortgage payments by leasing out your home, even if it’s just for the first year.  Talk to your Realtor about this option. 

For more tips on how to get your home in saleable condition or help purchasing your new construction home, please visit me online.

Chicago neighborhoods are nationally ranked

The National Register of Historic Places has added two Chicago bungalow neighborhoods – Talman West Ridge and South Shore  – to their ranking.  The National Park Service of the U.S. Department of the Interior granted the honor after a yearlong process of much research.  Homeowners that live in these two areas are eligible for an eight-year tax relief if they make renovations equal to 25% of the market value of their homes.  Both neighborhoods join seven other Chicago neighborhoods that are already part of the National Register of Historic Places.  Chicago’s bungalows make up nearly 1/3 of all of Chicago’s single-family housing.

South Shore is one mile south of Jefferson Park and about half of the homes were built before 1920.  G.N. Moore, a developer, built the first one in this district in 1911.  It was 1,000 square feet and of stucco design.  Charles Miller built many of the other bungalows in this area that were constructed of stucco-and-frame.  The first brick bungalow was designed by Ernest Braucher in 1915.  After 1917, all of the remaining bungalows built were made out of brick. 

In 1921, many bungalows were constructed in Talman West Ridge.  Architects responsible included Benedict Bruns, Lyman Allison, A.E. Norman and Ernest Braucher.  

Mayor Richard Daley started the Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative in 2000.  It was developed to foster an appreciation of the Chicago Bungalow.  It is a not-for-profit association that offers financial and technical resources.  They’re currently offering grants to homeowners to make their bungalows more energy efficient.  More information about the Initiative can be found on their Web site.

More information on the national ranking, as well as a question-and-answer session with Maribeth Brewer, of the West Ridge Bungalow Neighbors organization can be found in this article.

For more information on this or other real estate matters, please visit me online.

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Make your home stand out among foreclosures

With the amount of foreclosures on an uphill climb, sellers that need to sell their house have a hard time in this market because of the low prices being advertised with the foreclosures and short sales.  Sellers become panic stricken if they don’t have the financial  burden of a foreclosure but they need to sell their house.  Phoebe Chongchua, an award-winning journalist, offers this advice to sellers to help get their homes sold.

standouthome1. Price your home competitively.  Now is not the time to be testing the water with your home price, especially in a subdivision with other homes similar to yours that are in foreclosure.  Try to take a ride out to visit open houses of other similar homes or ask your Realtor to show them to you.  Buyers will be doing the same research, so you want to see what your competition is.  Overpricing your home will make it sit on the market longer and you’ll receive offers way below market value. 

2. Understand market time.  Sellers know best if they are in a dire situation where they need to unload their home quickly, or if they have time to let it sit a bit.  This will help you price your home correctly and help you get what it’s worth.

3. Use a Realtor.  Agents and brokers can help offer advice more than ever before.  Plus, imagine how much harder it is to sell your home For Sale by Owner among hundreds of foreclosures in your same zip code.  A Realtor has a lot more tools to make your home stand out.  Visit me online to learn how my marketing plan can help you.

4. Make sure your home is in showing condition at all times.  You don’t want to lose a sale because of the one day the home was a mess and you had a showing.

5. Figure out the best methods for selling your home.  Virtual tours and many photos of the home are extremely important in this age when almost all buyers use the Internet to preview a home before they come look at it.  Make sure the pictures you use online are of the house that you’re selling currently.  Do not use pictures taken before a remodel, for example. 

6. Make sure your home is the best value.  While this doesn’t always mean the lowest price, it could mean that it’s the nicest house in a certain price range.  Or it may mean a bunch of upgrades in the home in a certain price range.  Use your Realtor to help determine your price and get recommendations for how to keep your home in prime showing condition.

Protect your home with these security tips

burglar5The last thing anyone needs is a break-in to their home.  Aside from losing valued and priceless possessions, a break-in can cause extra emotional and financial stress for anyone.  Here are some safety tips to help prevent this from happening.

1. All doors that lead from the exterior of the home indoors should have at least 3 locking mechanisms.  A Mortice lock can add extra strength to the door making it harder to break through.

2. If you have an older home, make sure that all doors are in good shape.  Older doors can be easily pried open.  If you’re going to purchase a door framed in metal or PVC, try to purchase one that already has built-in locks and a fitted chain because adding those later could be more costly.

