Monday, December 27, 2010

A Year-End Thank You to Our Clients

The past 12 months have been a year like no other as we learn to adapt to a different real estate climate and provide our clients with the best service possible.

Our charge is to learn new ways to serve our clients, from new government regulations and programs, to enhancing online sites showing off your house, or helping a client through a complicated sale.

We thank our home sellers and buyers for their support and the support of the St. Charles community. We strive to be good neighbors and make contributions that will enhance our corner of the world.

When the going gets rough, working together makes the challenges easier and even more satisfying. We’ve been here for 35 years and intend to help our clients for at least another 35 years. Our agents always have your best interests at heart and we look forward to a brighter 2011. With you, we can do it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A touch of paint adds up to a bright home, livable home for the new year

Painting can make all the difference in how potential buyers perceive you home.

As 2010 takes its last bow, it’s time for a fresh, new outlook. Pack away those holiday decorations and give your home a bright look that will lift your spirits and position your home as more marketable. There are many small projects that can be done in a weekend, but nothing makes more of an impact than painting.

It’s amazing how much a coat of paint can change the outlook of a room. Color makes a great difference, so start with a quart of your color choice just to make sure you like it, and it shows well during different times of day.

When you buy paint, consider the type of finish and how well it will hold up. The most common finishes for walls and woodwork are eggshell and satin because they are easy to clean and give a crisp finish. Eggshell has a lower gloss than satin. In some cases, these finishes will show imperfections in the walls, so good wall prep and plastering are a must before you paint.

Other choices include flat, or matte, which has no sheen and can be hard to clean. High gloss finishes aren’t used much for interiors, but they are becoming popular for a dramatic look on cabinets and very modern designs.

Usually homeowners are counseled to present their homes in neutral colors, but don’t restrict yourself to whites and creams. Done well, even a contrasting wall in a related color will be pleasing to potential buyers. For instance, if you have a wall with French doors leading to a patio, you can make that wall a focal point with a darker shade of paint. Because the focal point wall has natural lighting, a darker paint won’t minimize the size of your room.

Crown molding is a great selling point now. Show it off with a different color than your walls, but keep the ceiling light to make the room more expansive.

Since you will be painting in the wintertime and have a limited ability to open windows for ventilation, it’s important that you choose a low or zero VOC paint. This type of paint does not release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your home. These paints have a slight odor when applied and no odor after curing. They are just as durable as traditional paints and are less harmful to you and your environment.

Get started soon. A painting project is just what you need to brighten your home and your life.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

THANK YOU! from The Grant Hickman Team

Just wanted to take this time to send out a personal Thank You to all friends, families, partners and everyone that supports me and The Grant Hickman Team.

This past year certainly has been one to remember, not only in real estate, but also for so many families in so many “Life Effecting” ways. From foreclosure avoidance, divorce, downsizing…to growing families, marriage and investing in real estate!

For those of you who know me personally, 2010 has shown me many aspects of life. I am grateful to have Lori, Cary and my entire SCHNEIDER team and Partners, Friends and Family surrounding and supporting me. I am also appreciative to all of our families that let us help them lease, refi, buy, sell and invest.

The world of real estate is constantly evolving. I believe, as your trusted real estate advisor, it is my responsibility to provide you with information to make your real estate experience awesome. From explaining federal and state home buying incentive programs, eco-green advantages, staging, landscaping, navigating foreclosures, short sales, profitable real estate investing, successful home closings, and all the important details that you need to know in today’s complex real estate climate.

I feel humbled and appreciative that year after year, I am able to be apart of such an important part of our families lives….their home!

On the first day of January 2011, we are lucky to have 365 days of opportunity to help! The reason The Grant Hickman Team exists at all is because of you–our families who trust us, rely on us and share an enthusiasm for my business. For this, and your loyalty, from myself and my entire team…THANK YOU.


Sincerely, your Realtor,

-Grant Hickman

Driving During Bad Weather

Living in the Midwest has brought us from warm weather and sunny skies, to cold winds and snow covered streets in a drastic way this year. With the weather changing so rapidly, our friends over at Marquitz Buick, Cadillac, GMC in Troy, Missouri want to provide you with some tips for driving in the snow and ice. The best tip available for driving in bad weather is to not drive at all. Although, it is understandable that not driving is the safest way to avoid accidents, it is not realistic and sometimes a trip to the grocery store is necessary.

Driving safely on icy roads

  1. Decrease your speed, and leave plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space between your vehicle, and the one in front of you.
  2. Brake with slight pressure, and release the brake if you detect slippage.
  3. Drive with your headlights on.
  4. Remove snow, and any road grime from headlights and windshield.
  5. Ice patches can be found in several spots even with temperatures above freezing. Be careful when driving on roads that are not traveled often.

If your wheels skid

  1. Take your foot off the gas pedal, and steer in the direction the vehicle is traveling. If the vehicle is sliding right, steer right. You may have to steer left and right a few times in order to get the vehicle completely under control.
  2. Most vehicles come standard with Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS), and you will need to put steady pressure on the pedal to help reduce the skid.

If you get stuck

  1. Always travel with a cell phone in order to call for help if necessary.
  2. Do not spin your wheels as this will dig the vehicle in deeper.
  3. Try to clear the snow in front of the tires with either a shovel, or by turning the tires from side to side.
  4. Place kitty litter, gravel, or salt in front of your tires to help gain traction.
  5. Attempt to rock the vehicle back and forth. Check the owner’s manual first before attempting.


More information can be found at Weather.com, with the National Safety Council, the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Washington State Government Information & Services.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Give homeowner tax credits, rebates to you and your house for the holidays

Energy efficiency is in, as well as income tax breaks next year.

As the year draws to a close and attention turns toward giving, you can give you, your family and your house the gift of energy efficiency that will last long after the holiday hubbub. Electronics are usually gift pleasers and can mean even more if you choose those that are energy efficient. As an example, over the lifetime of a home office equipped with an energy efficient computer, printer and lighting, you can save around $350. Retail and online stores routinely offer rebates on energy efficient products that will help you save money.

The deadline for the federal government’s energy tax credits is December 31, 2010, so speed is of the essence here. Those credits include qualifying heating, ventilating and air conditioning system, insulation, roofing materials, windows and doors. Credits are for 30 percent of the cost up to $1,500 for certain products.

But if you want to install a solar water heater, those tax credits extend through 2016. Closer to home, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources offers energy efficient incentives while Ameren Missouri offers renewable energy initiatives with customers and rebates and free pick-up for old refrigerators and freezers.

The federal tax credit program is a memory now, but homeowners can get help from the city of St. Charles and the Community Development Homeowner Assistance Program or check out the homeownership possibilities with the state of Missouri compiled by the Missouri Association of Realtors.

When the April 15 income tax deadline looms next year, keep in mind that you can get some tax breaks by deducting the interest on your home loan. Real estate, or property taxes, are also deductible and points are too if your real estate purchase was for your main residence. To receive these tax breaks you must file a long for and itemize your deductions.

Learning to take advantage of energy efficient deals, tax breaks and homeowner assistance will help you end the year with a bit more change in your pocket.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Saint Peters 3 Bed Home FOR SALE

Check out this awesome ranch home in Saint Peters, MO



Tucked in tall trees offering loads of privacy along with a gorgeous view this home is beautifully situated! Close to Laurel Park in a well established neighborhood don't miss checking out this home! The living room is bright and spacious featuring a cozy floor to ceiling corner brick fireplace sure to be a favorite gathering spot this winter. The heart of the home kitchen has plenty of room for a nicely sized table and hutch. The view out of the kitchen window and slider is outstanding! Right outside the kitchen is a large deck flanked with mature trees that offer their shade all summer long! The main bathroom offers the convenient Jack and Jill feature! Be sure and head downstairs where you will find another full bathroom and partially finished rec room and sleeping area. Outside the lower level atrium doors is another deck below the upper level deck that provides shade and some protection from the elements! Call today to schedule your own private viewing!

See More Pictures

Adopt-A-Family

Heading over to Saint Charles Community College to help set up for Adopt-A-Family Dec 10th-12th. Small way for me to give back to an amazing cause!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

How to make Holiday Entertaining Tax Deductible:

Any entertaining you provide must be directly related to the conduct of your business or associated with a directly-related discussion that preceded or followed the meal or entertainment. This means that giving a party to establish goodwill is not enough to make the transaction deductible.

2. The guest list determines the extent to which you can write off the party.

a. So if you are following the above No. 1, you have a 100% write off if: a) The party is open to the general public, or b) the party is for employees and their spouses;

b. You follow the 50% limitation rule that applies meals and entertainment and write off half the cost if: a) The party is for customers, prospective customers and/or b) Independent contractors associated with your firm (they cannot be classified as employees for this purpose).

3. The entertainment may not be “lavish or extravagant” (one of those subjective, gray areas).

Proving the above is another matter. You want documentation, such as the invitation announcing the business purpose, the guest list, attendees, and keep all receipts.

