Monday, January 25, 2010

Efficient home heating

Efficiently heated homes save money and increase potential sales

Sealing your house up tight for both winter and summer is the cost-effective way to go.
The temperature is inching up toward the 40s and every once in a while the sun shows promise. The days of subfreezing temperatures and windy blasts are over, right? Not so fast there. We humans can have remarkably short memories, and here it is just the middle of January. Instead of reminding your family that layering clothes is perfectly normal inside, let’s revisit why you should get serious about home heating efficiency.

While these tips are primarily about the heating season, they are just as applicable for the summer months too. An air leak is an air leak, whether heat is leaking or the cold air conditioning is leaking.

Stop the leaks. Finding air leaks is the first task on the road to make your home more heat efficient. Anywhere there is an opening in your house, the potential for air leaks exists. Check window frames, doorframes, attic entrances, electrical outlets and ductwork. To check for leaks, use a lit incense stick and watch for horizontal smoke. Hardware stores have a multitude of weatherproofing kits and caulking. Addressing even the most minor air leaks can result in substantial utility savings.

Ductwork systems may be wasting your energy dollars. Often overlooked, typical duct work can lose 25-45 percent of your heating or cooling energy. Look for leaky joints or holes in the duct system, disconnected ducts that have separated from each other and un-insulated or poorly insulated ducts in attics and crawlspaces.

Sealing ductwork is really a job for the professional, who can assess your problems, especially in unconditioned spaces. Minor fixes are temporary at best. Going the professional route can reduce your annual utility bills by as much as $300 and better yet, improves the overall air quality.

Total house insulation is another job for the pros. This is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce energy loss and outside noise. Research the recommended standards for your region in R-values. The higher the R-value, the less transfer of heat through the material.

Thermostats can save big bucks. For every one degree you lower the temperature in your house over a 24-hour period, savings can go up three percent. Adjusting your thermostat down 10-15 percent for an eight-hour period each day gives you a 10 percent annual savings. Programmable thermostats will automatically turn the heat down while you are at work during the day and at night.

Ceiling fans aren’t just for summer. While we think of ceiling fans as a way to stay cool in the summer, they are also heat savers in the winter. By reversing the blades, ceiling fans re-circulate the rising warm air back down into the living area.

Plugging leaks is the single most effective way to make your home energy efficient not only for you and your family, but also for potential buyers, who are even more cost-conscious than usual.
And it shows your home is well taken care of and maintained.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Monday, January 18, 2010

Haiti relief help

Housing crisis for Haitians looms large; St. Louis’ best musicians sing out to help

With more than one million Haitians in need of shelter, donations will help tremendously. And, the “St. Louis Musicians for Haiti” concert at the Sheldon sings for Doctors Without Borders.

The devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti is incomprehensible, but the goodness of the human spirit is alive with an outpouring of help and donations. As real estate agents, we know how vital housing is–a safe place to shelter a family. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that more than 200,000 families (up to one million people) are in need of immediate shelter, but these figures are yet preliminary. While the organizations that do need donations are too numerous to list, we suggest considering Habitat for Humanity to help provide housing for Haitians in the short and long term. For information on how to help, call the Habitat for Humanity of St. Charles County at 636.978.5724 or visit the St. Louis chapter of Habitat for Humanity website.

Another way to support the cause and enjoy some of the best music St. Louis has to offer, is to attend the “St. Louis Musicians for Haiti” concert. A diverse group of St. Louis musicians will take the stage of the Sheldon Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday, February 9, to raise money for Doctors Without Borders’ Haitian earthquake relief efforts.

The concert features jazz, blues, soul, folk, classical and more, from a lineup that includes singer Brian Owens; folk group Mayor Taylor, featuring Lydia Ruffin and Charlie Pfeffer; the Bottoms Up Blues Gang; pianist Peter Martin; singer Mardra Thomas and her pianist/husband Reggie Thomas; singer Kim Massie; pianist Peter Henderson; opera singer Christine Brewer and more. Julius Hunter, author and former TV newscaster, will host the evening.

