Today’s “Ask the Expert” column features Jay Gregg, Director of Marketing with Pillar To Post.
Q: As a homeowner, what can I do to prevent electrical hazards during the holidays?
A: The holidays are a cozy and beautiful time of year. Crackling fires, decorated Christmas trees casting a warm glow for the family gathering around and an influx of loved ones helps infuse the darkest and coldest winter months with cheer and warmth. Unfortunately, the holidays also come with an increased risk of electrical malfunction and fire thanks to all the decorations that give the season its character. Therefore, it’s important to plan your holiday decorating and activities with proper electrical safety in mind.
The first step to any safe holiday season is knowing how safe and up to code your home is to begin with. New homeowners should always have a proper and complete home inspection performed by a certified inspector before purchasing, or at least immediately upon moving in. Even long-time homeowners should keep up with home inspections to better understand how their house is aging. Knowing the structural condition of your house will put you in the best position to safely set up your holiday decorations and carry out holiday activities.
Beyond maintaining a home that’s up to code, here are a few easy, but important, steps to keep your home safe during the holidays:
• If you prefer natural Christmas trees, keep them watered. Shorts in electrical lights or open flames from candles, lighters or matches start hundreds of tree fires every year. A well-watered tree resists fire, but a dry tree can be engulfed in flames within seconds.
• Place your tree and decorations at least three feet from all heat sources. Be especially vigilant about the placement of space heaters if you use them in your home.
• Extinguish all candles and turn off all space heaters, decorations and lights before leaving the house or going to sleep. This prevents a fire from starting when you are not home, or when your family is vulnerable in their beds.
• Refrain from plugging multiple electrical decorations into a single outlet or into each other. The more you overload a power strip or outlet, the greater risk you run of causing an electrical fire. Plug your decorations into multiple outlets and be sure to read the instructions included with them to determine the safest method of use.
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By Robert Koller
With mortgage rates remaining near historic lows, you may be able to save money on your monthly payments by refinancing — even if you a have second loan on your home.
Under the government’s Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), millions of homeowners, even those who owe more than their homes are worth, have been able to save money on their monthly mortgage payments. Find out if you can, too.
How can HARP help?
HARP gives eligible homeowners who may not qualify for traditional refinancing because of a decline in home value a way to refinance to a lower interest rate and/or more stable mortgage payment. It’s the only widely available refinance program that allows homeowners with little or no equity in their homes to take advantage of today’s lower interest rates. Even if you have a second loan on your home and think you won’t be eligible to refinance because you owe as much or more than your home is worth, HARP might be an option.
If you’ve made your mortgage payments on time, your first loan is owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, and you owe as much or more than your home is worth, you may be eligible for HARP refinancing.
If you are eligible to refinance through HARP, you’ll take out a new mortgage and use those funds to pay off your existing first mortgage and usually the closing costs for the new loan. It’s important to understand that your “first” and “second” mortgages are separate obligations, and only first mortgages are eligible for HARP refinancing. But, because lower monthly payments on your first mortgage may improve your likelihood to repay your second mortgage, your second mortgage lender may be willing to cooperate.
When you’re ready to find out if HARP can help you save money every month:
- First, find out whether Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac owns your loan by using the loan lookup tools on their sites.
- Next, contact your first mortgage company and say that you’re interested in HARP. Be sure to mention that you have a second mortgage. Your mortgage company will need to take steps to either “re-subordinate” your second mortgage or help you refinance your second mortgage at the same time you are refinancing under HARP. Re-subordination just means that your new first mortgage obligation takes priority over the existing second.
- Finally, if your mortgage company is unable to help you with a HARP refinance, ask another lender to help you. Any lender participating in HARP may be able to help refinance your loan. A list of participating HARP lenders is available at HARP.gov.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.
About the author:
Robert Koller is a director in Fannie Mae’s Credit Risk Management division and is responsible for managing Fannie Mae’s Refi Plus™ Initiative, which includes the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP). Fannie Mae has helped almost 1.7 million homeowners take advantage of HARP since the program’s inception.
This website contains news and information created and maintained by a private organization. FHFA is not responsible for controlling or guaranteeing the accuracy or completeness of this outside information. Further, the inclusion of any advertisements or other links does not reflect their importance, nor is it intended to endorse any products or services offered.
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Which do you prefer: an older home with character or a newer design built for a contemporary lifestyle? To help you decide, we’ve found historic and modern gems for sale in cities across the country. Vote for your favorites by leaving a comment below!