When providing the expenses to your accountant, separate the cost of the party that is 100% deductible to a different category from “Meals and Entertainment”. Track it under “Promotion” or “100% Entertainment” to ensure the full write-off at tax time. Otherwise, your accountant may apply the 50% rule to everything under “meals and entertainment” and you will have lost a valuable write-off.

UPDATED: Military/Federal Employees First Time Home Buying Credit

***Members of the military and certain other federal employees serving outside the U.S. have an extra year to buy a principal residence in the U.S. and qualify for the credit. Thus, an eligible taxpayer must buy, or enter into a binding contract to buy, a principal residence on or before April 30, 2011. If a binding contract is entered into by that date, the taxpayer has until June 30, 2011, to close on the purchase.Members of the uniformed services, members of the Foreign Service and employees of the intelligence community are eligible for this special rule. It applies to any individual (and, if married, the individual’s spouse) who serves on qualified official extended duty service outside of the United States for at least 90 days during the period beginning after Dec. 31, 2008, and ending before May 1, 2010.
Tonight is SCHNEIDER's xmas party.....can't wait to hang out with a bunch of realtors....After more thought, maybe I will call in sick :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Winter buyers are serious. Give them a treat and don’t over decorate during the holidays.

Using some restraint in holiday decorating goes a long way to selling your home now.

Celebrating the holidays and selling your home can go hand-in-hand if you use a little restraint in the decorating department. Keep in mind that buyers who look at homes during the winter are serious; with interest rates low and a wide variety of housing to choose from you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to sell because of overwhelming decorations.

Beginning on the outside, curb appeal is even more important during the winter because of the lack of grass and trees. Making potential buyers feel welcome is a great start in the sales process. Hanging a beautiful, real wreath on the door is a good start. Use fresh greens rather artificial so visitors enter your home with the pleasing scent of pine.

If you are an outdoor lights aficionado, go ahead but keep it simple. The inflatable Santa that is your family tradition–keep it packed up for your next home, but do add lights around your door and along the walkway. Generally non-twinkling white lights are preferable because they do light the way for prospective buyers and reduce potential falls in the evening hours.

Decorating for the holiday season follows the same rules as other times…declutter, keep it simple, keep it impersonal and show off your home’s best points. Yes, you can have a Christmas tree this year and sell your home at the same time! When choosing that tree, pick a slender one rather than a bushy behemoth. And before you bring the tree in, take a few pieces of furniture out of the room. Offering a view of a cramped, cluttering room is not a holiday treat for buyers. They need to see the true strengths of your home and imagine themselves celebrating the holidays here next year.

As with the refreshing pine scent from your door wreath, tempting your buyer’s senses inside increases the chance of a sale. If you have an open house during the holidays, offer mulled cider and bake some Christmas cookies instead of using artificial, chemical imitations. Buyers know the real thing and will respond.

Inside decorations should be low-key and subtle. Unpack only a few prized, but impersonal things. Small table decorations, some holiday flowers, a few pine cones and some simple greens over the fireplace will do the trick.

Once the holiday cheer dies down, remove all your decorations directly after New Years. Buyers want to know you’ve taken care of their potential home and attending to such details shows you care about selling.

Despite having to show some restraint with your holiday decorating, just remember you can do what you want next year in your new home.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fireplaces Draw Potential Buyers to Your Home

With a few furniture changes and a good cleaning, your fireplace will welcome buyers and make them feel at home


As the temperatures drop and our attention turns inward, having a cheery fireplace as the focal point of a room is a soothing experience. And, if you are selling your home during the winter months, the fireplace adds value and interest if staged properly.

Before you begin using your fireplace, have a certified chimney sweep clean and inspect it. You want your winter to be safe. Small cracks in the firebox and chimney coatings can cause problems if sparks land there and smolder long after you thought the fire was out.

Cleaning makes a big difference too. Removing ashes from the firebox once a week during winter months is the rule, and more often if potential buyers are viewing your house. Like the rest of the home, cleanliness in your fireplace means attention to detail and good maintenance. Scoop the ashes out into a container and dispose of them in the trash. Never use a vacuum cleaner; latent coals may still be burning.

Don’t hide your fireplace behind furniture. Show it off with a welcoming seating arrangement that begs you to sit down and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. Switch out the worn fireplace screen and invest in a new one. To keep your fireplace the center of attention, de-clutter the mantel and surrounding area. While you enjoy seeing a mantel full of family photos, this is a distraction for the winter buyer. Simplicity is the key here and you may also enjoy admiring your fireplace’s architectural details.

Enhance your fireplace with a few decorative touches. In this case odd numbers are in. Use one, three or five objects that are in proportion to your fireplace. For instance, a painting too small or too large will detract from your fireplace’s impact.

Whether your fireplace is sleek and ultra-modern or Tuscan brick, use it to welcome potential buyers who will say, “Ahhh, this is home!”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Non-business Energy Property Credit

Use it before it is gone: A 30 percent credit of what a homeowner spends on eligible energy-saving improvements, up to a maximum tax credit of $1,500 for the combined 2009 and 2010 tax years. The cost of certain high-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems, water heaters and stoves that burn biomass all qualify, along with labor costs for installing these items. In addition, the cost of energy-efficient windows and skylights, energy-efficient doors, qualifying insulation and certain roofs also qualify for the credit, though the cost of installing these items does not count.

By spending as little as $5,000 before the end of the year, on eligible energy-saving improvements, you can save as much as $1,500 on their 2010 federal income tax return, if you did not use the credit in 2009.

Written by Joan Campbell, CPA

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

1st Time Home Buyer Tips

Pending home sales are up for the second month in a row
First-time homebuyers can make the purchase rewarding with careful planning and financial honesty


A glimmer of positive movement surfaced in the real estate market this week–¬pending home sales increased for the second straight month. Low interest rates make purchasing a home very attractive now.

For first-time homebuyers, the process can be intimidating, but breaking down the steps brings the experience into perspective. Here are some hints to make your home purchase as smooth as possible.

Determine a budget–Be honest about how much you can spend. Factor in expenses not directly included in the actual purchase price, such as closing costs, inspections, repairs and mortgage insurance. Also think about long-term expenses–in addition to the mortgage payments, utilities, insurance, small and large disasters and maintenance can eat up a large chunk of your monthly income.

Just because you’ve been pre-approved for a $200,000 loan at $2,000 a month doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to spend that much. By pushing your financial limits, you could be “house rich and cash poor” or even houseless should your income be severely diminished.

Find a reliable lender–This is important and will avoid unpleasant surprises down the line. For starters, discuss your potential mortgage with a loan officer at your bank and get some basic figures. Ask your real estate agent for referrals. Loan officers who have a good working relationship with real estate agents will be fair and get the loan closed on time. (By the way, there are no referral fees; that’s illegal and a good agent would never do that.)

Be competitive and fair–In a slow moving market, some homebuyers feel that sellers are so desperate to sell their home that they will take any lowball offer just to move on. That can be very insulting to a seller, who may not wish to deal with you. Of course you want the best price possible, but the process entails mutual respect, a reasonable starting bid, and fair market value.

Choose your agent carefully–Not only should professionalism and a great sales record be a choice for an agent, but personality plays a part too. Interview several agents and, all being equal at the end, decide which agent you would best work with on a personal level.

Plotting a methodical, sensible course to home buying with your dream house as the prize at the end will make the process less stressful and more rewarding.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A recent IRS phishing scam: Receiving e-mails with the subject line and content something like:

Subject: LAST NOTICE: Your Federal Tax Payment ID: 010363221 has been rejected.
Content:
Your Federal Tax Payment ID: 010375163 has been rejected.
Return Reason Code R21 - The identification number used in the Company Identification Field is not valid. Please, check the information and refer to Code R21 to get details about your company payment in transaction contacts section: http://eftps.gov/R21 In other way forward information to your accountant adviser.

Please remember:

1. First, the IRS does not initiate communication through e-mail
2. Second, do not reply, do not open attachments, do not click on any links
3. Last, report suspicious e-mails to phishing@irs.gov

Written by Joan Campbell CPA

Monday, November 1, 2010

Selling your home during the fall season requires patience

Sprucing up your home’s exterior and curb appeal will go a long way toward welcoming a buyer

Buyers and sellers should not be deterred just because fall and early winter are considered slower for real estate sales. People do buy homes now and astute buyers know this is the time to purchase very special deals. Fall home sellers can make a favorable impression by enhancing curb appeal and making appealing to the buyer’s senses. Fall selling tips include:

Keeping your lawn in shape. Summer may be recent history, but buyers want to see your lawn’s potential. Re-seed bare spots, rake fallen leaves and replace faded summer flowers with colorful fall plantings, such as mums and pansies that have been hybridized for fall and early winter blooms.