3. Older windows should also be locked with the keys removed so somebody can’t reach in.  You’ll want to replace older window frames and purchase ones with laminated glass since it’s tougher to break than normal glass. 

4. Motion sensor lights can help you feel more secure by turning on as they notice movement.  You set the motion-sensing eye to recognize movement within a certain distance or at a certain angle.  They won’t just activate as raccoons or squirrels move past.

5. You might want to invest in timers for all indoor lights, especially if you’re going to be going on vacation or aren’t home for extended periods of time.  A dark, unlit house is just an open invitation for a burglar.

6. If you’ve moved into a new house that had a security system that you are not actively using, make sure to leave the stickers on the windows/doors so that any potential break-in thinks the system is still active.

7. Always close and lock the door from the garage into the home, even if you are at home.  Keep the garage door closed even if you park in the driveway because your garage has other big tools and equipment that could easily be stolen.

For tips on how to choose the best security system, you can view this article.

For more tips and comments, please visit me online.

How to hire the right contractor

The Philadelphia Inquirer put out an advice column on what questions to ask any potential contractor to do renovations for your home.  You want to hire someone with whom you feel comfortable, and you want to make sure all your questions get asked before agreeing to the work.  Here are some real estate tips on what to ask.

First of all, you want to make sure you can communicate effectively with your contractor.  If they speak a different language than you, make sure that you understand each other before any work gets done.  You want to make sure they understand what you want out of the job and your concerns.  You’re the one that’s going to be paying them, so your needs need to be addressed.  You’ll also want to ask the same number of questions to each person you interview so you know you’ve done a thorough job.

contractor-using-pry-bar20to-replace-windowMake sure to ask how long they’ve been in business and how long they’ve done the specific work you’re looking for.  With this tougher economic situation, you don’t want the one you hire to fold when you need a repair a year down the road. 

An important question you should ask is whether work will be subcontracted out to other contractors.  Make sure you find out ahead of time what work that will be and if they’ve ever used those subcontractors before.  You might want to go ahead and get references on them beforehand, as well.  If possible, try to visit current job sites where these contractors are working on a job so you can ask the homeowners how the work is progressing and whether they’d recommend them.

If work will not be subcontracted out, find out how many employees they have working for them and who will be working on your project.  All contractors should provide proof of liability insurance as well as workers’ compensation insurance in case something is damaged while they are working or one of the workers is injured on the job.  I’ve seen lawsuits arise because of injuries without proper insurance.

Speaking of lawsuits, make sure everything you agree to is written out in a contract.  Hire a lawyer if need be to draft one up.  As changes get made during your project, it’s important to put those in writing, too.  Make sure that the products that will be used, whether it’s the paint color or the brand of carpeting, is also put into the contract so you’re not charged more for a different product than you ordered.

For more tips or a list of recommended contractors, please visit me online.

Mortgage modification plan may help you save money

rescueJust introduced by the Obama administration, the Homeowner Affordability and Stability plan was created to prevent foreclosures and to help out homeowners with unaffordable mortgages.  Obama’s plan is asking lenders to help out homeowners who are facing a hard time paying their mortgages because of a hardship.  Hardship is defined loosely as: lost income, increased expenses, payment shock from an adjustable-rate mortgage, and “other indications of being at risk of default.”

Payments would be reduced to 31% of a household’s income before taxes.  After five years, payments would climb back up.  You would need to meet this requirements to be eligible:

1. Must be the homeowner’s primary residence and be occupied and habitable.

2. The balance on the first mortgage can’t be more than $729,750 for a single-family home.

3. Even if foreclosure proceedings have become, you can still qualify.

4. If the borrower qualifies then the creditor has to figure out how to get the payments to 31% of the income.  To see how this works:

…House payments include principal, interest, taxes, homeowners insurance, and homeowners or condo association fees.  Mortgage insurance premiums ARE NOT included.

…Late fees have to be waived and past due interest, taxes, and insurance are added back into the mortgage balance.

…The first step is for the creditor to drop the interest rate to as low as 2%.  If dropping the rate to 4%, for example, brings the mortgage to 31% of the income, then the rate doesn’t go any lower.

…If dropping the rate to the lowest threshold of 2% doesn’t work then the next step is to extend the loan out to 40 years at a maximum.  Again, if it works to bring the payments to 31% at 33 years, that’s what they’ll do.