122 S Van Ness Ave, Los Angeles, CA
For sale: $2.949 million
Year built: 1917
This historic home boasting Mediterranean revival architecture is for sale in L.A.’s Mid-Wilshire neighborhood. From the exterior columns to the fixtures and moldings, everything has been meticulously restored to its original grandeur.
936 Milwood Ave, Venice, CA
For sale: $2.999 million
Year built: 2013
This new construction has 3 bedrooms and 6 bathrooms enveloped in a sleek design. Tall windows and a glass stairwell create a sophisticated, spacious feel in the main living areas.
47 E Division St, Chicago, IL
For sale: $2.299 million
Year built: 1886
This colorful brick row house is ideally located in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast. Dating back to 1886, the 4-bedroom has historical character as well as updated appliances and a luxurious walk-in closet.
323 W Evergreen Ave, Chicago, IL
For sale: $2.599 million
Year built: 2006
Also a 4-bedroom, this Chicago home was custom-built in 2006 with 14-foot ceilings, a mezzanine level overlooking the living and dining room, radiant-heated floors and a large back deck.
1625 Pine St, Boulder, CO
For sale: $1.485 million
Year built: 1876
Boasting Victorian architecture, the historic Chauncey Stokes House has been well-preserved. Originally constructed in 1876, the home has had a few updates, but its storybook curb appeal remains.
1111 Jay St, Boulder, CO
For sale: $1.5 million
Year built: 2009
This contemporary home in the same price range is also for sale in Boulder. Skylights, extended roof eaves and a curved deck give the home architectural interest while staying current.
2537 NE 25th Ave, Portland, OR
For sale: $599,900
Year built: 1923
This Dutch colonial is for sale in the heart of the historic Irvington neighborhood. The home showcases 1920s architectural details and charm such as original moldings, multi-paned windows and a wood-burning fireplace.
6108 NE 45th Ave, Portland, OR
For sale: $599,000
Year built: 2009
At the other end of the design spectrum, this LEED Platinum-certified house has been called the greenest in Portland, according to the listing description. A heat recovery and ventilation system, reclaimed wood, weathering steel exterior and bamboo cabinetry are a few highlights.
Catherine Sherman, a real estate writer for Zillow Blog, covers real estate news, industry trends and home design. Read more of her work here.
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While the past few years of real estate drama has played itself out all around you, you’ve decided to stick it out and enjoy the show from the safety of your nest.
Now, with the “bottom” of the market is long gone, home prices gaining ground, sales moving at lightening speed and with inventory waaaay down, you’re ready to get off the sidelines and get a part of the action.
So, why now? What’s going to make 2014 the year you decide to get into the real estate game?
If you know someone who’s bought a house in the past several months, you’ve heard their stories. Multiple offers. Lost deals. Then nothing else to see. And suddenly, the skies opened and their dream home came floating down from the heavens, placed right in front of them. Eventually, everything came together, just not before a bit of re-education in what was a totally different world: the aggressive seller’s market.
In 2014, buyers who enter the market are going to have quite an arsenal at their disposal. First, they’ve learned vicariously through their friends who’ve already tangled with the market this year as to why it’s important to put a straightforward, no-nonsense offer together that a seller can sign. Second, they’re going to be working with real estate professionals who’ve been toughened up by the 7-year-shift and who’ve worked through nearly every disaster that could conceivably befall a well-constructed deal. Third, and most importantly, the tools for researching prices, days-on-market, demographic and geographic data, inventory and property sales history with the plethora of information available through sites like NeighborCity, Zillow, Trulia, Realtor.com and, best of all, GoogleMaps, will the 2014 buyer the equivalent of a year of college credit before even applying to school.
If you know someone who’s tried to sell a property this past year, you know one of two things happened: it sold in a flash with multiple offers, or it sat forever and a day with tumbleweeds gathering on the front steps. That’s because of a combination of a few things: a sharp uptick in buyer activity year-over-year, a 50% decrease in inventory year-over-year (which lasted all year-long), and an increasingly sophisticated buyer pool who knows when a property is overpriced! priced just right and is the deal of a lifetime.