Exterior street appearance is vital. We are a bit past the brilliant autumn foliage so your home becomes more exposed and the exterior appearance is extremely important. Cleaning gutters and downspouts shows potential buyers that you are serious about home maintenance. Chipped exterior paint and discolored siding will be more apparent; a good power washing is in order with some paint touch up. Also, make sure outdoor lighting is bright and shiny–you may be showing your home in the dark and the potential buyer should feel safe.

Pictures say it all. If your home was originally put on the market in the spring or summer, take new fall shots for your real estate agent’s website. You don’t to seem dated or indifferent to a sale.

Bring the natural light in. Buyers want a sense of openness, cleanliness and space. Wash all your windows and open the drapes for maximum exposure to the outdoors. A gloomy inside just doesn’t make the buyer feel inspired. Add a few fall decorations too, but hold back on those fake plants and leaves.

Understand the buyer’s mindset. You may encounter homebuyers who will come in with an unacceptably low bid because they think fall sellers are eager to sell. Depending on what you need, deal with these potential buyers accordingly and work to find a mutually agreeable price if that is possible.

Flexibility is the key. Selling a home this time of the year means a certain amount of flexibility. Working with your buyers will help with a sale. Be prepared to show your home at any reasonable time and hold open houses. Also consider paying closing costs and pitching in with minor repairs.

While fall isn’t the easiest time of the year to sell, with some flexibility and negotiation, both the seller and buyer can experience a positive sale.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pending home sales are up for the second month in a row

First-time homebuyers can make the purchase rewarding with careful planning and financial honesty

A glimmer of positive movement surfaced in the real estate market this week–­pending home sales increased for the second straight month. Low interest rates make purchasing a home very attractive now.

For first-time homebuyers, the process can be intimidating, but breaking down the steps brings the experience into perspective. Here are some hints to make your home purchase as smooth as possible.

Determine a budget–Be honest about how much you can spend. Factor in expenses not directly included in the actual purchase price, such as closing costs, inspections, repairs and mortgage insurance. Also think about long-term expenses–in addition to the mortgage payments, utilities, insurance, small and large disasters and maintenance can eat up a large chunk of your monthly income.

Just because you’ve been pre-approved for a $200,000 loan at $2,000 a month doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to spend that much. By pushing your financial limits, you could be “house rich and cash poor” or even houseless should your income be severely diminished.

Find a reliable lender–­This is important and will avoid unpleasant surprises down the line. For starters, discuss your potential mortgage with a loan officer at your bank and get some basic figures. Ask your real estate agent for referrals. Loan officers who have a good working relationship with real estate agents will be fair and get the loan closed on time. (By the way, there are no referral fees; that’s illegal and a good agent would never do that.)

Be competitive and fair–In a slow moving market, some homebuyers feel that sellers are so desperate to sell their home that they will take any lowball offer just to move on. That can be very insulting to a seller, who may not wish to deal with you. Of course you want the best price possible, but the process entails mutual respect, a reasonable starting bid, and fair market value.

Choose your agent carefully–Not only should professionalism and a great sales record be a choice for an agent, but personality plays a part too. Interview several agents and, all being equal at the end, decide which agent you would best work with on a personal level.

Plotting a methodical, sensible course to home buying with your dream house as the prize at the end will make the process less stressful and more rewarding.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tax breaks are available to homeowners

Buying a home comes with some tax perks if you’re willing to file the IRS long form

April 15 may seem like a long time away, but if you’ve just bought a home, you can make tax time less stressful now. Proper tax planning now may reap deduction benefits next year. Tax breaks are available for property owners, but only if you itemize your deductions instead of filing the short form.

Tax breaks for property owners include:

  • Mortgage interest­–For most homeowners, the biggest portion of your house payment goes to interest. All of the interest is tax-deductible. In the beginning of your loan, a much smaller part begins repaying the debt.
  • Real estate taxes­–Also known as property taxes, this is the annual tax that most state and local governments charge on the assessed value of your real property.
  • Points–These are lender fees associated with getting a mortgage. Each point equals 1% of the loan principal. Points can add up to thousands of dollars, with one to three points common on most home loans. You can deduct points in the year you paid them if the loan is to purchase or build you main residence.
  • Moving expenses–You could deduct moving expenses if you are self-employed or an employee, if your move is related to starting work at a new job location.

You also have a new address and to make life a lot simpler before tax time, you need to notify several agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Service and your employer. If you’ve had a name change too, notify the Social Security Administration so that your Social Security number will match when you file your tax returns.

The IRS requires that you file Form 8822. That form is downloadable at IRS.gov or by calling 800.829.3676. If you’ve had a name change, it’s necessary to filed Form SS-5, which is an application for a new Social Security card. That form is returned to your local Social Security office.

With a bit of advanced planning, tax deductions can make your home sweet home sweeter than ever!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Older Americans are willing to downsize homes and work longer to maintain lifestyle

Boomers have also redefined what are necessities instead of luxuries.

One of the most influential groups in modern history–the Baby Boomers–changed the fabric of American life and are in the forefront again, in housing and what they define as basic needs.

More than 35 million Americans are age 65 or older and the home ownership rate is 80 percent, according to the Aging In Place Initiative. Older Americans are willing to downsize their homes to maintain a certain lifestyle.

Rather than moving to warmer climates, most want to stay in the communities where they live, work and raised their children. MainStay Investments found that 47 percent of older Americans surveyed would downsize their home and work longer to maintain what they consider basic needs.

Traditionally those would be food, clothing and housing. Now, those basic needs include a far more eclectic mix. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed reported having an Internet connection is a basic need, and 66 percent felt that shopping for birthdays and special occasions is a necessity.

Pet care is considered a necessity for 51 percent of respondents while 50 percent feel that taking a vacation once a year is a need, not a luxury. The list also includes weekend getaways, professional hair care, education and dining out.

Many of these needs do make sense; because families can be spread all over the country, the web helps keep them connected with each other’s lives. Pets have become another source of emotional support when families no longer have a local connection.

But the age of excess is over and older Americans, never very good at saving, must continue to re-evaluate what is important and make adjustments for a future in an uncertain economy.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Homeowners can save money and improve quality of life by using free conservation tips.

Turning lights off and reducing water usage will make a big difference.

This summer was hot. And humid. And uncomfortable. Those temperatures are moderating, but the utility bills are flooding our mailboxes. Keeping cool in Missouri can be an expensive undertaking. We know that energy efficiency for our homes is the way to go now, not only from an expense standpoint, but also from an ecological view. EnergyStar® appliances, new windows, solar panels and more insulation are very important, but there are also things that you and your family can do every day that cost nothing and considerably reduce your utilities.

Turn the lights out. Your furniture is not afraid of the dark. If you or a family member won’t be in a room for more than five minutes, flip the switch. Ditto for the television, radio and video games. Where ever possible use compact florescent light bulbs. They use a fourth of the energy of an incandescent bulb and produce the same amount of light.

Window coverings are another energy saving method. Keep the drapes closed on the east side of the house in the morning, open in the afternoon, and drapes closed on the west side during the late afternoon.

With cooler temperatures coming, turn off the air conditioning, open the windows and enjoy real air. Ceiling fans will help circulate fresh air both during the day and nighttime. As frigid air moves in, keep your thermostat at 68 degrees during the day and around 55 at night. Programmable thermostats are great and help keep a constant temperature. If you go away for an extended period of time, set the thermostat at 55 degrees. You can save from five to 20 percent on your heating costs.

Water runs freely in this part of the country, but it really is a very precious resource. Just a few techniques can save hundreds of gallons of water each week and reduce your water bill. Approximately 75 percent of the water we use at home is in the bathroom. According to the 
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average bathroom faucet flows at two gallons per minute. If you turn the tap off when brushing your teeth in the morning and at bedtime you can save up to eight gallons of water per day, and that equals 240 gallons a month!

Americans love their long, hot showers and baths, but consider this: taking a five-minute shower uses 10-25 gallons of water while a bath can consume up to 70 gallons. Replacing current shower and sink fixtures with low flow aerators will also save a considerable amount of water.

Would you like to know how much water your family uses in a day? The U.S. Geological Survey has a great survey you can complete to find out your totals. This is a fun exercise to do with children to help them understand the ramifications of letting the faucet run.

If you would like to learn more tips on saving energy, saving money and being more environmentally friendly, The U.S. Department of Energy has a booklet you can download or order.

With just a few minor adjustments in habit, homeowners and families have the opportunity to keep energy expenses under control and help our quality of living.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Bathroom renovations top kitchens as the best home investment

Start and end your day in a peaceful bathroom retreat.

Curb appeal, updated kitchens and bathrooms are always big draws for potential buyers. Kitchens were traditionally the most common remodel, but this year the bathroom has surged ahead, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Home Builders.