…If neither of those work, the third step is what’s called “forbear principal.”  This means that the borrower owes the same amount as before but pays interest on only part of the mortgage balance.  For example, someone might owe $150,000 on their mortgage but pay 2% interest for 40 years on only $90,000.  The entire $150,000 must be paid back when the home is sold or refinanced.

Those lower interest rates offered are only good for five years.  After that, the creditor has the right to increase the rates by 1% per year until the rate is back to what it was when the modification was made.

More information can be found in this article.

For more questions on this new program or any other real estate questions, please visit me online.

How to protect your basement from rain

With the heavy rains in the suburbs over the past few days, many homeowners are faced with wet and flooded basements.  The American Society of Home Inspectors say 60% of homeowners have problems with moisture and water in basements.  Aside from the costly perspective of having to fix it, the moisture can also cause allergies to those living in the home.  Other problems include mold damage, foundation issues, and the introduction of termites.  Here are a few ways to save money by img_1157fixing this problem before it gets worse. 

1. Check outside first.  A clogged gutter or a downspout aimed at the house could be to blame.  Check around the area where you find the leak in the basement.  For about $200, a handyman can add a pipe to the downspout to let water out 3 feet from the house.  A gutter can also easily be replaced.

2. Check your basement windows.  Any water found under a window is the result of a bad window well, or the dugout that allows the window to sit below the ground.  The rain is funneling against the foundation causing the wet walls.  For $35-$45 at a home repair store (think Home Depot or Lowe’s), you can purchase a clear plastic well cover.  It still allows sunlight to come through without letting water in.

3. Fix cracks.  If you notice water entering through seams in the concrete, they can be filled with a hydraulic cement.  This can be purchased for about $10 at a home repair store.  You’ll be purchasing a powder that when you mix with water acts as a watertight seal when you brush it into the opening.  Just make sure to remove any loose debris you find first.

4. Keep the air dry.  Purchase a digitally controlled dehumidifier to keep the air dry and to prevent further moisture which can lead to mold.  If you can avoid the plastic collection bucket, try to use a hose to discharge the water directly into a sink or floor drain.  Set the controls to about 50% humidity to keep the mold out.

5. If it’s too late and you’re stuck with a massive flooding, you’ll need to call in a waterproofing company.  The The National Association of Waterproofing and Structural Repair Contractors will post companies locally and you can call for a free assessment.  Make sure that whatever company you choose offers a lifetime warranty that the basement will remain dry.  This is important to pass on to the next homeowners as well.

For more tips, please view this article.

For questions, comments, or real estate needs, please visit me online.

Web sites to help you find local school information

One of the most common questions I’m asked by buyers is to provide information on the local school districts for the house they are considering buying.  I usually refer them to a Web site for this information, as it provides side-by-side reports and test scores.  istock_000000341282small2The Associated Press provided a great article on different Web sites available to get this information.  Here is a list and what the sites offer:

SchoolMatters.com: This site is operated by Standard & Poor’s.  Information available includes test scores, parent feedback, and demographic data.  To find information, you can search for a school by zip code, city, or school district.  Only offering public school information, this site has a star rating for schools based on parent feedback and offers photos.  One of the other pluses is the graduation and dropout rates, advanced degree information for teachers and racial and ethnic makeup of students.

One site that does offer information on private schools is GreatSchools.net. This is run by the not-for-profit organization, Great Schools, Inc.  For school information here, you’ll find extracurricular programs offered, spending per student, and teacher experience.  The rating system on this site also has stars but it’s based on state standardized tests, not parent reviews, like the previous site.  Forums are also provided to discuss educational issues among parents.

You may use Zillow.comto find out information about home values, but the site also offers school locations based on an interactive mapping application.  Zillow also features National Center for Education Statistics information in the form of school profiles. 

Education.com: This site offers both public and private school information with testing data and demographics.  Other finer details are offered on this site like the number of gifted students and student absences. 

A great Web site for parents looking at schools in a specific neighborhood is NeighborhoodScout.com. The site actually recommends neighborhoods to families with school-aged children.  They do this based on information like the amount of homeowners in single-family homes, low crime rates, and a high percentage of adults with college degrees.  You can view a limited number of schools for free, but to view detailed information, there is a subscriber rate of $14.99 to $29.99 a month.

These sites provide great information for parents looking to purchase a home.  However, it’s just the beginning in the search for a good school.  Parents will still want to visit schoolsa nd meet with administration and teachers to get a feel for a school district.  For more information on homes in the Chicagoland area, please visit me online.