In 2014, sellers who’ve decided they’re done watching from the sidelines and are ready to enter the game will find that they may be competing against many of their neighbors who’ve decided the same. Even as inventory picks up slightly, that strong, ready-willing-and-able buyer market will still be there to accept the challenge. With better-educated buyers and sellers, along with a better match of inventory-to-buyer ratios, the market will seem a little less frenetic as 2024 gets underway.
In preparation for a 2014 sale, homeowners are talking to their real estate agents now, not waiting until after the new year. Sellers are learning now what they need to do to get their properties on the market right after the new year and not airing until spring or summer. Why? Inventory is lowest at the new year, competition is almost nonexistent, and Buyers are jumping right out of the gate on January 2 to make good on their new year’s resolution of buying a house.
Know someone who’s bought an investment property in the past couple of years? If so, there are two different stories. If they bought two years ago, they probably made out petty well. If it was in the past 12 months, there were probably some compromises. Regardless of what it was — rental property, a house to flip, a lot to build a house — it’s probably going to be a rare and expensive find in 2014.
Experienced investors in 2014 are going to have the inside scoop on just about everything. Because they eat, drink and sleep real estate, they’ve studied the market for years, and have a sophisticated crystal ball that tells them when and where the next opportunity is. They talk to each other, they work deals out together, and chances are if there’s an opportunity right in front of you, they’ve all heard about it first.
If you’ve got a pile of money you’re not sure what to do with in 2014, talk to a financial advisor before speaking to a real estate agent. Make sure you explore all the conservative, lesser-risk ways to grow your money before throwing it all into a real estate venture. Just like 90% of new businesses fail within their first year, the same number of new investors only by one property and get out of the game while in the red because of poor planning and unrealistic expectations.
If after speaking with a financial adviser you still feel that putting your money into real estate is the right move, then your best bet is to work with a seasoned real estate agent who is also a successful investor to plan your strategy and get you through the first deal. Just like in any other real estate deal, you’re going to need to find a real estate agent with knowledge of the micro-local market where you want to buy, an awareness of pre-market or off-market opportunities, and good working relationships with non-traditional lenders, construction contractors, property managers, real estate attorneys and title research companies.
Compensation for a licensed real estate agent to help you find and monetize an investment property can vary. Some agents will simply work for the commission they earn from the seller when making the sale, while other agents anticipate the higher, delayed commission from the resale on the flip. The more experienced agents will seek a consulting fee based on helping you achieve your wider array of investment goals, while some may even joint-venture with you so that they have more control over their area of expertise so that you can do what you do best.
If you or if someone you know is looking to sell, buy or invest in metro-Atlanta real estate in 2014, have them give me a call at 404-906-5857 or email email@example.com.
Source: Wiki Commons
Pocket listings — where homes aren’t marketed publicly on the MLS — are fairly common in high-end real estate. This tactic was used with Madonna’s L.A. home; Simon Cowell’s house is currently being floated as a $20 million pocket listing; and in January, Barry Bonds’ Beverly Park house hit the market this way as well.
Almost a year later, Bonds’ home is officially on the MLS and with a price cut. First offered at $25 million, the house at 44 Beverly Park Cir, Los Angeles, CA 90210 is now down to $23.5 million.
Although Bonds spent the bulk of his MLB career with the San Francisco Giants, he preferred a L.A. home base, buying the enormous estate in 2002 for $8.7 million, according to property records.
Like Bonds, the home has a presence, sprawling more than 17,000 square feet on a 1.85-acre lot. A circular motor court leads to the Italian-style home’s entrance. An ornate entryway opens with 30-foot ceilings and hand-painted Trompe L’oeil murals. Venetian plaster walls and imported limestone and Italian Travertine flooring continue into the main living areas.
Among the home’s features: a 12-person theater, “commercial-grade” gym and a full spa, which includes “steam sauna and tanning salon … a hydrotherapy tub and Swedish full-body therapy rooms.”
Outside there isn’t a baseball diamond, but a 2,100-square-foot sports court, pool and loggia with outdoor kitchen. A two-story guesthouse rounds out the rest of the grounds.
A star baseball player from the moment he began playing, Bonds broke several records during his time with the Giants. However, allegations of drug use and a recent denial to the Baseball Hall of Fame during his first year of eligibility have marred the slugger’s reputation.
The listing is held by Mauricio Umansky of The Agency.
Wondering what it would take to pay for Bonds’ colossal casa? Using the Zillow mortgage calculator, the monthly payment is estimated to be $93,345, assuming a 20 percent down payment on a 30-year fixed mortgage.
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