Homeowners are also avoiding large remodeling projects, such as room additions, whole house remodeling, installing pools and lavish outdoor living spaces. Instead, they choose the smaller bathroom project that can add panache and a sense of individuality.

While small, a bathroom remodel can be expensive, as is any project involving plumbing and water. Bathrooms today are being designed as personal retreats from the frenetic pace of life. Soaking tubs are big, as is a separate shower, beautiful tile, radiant heating and heated towel racks.

Still, remodeling a bathroom is one of the smarter investments a homeowner can do to add value.

The first step is to conceptualize just what you want for your bathroom. Writing a wish list helps with organization, and with deciding how much the project may cost. Research bathroom ideas at retail stores and by visiting newly remodeled bathrooms. You’ll be surprised how a simple idea turns into a functional centerpiece. The Internet is another wonderful resource for ideas, color coordination, bath features and online planning guides.

Doing this preliminary work also sets the stage for the second step, finding a reliable, professional contractor. Communication is the absolute key when doing a renovation, and unless you and the contractor are speaking the same language and understand the ultimate goal, problems will pop up.

While some do-it-yourselfers may be able to take on a bathroom remodel, a contractor is usually the best bet. He or she knows how to get the required permits and build according to your local code. Nothing is more disheartening when an inspector comes, finds issues and the whole job needs to be taken out.

Two major concepts are important in your remodel–lighting and circulation. John Rhia at houselogic.com emphasizes how important natural lighting and heavy-duty ventilation are. Good lighting creates an open, airy feeling, which is especially important in a small bathroom. And, well-designed lighting systems remove shadows so you’ll know how you look in the morning.

Ventilation is a major issue. Without it, the bathroom not only smells, well, like a locker room, but also breeds humidity, mold and mildew. Not only are these culprits expensive to remediate, they also will destroy expensive cabinetry.

A bathroom upgrade will bring many rewards, not only by adding value to you home, but also by providing you with a peaceful retreat to start and end your day. For success, take it slowly, be specific about what you want, and let the experts handle the water and plumbing.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Amendment 3 to stop double taxation will appear on the November ballot

Make sure to vote “yes” to prohibit real estate transfer taxes

There’s good news for Missouri homebuyers and sellers as Amendment 3, which if approved, would prohibit double taxation on real estate, will be placed on the November 2 ballot. The initiative had been stalled when the state of Missouri challenged the number of petition signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

Amendment 3, supported by the Vote “YES” To Stop Double Taxation Committee and the 21,000-member Missouri Association of Realtors, would prohibit real estate transfer taxes on a sold property. The advocates see transfer taxes as double taxation because Missourians already pay property taxes on real estate, often over many decades of ownership. Missouri is one of just 13 states that do not impose the transfer tax, including all of Missouri’s neighboring states.

The Missouri Association of Realtors believes the transfer tax places undue stress on low-income Missourians who typically spend a larger percentage of income on their home.

Add the mix of Missourians who have lost their jobs, had pay cuts and have been forced to sell their homes or experienced a drop in property values, and the transfer tax just isn’t good for the recovering Missouri economy.

Here’s the simple and straightforward proposal: “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to prevent the state, counties and other political subdivisions from imposing any new tax, including a sales tax, on the sale or transfer of homes or any other real estate?”
Taxation on real estate transfers will be placed on the November ballot. This amendment would prohibit

The state's dismissal of its appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court followed positive talks between the Vote "YES" To Stop Double Taxation Committee and the offices of Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and Attorney General Chris Koster. Together, they agreed to ask Cole County Circuit Judge Paul Wilson to modify his ruling in the committee's favor. The judge agreed to the modification, addressing the state's issues while declaring there were more than enough valid signatures of registered voters to place Amendment 3 on the ballot.

The next step is encouraging massive voter turnout on November 2 to insure Missouri sellers and buyers are not assessed yet another financial burden.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome home. The fun is just beginning when first-time home buyers move in and personalize their new space.

Furnishing a new home can be expensive. Have enough funds to provide the basics and not experience short-term financial stress.

First-time home buyers who took advantage of the $8,000 tax credit program now have the experience of moving into home ownership with all accompanying responsibility and adventure. For many, this will be the first real place to call home; the urge to personalize the new “nest” is compelling.

Coming from apartments and their parents’ homes, new home owners may not realize the scope of furnishing a home with all the necessities to make the place livable, let alone lavish. According to the National Association of Home Builders, a typical homebuyer spends an average of $7,400 on their home, with more than half of that during the first year after purchase. The first order of business for new owners is to make sure at least that amount is available and won’t send the owner into a severe budget crunch. Here are some tips to make that house a real home.

Before moving, take stock of what you have and what has just become part of the scenery. Make a list of what has sentimental value and what is clutter. Moving clutter can cost a lot, either through professional moving companies or calling on friends to heave all those boxes.

After you’ve packed up your stuff, outfit and pack a basic toolbox. Many of projects you’ll do to personalize your space require tools. The basic minimum includes a hammer, screw drivers, pliers, wrenches, a tape measure and a staple gun. Hanging those new curtains loses a lot of appeal if you have to run to the hardware store in the middle to get tools. Be prepared first.

Personalizing and furnishing your new home is one of the most exciting activities for new home buyers. Before running out to purchase that super extra king size bed or several pieces of oversized living room furniture, take accurate measurements of all the rooms and use them to judge what fits and what doesn’t. After all, too much furniture in a room makes it feel small and claustrophobic. Be a fair judge of what would compliment the furniture you already have.

You’ll also need basic appliances to get started. A stove, refrigerator, washer and dryer should be energy efficient to reduce your utility bills. Spending a bit more right now makes more sense than purchasing a cheaper model that may become a problem and financial drain later on. If you are angling for an entertainment system and a huge flat screen television, check your budget first to make sure you can buy basic furnishings before such large ticket items.

Window coverings and linens are another way to express your personality, plus add security and privacy. Budget accordingly, since some new home owners don’t plan for the cost of outfitting a house with new drapes and curtains.

Garden tools will be a necessity to keep your curb appeal top notch. The basics include a lawn mower, garden hose, sprinkler, clippers, a shovel and rakes. For people moving from an apartment, this category of necessities will be a new experience.

Purchasing and personalizing your first home is a real thrill. Be creative but approach this one room at a time. As you begin feeling at home, you’ll be able to capitalize on your home’s features and blend that with your own uniqueness.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Cleaning For A Reason helps women in treatment for cancer have sparkling clean homes

Through local cleaning and maid service partners, the Foundation relieves cleaning chores so women can focus on getting well.

Housework can be drudgery in the best of times, but for women being treated for cancer, the task can be insurmountable. Fortunately help is out there. The Cleaning For a Reason Foundation is dedicated to easing the housekeeping chores as women undergo treatment. Working with local cleaning and maid companies, the Foundation provides cleaning services once a month for four months.

Participating cleaning companies in the St. Louis area include Marvelous Maids, O’Fallon; Dee’s Cleaning Service, St. Charles; Green Angel Cleaning Service, St. Louis; Home Cleaning Centers of America, St. Louis-Midtown-South; and Go Green Clean in Webster Groves.

Founded in 2006 by Debbie Sardone, a 29-year veteran of the cleaning industry, the organization has provided more than $500,000 in free cleaning services. What a wonderful mission this group and affiliated cleaning services have taken on. By offering to help women in treatment, we see direct, immediate assistance to make their lives easier and more normal during a very difficult time.

If you know of a woman who would qualify, go to the Cleaning For A Reason website to help her begin the application process. While the Foundation does have sponsors, including Hoover and Allstate, donations are still needed to expand cleaning services. You may go here to help even more women being treated for cancer to have clean homes!

Monday, August 16, 2010

With a plan and a dose of flexibility you can find the right house for now and the future

Even if it doesn’t have everything you want now, good financial planning will help

Is now the right time to buy your first or next home? With interest rates low, prices at a fair level and many choices out there, the temptation is to jump into the real estate market. The question is how to decide what you can afford, what features are a must, and what would be great but not a necessity.

Affordability
Even before you make a list of what you want and where you want it, the first consideration is: can you afford it? That’s non-negotiable. Consider long-term expenses, not just the up-front incentives that can dazzle a buyer. Over extending a budget for a few glitzy perks is a disaster in the making. The standard in financial planning is to spend no more than 35% of your pretax income on the mortgage, insurance and home insurance. You’ll also want to pay at least 20 percent down on the property and get a fixed-rate loan so you know exactly what your monthly payments will be.

The list
Here’s where you will detail, on paper, the type of home you want and the location. Be realistic about the positive and negative features and consider the long-term consequences of each feature. Think ahead. Don’t just buy a home for now, but consider the future. Resale value is an important factor, style can be an issue, plus room for children (and schools) and physical needs for aging parents who may move in.

Flexibility
Consider your purchase as a long-term investment, not a short-term gain. Now you have time to choose what you absolutely cannot do without, and what features are flexible. Most buyers won’t find everything they want at a price they can pay. So, if a swimming pool is on your list but the property you like doesn’t have one, putting a pool in is a goal for the future. Ditto for cosmetic things like countertops, bathroom spas and landscaping. While you may not have these up front by choosing a home with a mortgage you can manage, you’ll have the financial flexibility in the future.

With an organized home buying plan, you can minimize a great deal of the emotional impact. By determining your buying power, your wants and needs, and having an organized search plan, your chances of a stress-free experience are much better.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Inexpensive staging tips can increase a buyer’s interest and help sell a home quickly

Decluttering and a good cleaning are givens when selling a home, but the owner can increase the probability of a sale by using staging techniques. Staging helps a seller think like a buyer. Embracing this perspective early on will help prepare the home for the market. Small staging changes can make the biggest difference in the sales price and time on the market.

Make a Difference and Set Your Home Apart from the Crowd
To sell a home in this market, homeowners must compete in two areas–visual appeal and pricing, which is 80% of selling a property. While the price is the first lure, how well the home looks is the clincher.

Here’s where home staging plays a pivotal role. The technique highlights the home’s positive features and downplays the problem areas. Sellers have the opportunity showcase a home that welcomes a potential buyer into a space they can see as their own.

Set the Stage
While a seller can hire a professional stager, a lot of small-scale changes can help the process along. Here are some home staging tips that any seller can do personally.

Paint–Neutral colors that leave the buyer room for imagination are standard, but that doesn’t mean boring works. Earth-toned palettes, such as grey, sage, soft yellow, spa blue and beige warm a home and give the potential buyer a sense of well-being.

Give rooms a purpose–Even if the seller is comfortable with the computer in the dining room, the buyer needs to see a dining room table, not a nest of cables. Each room should be staged to reflect a specific purpose. Even a space that seemly don’t have a purpose can be set up as a cozy reading area with a chair, lamp and side table.

Furniture arrangement–The point is to open up visual space and create conversation areas that feel light and airy. A good rule of thumb is to remove two pieces of furniture, especially if they are oversized, and move the remaining furniture away from the walls.

Bedroom oasis–The bedroom should be an inviting focal point with upscale bedding in simple patterns. Include throws, pillow shams and a comforter folded at the end of the bed. A small sitting area with a cozy chair and reading lamp will also welcome a buyer.

Expert help
Real estate agents who value staging as the ramp to the sale will make all the difference. Choose an agent who can see the home as a buyer would, and who will offer the best advice for a seller to be competitive in today’s market.

Monday, August 2, 2010

HOPE real estate tax incentive still alive for potential buyers

The Missouri state program offers up to $1,750 in combined tax, energy efficient improvements for new homeowners.

The Missouri Housing Development Commission is still offering up to a $1,250 credit in real estate tax benefits for qualified buyers through the Home Ownership Purchase Enhancement (HOPE) program. Earlier this year the commission set aside $15 million to encourage home ownership, but it seems potential buyers have been slow on the uptake. Only $1.2 million has been issued, and that with the deadline drawing near.

To qualify, the home must be purchased between January 1, 2010, and August 31, 2010. The HOPE application must be received by the MHDC no later than September 30 of this year. There is also an income limit–up to $95,060 in the St. Louis metro region. First-time and repeat buyers are eligible for the program.

Homebuyers who are approved for the real estate property tax HOPE incentive may also be eligible to receive an additional amount if they bought a qualified newly constructed energy efficient home or bought an existing home and remodeled or purchased items, such as Energy Star® appliances, to make the home more energy efficient. The maximum combined total of the HOPE property tax incentive and the HOPE energy efficiency incentive is $1,750.

For more details, contact us and we can help buyers take advantage of this one-time offer from the state of Missouri.

Monday, July 26, 2010

St. Charles County Calendar of Events

Sunday, August 8
Peach Festival
Pere Marquette State Park
11 a.m.-3 p.m.
It’s time for peaches. This annual festival features crafts, food, children’s games, a balloon artist, face painting, a pie eating contest, the largest peach contest, peach drinks and lots of peaches. Take the ferries back to St. Charles County and look for even more peaches.
Free

Tuesday, August 10
Statehood Day Celebration and Concert
First Missouri State Capitol Historic Site
200 S. Main
10 a.m.-4 p.m.
7 p.m. Concert
Missouri became the 24th state on August 10, 1821. Statehood Day celebrates the anniversary with special demonstrations, interpreters in period dress and an open house. The After Hours Community Band will give a concert at 7 p.m. in the backyard of the Capitol. Bring lawn chairs, blankets and a picnic basket supper. For more info, call 636-940-3322.

Wednesday, August 11
Perseid Meteor Shower
Broemmelsiek Park, Astronomy area
St. Charles County Parks Department
8:30 p.m.
For more than 2,000 years, the Perseid Meteor Showers have been viewed. See this yearly phenomenon and bring blankets and chairs for comfortable views of the active night sky. Telescopes will be offered to view Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. For more info, call the park at 636-949-7535 or visit stccparks.org.
Free

Friday, August 18-Sunday, August 20
Festival of the Little Hills
Frontier Park and Main St.
Friday, 4-10 p.m.; Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
The largest festival of the season features more than 300 crafters and artists from 30 states, demonstrations, live music, street performers and magicians. The kid’s corner offers face painting, arts and crafts. Shuttle service is available. For more info, check the Festival website.

Friday, August 27
Fridays @ Frontier
Frontier Park
5-11 p.m.
Happy hour from 5- 7p.m. and That 80s Band will entertain concert goers at 7 p.m. Sponsored by the St. Charles Jaycees, the evening is Rally For America Night and all proceeds will be donated to the USO.

Friday, August 28-Sunday, August 30
Wabash Days Festival
Allen and Main St.
Wentzville
Friday, 5-11 p.m.; Saturday, noon-11 p.m.; Sunday, noon-7 p.m.
The city has been a railroad town for more than 150 years, and the Wabash Festival celebrates that heritage. New this year is a parade at noon on Saturday and the Wentzville Historical Society will again display a railroad caboose. The three-day celebration also features carnival rides, craft booths, live music and food. A 5k/1 mile fun run, Pound the Pavements for the Parks, is set for Saturday in downtown Wentzville. For more info, go to the City of Wentzville website.

Monday, July 19, 2010

O’Fallon, St. Peters are recognized in Money Magazine’s Best Places to Live among small U.S. cities.

Both cities are praised for affordable housing, and as great places to raise families.

Our hearty congratulations go out to O’Fallon and St. Peters for being recognized in Money Magazine’s Best Places to Live 2010! Communities in St. Charles County routinely appear on many “Best of…” lists and this time O’Fallon checked in at 26 and St. Peters took the 60th spot.

O’Fallon was noted as home to several corporate offices, including MasterCard, which helped keep the unemployment rate under the national average. Also highlighted is O’Fallon’s 400 acres of parkland, affordable homes at a median sale price of $172,250, low crime, plenty of restaurants and nearby cultural attractions.

Celebrating its centennial year, St. Peters was ranked in the top 100 as a small city “…older and more established than some of its neighbors. That gives the place character and makes many houses more affordable.” St. Peters Mayor Len Pagano is especially pleased with the designation during the Centennial because “we’ve talked about how we owe a lot to our history and the great planning that took place through the years.”

The survey, in the August 2010 issue, considered small cities within the 50,000-300,000 population range. Locally, St. Charles, St. Louis and Florissant were noted in the unranked contenders. Eden Prairie, MN, topped the list. The survey focused on small cities that offered jobs, good schools, safe streets, low crime and lots of activities that benefit raising a family.

Keeping a financial even keel is essential to purchase a home these days

Pay off your credit cards on time and in full, skip the new car or the new furniture. Banks and mortgage companies want to see financial stability with no big changes.

Anxious to close on the house? Sometimes the waiting period between finding your perfect place and driving up to your new home with keys in hand can be nerve wracking. You’ll want to be seen in the best light possible, so don’t get ahead of yourself.

Most likely you’ll need a mortgage and you want to be financially stable. When you begin your search, get copies of your credit report to make sure it is clean. If you find any errors, fix them.

Making large purchases in anticipation of buying a house, like new furniture, is not a good idea. That can affect your credit rating. The same goes for taking out another loan, buying a car or funding an education. Keep your credit situation as-is for right now.

Any changes to your credit status can make a difference for mortgage approval. Pay all your credit cards before the due date to make sure they are processed on time and don’t increase your credit balance. A mortgage pre-approval doesn’t make it a done deal.

Wait on any large purchases. For instance, no new car, or a new loan, or even new furniture for your home. Keep your credit situation as-is for now. Also, don’t co-sign a loan because that will add credit liability and could very well eliminate your chances of obtaining a mortgage.

Moving large sums of money is not a good idea. Don’t jump the gun and take money from savings to checking in anticipation of closing. Last minute credit and bank checks will generate inquiries about the shift and could slow down the process.

And if you leave the money in the savings account you won’t be tempted to spend it. Funds designated for closing should be left alone in the event of unexpected house-related costs. After all is said and done, you may have a bit left over but spending that won’t affect your closing.

Keep copies of all your paperwork in one place and have it ready in case someone in the process loses a crucial document. By keeping copies, you’ll be able to provide information quickly, getting you that much closer to your new home.

The time leading up to buying a house is all about financial restraint. Right now banks and mortgage companies are taking very close looks at their clients and you want to show you are a good candidate. After the closing, celebrate!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ceiling fans make life more comfortable year round

Cooling in the summer, warming in the winter, ceiling fans sweep away energy costs

The July sizzle is in the air, a blanket of humidity has descended over the metro area and air conditioners are working overtime. One inexpensive solution to help the AC is adding ceiling fans to your home. If you choose an Energy Star fan, you’ll not only increase your comfort level but also decrease your utility bill, sometimes as much as 15 percent. Fan design has improved so much over the years that there’s a fan for any d├ęcor, from the traditional Tiffany glass and dark wood models to ultra modern one-blade fans. Prices are also reasonable in relationship to the ultimate cost savings and comfort.

Don’t think of ceiling fans as just a summertime thing–in the winter fans with reversible blades circulate the hotter air that rises to the ceiling, helping to lower your heating bills too.

Before you rush out to buy a fan, do some homework first and determine the square footage. Measure the length and width of your room and multiple the numbers. That’s the square footage. Keep in mind the style of the room, and decide if you want a light kit and remote controls.

According to the American Lighting Association, choosing a fan that fits your room size gives you the maximum efficiency. In a room up to 75 square feet, like a bathroom, a 29-36 inch fan is appropriate. Medium sized rooms up to 144 square feet can handle ceiling fans from 36-42 inches. For larger bedrooms and family rooms in the 225 square foot range, the most efficient fans are 50-54 inches. The number of blades makes some difference in airflow, but whether to choose a four, five or six-blade fan is really a matter of personal design choice.

Ceiling fans do such an efficient job of circulating air when used correctly. Paul Vrabel of ICF International, an energy solutions firm, explains how to operate fans properly. “Put them on when you are in the room–during the day and when sleeping–and turn them off when you leave. Ceiling fans cool people, not the air. Using fans wisely and turning down the AC can save a lot of money.”

Monday, July 5, 2010

Senior homebuyers want simplification, good design, and smaller homes

Americans age 55+ are looking for homes close to family, work, and with a sense of style.

What does the 55+ crowd want in a home? Smaller, more energy-efficient homes in active, vital communities near work and family are the top requirements. Those are the findings from a study by MetLife and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) called “Housing for the 55+ Market: Trends and Insights on Boomers and Beyond.”

The study reveals that Boomers are looking for smaller, less expensive homes. This group isn’t ready to retire anytime soon, and with the Great Recession complicating things, they are staying in their jobs as long as possible to recoup financial losses.

The lure of “age-restricted” communities is there too, but only those that fit into the active lifestyle. These people aren’t ready for the rocking chair. The study notes that “those who moved from their existing homes did so primarily for reasons relating to their families, but the design and quality of the home, as well as the design and layout were the factors most often considered.”

Dave Crowe, NAHB’s chief economist agrees. “ A strong and growing number of retirees and empty-nesters are interested in either downsizing or moving to a more user-friendly home, especially if it’s near their existing community.”

Homebuilders are beginning to recognize what boomers want and incorporate that lifestyle in home design. In addition to a smaller home, a one level floor plan is preferable with open space and tall ceilings. Wider hallways are a plus, as is minimizing unnecessary staircases. Over 55ers want small luxuries, like double sinks and a soaking Jacuzzi-style tub, plus some space for hobbies.

Boomers, 38.9 million over the age of 65, are well-traveled, sophisticated consumers who have a good sense of what they want. And for housing, they want simplification that will enhance their lifestyles.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, June 28, 2010

July 2010 Calendar of Events

Saturday, July 3 – Sunday, July 4
Fourth of July celebration
Frontier Park
This Independence Day celebration includes fireworks at 9:20 p.m. both nights, food and beverage booths, beer garden, crafts, games, carnival rides, live music on the Jaycee Stage and the Music Tent, parade.
Free
For more information call 1-800-366-2427


Saturday, July 3-Sunday, July 4
Fair St. Louis
Gateway Arch grounds on the Riverfront
10 a.m.-10 p.m. both days
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fair, the air shows return, plus spectacular fireworks displays both days, and free music performances. Saturday night John Legend entertains and on Sunday night the B-52s close the fair. For a full schedule, check out the Fair website.

Sunday, July 4
Fourth of July celebration
Progress Park, Wentzville
The theme for the Wentzville Fourth of July celebration is “The American Dream.” The parade begins at 3 p.m. on Pearce Blvd to Wentzville Holt High School. The celebration includes live music, games, food and fireworks at 9:05 p.m. For more information, call the Wentzville Parks and Recreation Department at 636-332-9236 or visit the website.

Friday, July 9 and 23
Friday Night Flicks
7:30 p.m.
4th and Clark
Friday Night flicks in Frenchtown continue with the movie Shorts playing on the 9th and Evan Almighty on the 23rd. Bring a lawn chair for comfort. The movies being at dusk. Sponsored by the Historic Frenchtown Association.
FREE

Sunday, July 18, 2010
Tour of the Little Hills
Registration: 7:30 am - 9 am
Foundry Art Centre, 520 N. Main
Become a modern day explorer and climb the “little hills” of St. Charles. This urban bicycle ride has routes of various distances along flat to rolling terrain that is moderately hilly with a few big hills and is recommended for experienced cyclists. After the ride explore the fine arts gallery that hosts juried exhibitions and features 20 working artists’ studios.
Fees: $8 Trailnet Member, $12 Non-member, $3 Children under 13

For more information call 314-416-9930 x114

Tuesday, July 20
Organic Foods: Scrumptious or Scam?
Middendorf-Kredell Library Branch
6:30-8:30 p.m.
Are organic foods really worth the extra money? A registered dietician will discuss which foods to buy organic and how you can save money. Participants will taste test organic and conventional produce.
FREE

Tuesday, July 27-Saturday, July 30
St. Charles County Fair
Rotary Park, Foristell
The St. Charles County Fair is everything an old-fashioned fair should be–4-H exhibits and livestock competition, a queen and her court, baby contest, carnival rides, a rooster crowing contest, pony rides, tractor pull, midway food, and much, much more. This is a chance for kids to experience a nostalgic tradition with an updated twist. For schedules, admission fees and other information, go to the fair’s website or call 636-970-3000.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, June 21, 2010

Lower interest rates now eclipse savings on the $8,000 tax credit program

Because interest rates have gone down since April 30, homebuyers can still be ahead of the game in the long run

In looking back over the past year, did you really miss the opportunity of a lifetime by not buying a home and taking advantage of that $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit? The program did increase home sales and nudged people off the fence if they were considering a home purchase, but some potential buyers just weren’t ready to take the plunge.

But, with interest rates lower now and no sign from the Feds that rates will rise dramatically any time soon, the opportunity for a good buy is definitely there. In fact, this might be the best time to buy.

Here’s an exciting scenario for those of you who didn’t buy: interest rates have gone down so much since April 30, the end date for the tax credit program, that the buyer of a $350,000 home, financed with a $280,000 mortgage, would have seen quite a savings by waiting until May. With April’s average rate of 5.34 percent, a homebuyer would have locked in a 30-year fixed rate loan with a monthly payment of $1,561.82.

If that buyer waited for May to roll around, with a 30-year fixed rate loan at 4.625 percent, monthly payments would be $1,439.50. Computed on an annual basis, that’s a savings of $1,467. Over the 30 years of the loan, that’s $44,003 in savings. That’s an incredibly huge incentive to jump into the housing market and really diminishes the tax credit in the long run.

But for those of you who did take advantage of the tax credit and have found it difficult to close before the June 30 deadline, there may be help. Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Harry Reid (D-NV) have offered an amendment to a house bill that would extend the closing deadline to September 30, 2010. The proposed amendment only extends the deadline to close, not to purchase. If passed, this would help a lot of buyers to still receive the tax credit and buy a home.

Investors

What can purchasing real estate as an investment do for you? Some investors buy properties to fix up and sell immediately, while others have a long-term view and hold the property for many years, using it as additional income.

Regardless of your approach, or if you are just beginning to think about
owning investment property, call us now to discuss all these options. We’ve
helped many other investors succeed, and we personally own investment
property, so we can help! If you have friends and family who are interested,
that’s fine too!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Native plants show a respect for our environment and reduce the homeowner’s labor

Missouri is blessed with a burst of colorful native plants that will increase your curb appeal and show off your eco-friendly property.

Missouri is a wonderfully diverse state, with flat plains to the north and the craggy Ozarks to the south. With different terrains come a cornucopia of native plants that will do quite well in your landscaping plans and require little maintenance once established.

The first look a potential buyer has of your house is the drive-by, or curb appeal. If the buyer doesn’t like the outside, most likely the interest goes down, almost regardless of how wonderful the inside is. Enhance your property and show off the beautiful Missouri native plants, whether you are selling now or planning on staying for a while.

From a small balcony garden to acres and acres of land, planting native has distinct advantages:
Once established, native plants need minimal watering, reducing your water bill and the time it takes to spray the plantings.

Because the plants are acclimated to grow in Missouri soil, they establish quickly and don’t need pampering.

Native plants have already dealt and adapted to the problems of pests and weeds. This reduces the need for commercial fertilizers and pesticides, thereby saving you money and reducing your chemical footprint.

Birds and butterflies thrive on native plants, giving you a garden paradise and hours of entertainment watching those in flight coming and going.

Missouri native plants adapt well to sun or shade. For your sunny garden, the Missouri black-eyed Susan is a sure hit. Found in the Ozarks, this tenacious flower can handle rocky areas with well-drained soil. Another winner is the Missouri primrose, or the glade lily, which also does well in rocky areas. The lemon-yellow flowers open in the afternoon for nighttime pollination. The prairie blazing star is another sun worshipper and blooms into October to keep your garden colorful. Butterflies love these purple plums.

On the shady side, there are plenty of choices, all attracting butterflies and hummingbirds. The crested iris is an impressive ground cover in partial shade and just right for landscape borders. The columbine, with its red tubular flowers, is a popular nectar source for hummingbirds and flowers from April through July in average to moist soil. Very common but still spectacular and tough is the purple coneflower. Well into October, the purple blossoms will provide flowers for cutting bouquets.

Including native plants in your yardscape is a gradual process, one the demands planning and patience, but you’ll be rewarded with a low maintenance, natural garden. To learn more about planting native, visit grownative.org and for a downloadable guide, visit the Missouri Department of Conservation website.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, June 7, 2010

Existing Home Sales Are Up 15% in St. Charles County and the Median Home Price Is Up Too

Affordable, reasonably priced homes are waiting for new buyers


The St. Charles region is in real estate bounce back mode with sales of existing homes up 15 percent during the first quarter of this year as compared to the same time last year. The median home price rose to $169,000, a $2,000 increase, beating the national media price of $166,100. This increase mirrors the price increases in nearly 60 percent of U.S. cities during the first quarter with double-digit increases in 29 cities.

Joe Sahrmann, president of the St. Charles County Association of Realtors, sees the market rebounding from the challenging times of the last few years. “We haven’t seen homes this affordable in years.” he says, “The selection is wide and varied for different income levels. Mortgage rates are staying low for now, and St. Charles is nationally recognized as a great place to live.”

And, even though the homebuyer tax credits have expired, it’s still a great time to buy a home, he says. 26 percent more homes are under contract during the first quarter of this year than compared to the same period in 2009.

Some of the increase was fueled by the government’s income tax credits for first-time and returning homebuyers. About 2.2 million households participated in the tax credit program, which cost the government $16 billion, according to the Internal Revenue Service. And, sales in March surged following a three-month decline attributed in part to harsh winter weather.

What does the near future hold for real estate? The industry is an integral part of the American economy, intertwined with employment and finance. If those factors stabilize and increase, the National Association of Realtors predicts prices will increase modestly in the second half of this year.

Slow but steady wins the race, and that axiom is certainly true for the real estate market these days. As buyers become more confident in their spending patterns and realize the market value, we’ll climb back to a robust St. Charles County.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, May 31, 2010

June St. Charles Calendar of Events

Thursday, June 10
Debunk the Myths of Aging
Kathryn Linnemann Branch Library
10-11:30 a.m.
Enjoy a lively discussion about the myths of aging, how they shape society and our own attitudes. Exchange ideas on problems created by these myths and strategies to overcome them. Presented by Barnes-Jewish St. Peters.
FREE

Saturday, June 12
Passport to St. Charles County Parks Walk
Bangert Island Park Trailhead
9 a.m.
County Parks staff will guide participants through the Louis H. Bangert Memorial Wildlife Area to learn about riverside ecosystems and birding opportunities. Wear comfortable shoes and bring insect repellent.
FREE

Tuesday, June 15
Medication Matters
Middendorf-Kredell Library Branch
10-11:30 a.m.
Learn about medication management, how to read labels, drug interactions, and foods to avoid or include when taking medication to get the most benefit possible. Presented by Progress West. Call 636-344-2273 to register.
FREE

Saturday, June 19-Sunday, June 20
The Great Rivers Towboat Festival
Grafton, Illinois
10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday and noon-5 p.m. on Sunday
Catch a rare glimpse inside the giant towboats that travel our great rivers and can transport a barge cargo of 1,500 tons with 10,000 horsepower. Enjoy classic folk, bluegrass and Americana music, children’s activities and model boat exhibits by the St. Louis Admirals Club. Chef Ralph Smith will demonstrate how to properly eat crawfish and shrimp, plus barbeque. More than 70 vendors selling wares from antiques to old-fashioned junk. For more information, check out the Towboat Festival website or call 618-786-3494.

Thursday, June 17-Saturday, June 19
Friday, June 25 and Saturday, June 26 at 6:30pm
Sunday, June 27 at 2 p.m.
A Midsummer’s Night Dream presented by the Riverside Shakespeare Company
South end of Frontier Park
Enjoy one of William Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies performed by the Riverside Shakespeare Company and supported by the St. Charles Arts and Culture Commission. Bring a picnic basket or try local food and craft vendors. The Monkey Tales Theatre will present Past Imagination at 6:30 p.m. with the Midsummer Night curtain at 7 p.m. For more information, go to the Riverside Shakespeare website.
FREE

Sunday, June 20
Father’s Day KATY Family Bike Ride
KATY Trail from St. Charles to Defiance
11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Communities along the KATY Trail celebrate the 20th anniversary with a Father’s Day ride to benefit prostate cancer research at the Siteman Cancer Center. Food, festivities and a dedication of the newly completed Defiance bicycle loop.
$10 per rider donation, $15 day of ride, children under 12 are free. Register online for the ride, and for many more KATY Trail events, check out the visit the trail website.

Saturday, June 26
The Great American Backyard Campout
First Missouri State Capitol
In conjunction with the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout, the First Missouri State Capitol hosts the campout here. Families may bring tents and activities include a hot dog roast, s’mores, crafts, camp cooking demos, a bonfire and a fireside breakfast. To register and for more information, call 636-940-3322.
$25 per family

Saturday, June 26
Archeology Day
Center for American Archeology, Route 100
Kampsville, IL
10 a.m.-4p.m.
Tour a 2,000-year-old excavation site, learn how to identify artifacts and see a flintknapping demonstration. There’s a kid’s activity area, and special exhibits at the Visitors’ Center and Museum. For more information, call 618-653-4316 or visit the Archeology Day website.
FREE

Written by Myra Vandersall

Friday, May 21, 2010

First-time homebuyer credit is extended for military personnel and some federal employees

The $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit program has been extended to allow military personnel to take advantage of this home ownership opportunity. The new deadline for qualified service members is April 30, 2011, with the property closed no later than June 30, 2011. The extension also includes the $6,500 tax credit for repeat buyers.

Qualified service members include members of the U.S. military uniformed services, the U.S. Foreign Service and employees of the intelligence community on official extended duty. The top income limits of $125,000 for single tax payers and $225,000 for married taxpayers remains the same, but other requirements have changed to accommodate military personnel. Military buyers will not have to repay the tax credit if geographically reassigned before the three-year residency requirement.

To qualify for the military tax credit:
  • An individual must have serviced on extended duty inside or outside the United States for 90 days or more and at least 50 miles from the principle residence and after December 31, 2008 through May 1, 2010.
  • Only one spouse must be on official extended duty to be eligible for the 2011 extension, purchase a residence and claim the tax credit.

More than 350,000 military personnel and federal employees may be affected by this extension and will be able to own a home, plus receive the income tax credit. “Congress recognized that many service members may have missed out on the home buyer tax credit due to being posted overseas,” says Bob Jones, National Association of Home Builders chairman. “It’s only fitting that our service members be given another year to take advantage of this opportunity.”

For detailed information on the military first-time homebuyer tax credit extension, go the Internal Revenue’s website.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lightning and thunderstorms can put you, your family and property at risk

Learn how to use common sense tips to avoid tragedy


With the advent of summer, thunderstorms and lightning are sure to follow. Unstable weather in the St. Louis area has almost become commonplace this year and during the latest round of thunderstorms, lightning was suspected to start a hotel fire in O’Fallon, Illinois.

May is designated National Electrical Safety month by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and gives us the opportunity to offer suggestions to keep you, your family and home safer this season. When a storm approaches…


  • Unplug all appliances and electrical devices, including computers, and turn off the air conditioning. The fewer electrical connections active can mean less damage should your home be struck. And, you can avert harming your computer system.
  • Don’t talk on a corded phone while a storm is in process. That small electrical current running through the phone line puts you in contact with a potential strike zone.
  • During a storm is not the time to wash dishes, decided to take a shower or do laundry. Water is an excellent electrical conductor and again puts you and your family at risk.
  • Stay away from windows and doors to avoid potential flying glass.

The NFPA estimates that lightning fires in the United States caused more than $213 million in direct property damage during the past seven years, more than half of that in residential homes. Since a single lightning bolt can register 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the likelihood of fire is high.

Don’t underestimate the power of lightning–the National Weather Service School For Weather notes that lightning kills more people each year in the United States than tornadoes or hurricanes. Only floods claim more lives. To learn more about how to keep you and your family safe from lightning, check out these tips and enjoy a more carefree summer.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grant Hickman to discuss buying and selling a home in today's market at the Mortgage Solutions real estate workshop.

Join top SCHNEIDER REAL ESTATE agent Grant Hickman at the Mortgage Solutions LLC educational workshop on home buying and selling in today’s market. The free program is set for Thursday, May 20, from 6-8 p.m. at the Foundry Art Centre.

“The more information buyers and sellers have about today’s changing real estate market, the more informed choices consumers can make,” says Hickman. “There’s so much potential out there for buying and selling. My goal is to educate so that there are no surprises in the process.”

Other topics include:
  • The pre-approval process: what you should know about home loans
  • The current real estate market: education and how to navigate the market
  • Real estate: what improvements add value and how values are determined
  • Home inspections: why they are more than just an option.

This is a very important event for anyone who is considering entering the housing market.
To make a reservation, email hlittrell@vcu.com by Friday, May 14. Refreshments will be served. The Foundry Art Centre is located at 100 Clark St.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Home maintenance from top to bottom is a spring ritual

By sticking with a seasonal maintenance routine, you’ll catch those little problems before they become big headaches.

The weather is delightful in the St. Charles area now and the urge to get outside before the sweltering July heat and humidity come is undeniable. This is also the season for your spring home maintenance checks to insure a trouble-free summer.

While you’re outside enjoying the weather, take a look at your roof, the soffits and guttering. We don’t recommend climbing on your roof–one slip of the foot could result in much more than you bargained for–but get some binoculars for a safe view. While you’re at it, check the attic and rafters for water damage. Staining will show you exactly where the leaks may be located.

Go the professional route to repair any loose shingles or major roof problems. And while your roofing specialist is there, ask them to clean the gutters and check downspouts.

We’ve had a lot of rain this spring; that moisture will show in the attic and in the basement if you have problems. Now’s the time to go down below, peer in the nooks and crannies to look for foundation cracks, pools of moisture and missing tuck pointing. Consumer Reports recommends marking the cracks with tape, then check back again in a few months to assess any damage. Most likely you can fill the cracks with epoxy, but for any major problem, call a structural engineer.

Before it’s 95 degrees outside and you have a major meltdown, make an appointment to get your air conditioner up and ready for summer. You can do your part too by changing the filters on a regular basis and removing dust from around the grills and ductwork. Not only will these tasks insure a cool summer, but also save you money on the cooling bill.

Decks are where family and friends gather for summer parties and barbeques. This outdoor living space requires regular maintenance for a safe, beautiful appearance. Check the railings and supports to make sure they are stable and secure. A guest falling off the deck is not an option. While you are inspecting, keep an eye out for wood rot and termite colonies that might lead to structural damage.

Power washing is the next step for spring deck maintenance. Be careful not to use too much force, which could damage the wood or composite decking. High volume, low pressure is the way to go. Allow a minimum of 24 hours for the deck to dry before adding the final step. Apply the stain during the cooler part of the day and let dry another 24 hours before using the deck. The final step? Invite friends and family to celebrate on your beautiful deck.

Home maintenance is an ongoing project, whether you are getting you home ready for sale or just staying put. Following a regular schedule will make your home a better place to live or sell, and make your life much easier and worry-free.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Selling Your Home this Spring Means Paying Attention to Details

Enlist a friend to help you simplify your house and eliminate dirt, odors

This spring is shaping up to be a hopeful time for homebuyers and sellers. The Federal Reserve indicates interest rates will stay low for the time being and the Commerce Department reports that new home sales in March were up 27 percent. Still, the best way to sell a home is to have it in the best condition ever and be ready for your REALTOR to show the house on short notice.

A great way to discover buyer turnoffs is to enlist a friend to tour your home as a potential buyer. The first issue you may encounter is:

DIRT–To ready a home for sale, hire a cleaning service to deep clean, including sparkling windows, carpet cleaning, washing the woodwork and give special attention to the kitchen for grease issues and the bathroom for moldy grout. Once the house is thoroughly cleaned you have an easier job of daily surface cleaning. Because your friend doesn’t live here, she can eye dirt that you wouldn’t see every day. To make cleaning easier, take “you” out of the picture.

CLUTTER–Buyers need to see themselves in your property, not you. While it may be difficult for you to depersonalize your home, those personal items detract from the spaciousness and distract buyers with eye clutter. Pack up your pictures, your souvenirs from Disneyworld and that collection of 200 ceramic dogs and let the simplicity flow. Remember, you’ll have your prized possessions back once you sell and move into your next home.

ODORS–Speaking of dogs, not everyone loves canines (or cats) as much as you do. Lingering pet scents make buyers suspicious–how much damage have the cats and dogs made that is not immediately visible. Pet odors can be removed with your initial deep cleaning project, and pet stuff, like bowls, visible bags of food, litter boxes and toys should be gone when a potential buyer tours the house. Keep your home fresh smelling with gently scented candles and refrain from cooking fish, garlic and bacon.

CURB APPEAL–The clutter rule applies here too and fresh is the word. Plant colorful annuals, trim bushes and perennials. Put away gardening tools and all those plastic kids’ riding toys. Sweep your sidewalk regularly and remove excess lawn ornaments.

When you incorporate these tips in your home selling process you’ll reduce your stress, angle for a quick sale and resume your life in a new place.

Written by Myra Vandersall

The housing market expected to begin recovery this year

Jobs, continued low interest and a variety of housing choices encourage potential buyers

Positive signs are beginning to indicate an upturn in the real estate market. The Labor Department announced a decline in unemployment filings as layoffs ease and hiring slowly increases. Economists are encouraged that the economy is getting closer to generating job gains, which will boost the housing market as people show more confidence and buy homes. Realtors are looking for a burst of activity in late April, May and June as potential buyers don’t have to buck bad weather to see properties.

In the Midwest home sales jumped almost 10 percent, year-to-year, in February, according to the National Association of Realtors. Nationally, year-to-year sales were up 8 percent. First American CoreLogic and its LoanPerformance Home Price Index Forecast indicates a housing price decline into early spring, but that will stabilize and recover modestly for the remainder of the year.

Even though the federal government will stop purchasing mortgage-backed securities on March 31, as planned, it looks like interest rates will continue to be low, at least for the foreseeable future. Rates on 30-year mortgages have fallen to around 5.05% from 5.28% at the start of this year.

Frank Nothaft, chief economist for mortgage investor Freddie Mac, sees what he calls "a very steady, quarter to quarter growth" pattern ahead. He also expects total housing sales of existing resales and newly constructed sales to be near six million by the end of 2010 and higher in 2011.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Energize Missouri Appliance Program helps homeowners upgrade, lower utility bills

The new rebate incentive replaces inefficient appliances with those that use less energy and water.

With spring coming along nicely, all kinds of government programs to help both homebuyers and sellers, and the variety of green options available, here’s one more reason to increase your home’s market value and practice conservation. Beginning April 19, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Energy begins the Energize Missouri Appliance Program, offering consumers rebates on a selected variety of ENERGY STAR® new appliances.

To receive the rebate, consumers must buy ENERGY STAR® appliances at participating retail locations or through contractors and provide proof of recycling or haul away of the older, less energy efficient appliances. Appliances eligible for rebates include dishwashers, $75; clothes washers, $75; gas condensing water heaters, $150; Gas storage water heaters, $100; gas tankless water heaters, $100; electric pump water heaters, $150; solar water heaters, $500; gas furnaces, $125; central air conditioners, $100; and air source heat pumps, $250.

These rebates can be combined with federal energy tax credits and any manufacturers’ rebates.

Not only do the rebates help consumers reduce energy consumption and cost, but the program is designed to help create jobs for appliance manufacturers and retail stores.

The state of Missouri received $5.67 million from Recovery Act funds for program participation, which will continue as long as the state has money to support the program, or until the February 2012 expiration date.

Written by Myra Vandersall