Tickets are $15 for general admission, and are on sale now. You can purchase tickets via or by calling 314-534-1111. For more information, call The Sheldon at 314-533-9900 during normal weekday business hours, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Is 2010 the perfect year to buy the perfect home?

While all the signs point to a continued buyer’s market, some common sense, financial stability and planning will make buying a home affordable.

The word on the street is that 2010 will be a prime year to purchase affordable real estate. Considering the stresses of the past few years, good news is always welcome. However, buying a house this year should be a thoughtful, planned process and not a decision to be made because of an array of incentives. Those incentives last for a year or so, and your mortgage lasts for 30 years.

Home values have reverted to 2003 levels, fixed mortgages are at near record lows, and foreclosures continue to rise, especially in the high-end real estate categories. The stars may have aligned in your favor to buy, but first consider your financial future.

Stable employment is a necessity. Unemployment is still high, around 10 percent, so the best advice is to assess your job status and be as confident as possible that you will still be working. That being a given, here is good information you need to know about real estate in 2010.

Prices to bottom out. On a national level, home prices went down nearly nine percent between the third quarter of 2008 and the same period in 2009, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller home price report. The second quarter decline was near 15 percent and the first quarter a 19 percent decline. Prices will continue to decrease a bit through third quarter 2010.

Mortgage delinquencies will continue to increase. At the end of third quarter 2009, about one in seven mortgages were past due or in foreclosure. Look for the delinquency rate to go up even further; about one in four homeowners owe more on their mortgage than the property is worth at today’s prices.

Upscale homes going into foreclosure. Foreclosure sales will hit about 1.9 million in 2010, with a growing number of those homes in the upper price brackets. While this does not mean the upscale foreclosed house will be a steal, this trend will add more variety to the market.

Mortgage rates will go up. Rates on a 30-year, fixed mortgages averaged 4.88 percent in November, down from 6.09 a year earlier. A contributing factor was the Federal Reserve program that purchased debt and mortgage-backed securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That program will expire at the end of first quarter 2010 and interest rates may rise.

It’s a buyer’s market–for now. 2010 will still be a buyer’s market and should ease the pressure of a quick purchase. That balance will change as the year goes on, if the economy improves but will still give potential buyers some breathing space.

Tax credits available through June. Lower prices and lower mortgage rates are enhanced with tax credits for first-time buyers ($8,000) and repeat buyers ($6,500). As tempting as this is, you do need to consider the long haul when you buy a home and all the expenses involved.

With careful planning, a solid financial base and common sense, 2010 may indeed be the year to buy that home.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Upgrades for the best return in resale

Exterior remodeling projects under $14,000 have the best return on investment

First impressions count. Increasing your home’s curb appeal outside bring potential buyers inside.

Preparing your home for sale in 2010 means planning ahead now. The good news is selecting the best improvement projects to increase your resale value and return on investment can be some of the least expensive. The most recent findings in the 2009 Remodeling Cost vs. Value report that eight of the top 10 projects in terms of costs recouped were exterior jobs that came in under $14,000. The report is published in the January 2010 issue of REALTOR® Magazine.

The least expensive but biggest on return is a new front door, which proves once again that first impressions are vitally important. A mid-range entry door replacement can garner a 128.9 percent return on investment, based on a national survey of 80 U.S. cities, and will welcome potential buyers into your home. Other exterior projects with a high return are certain types of window and siding replacements and adding a wood deck. The least profitable projects are home office remodels and sunroom additions.

Overall, a sensible and pragmatic approach to improvements is the way to go. Ultra-expensive remodels and exotic additions just won’t make a good return and will deflect buyers who are looking for value in today’s markets.

That said, there is one exception. Increasing living space is a good bargain and the addition of an attic bedroom, which can cost up to $50,000 on a national average, could be a good move. The rate of return on that project is better than 100 percent.

Here are more ideas for low cost improvements that will increase your home’s salability.

Increasing living space gives the buyer a sense of more value. Instead of putting a lot of effort into a home office, show your buyer that the space can be a bedroom. More bedrooms increase the sale price. Open floors plans are big now. Consider removing a non-weight bearing wall to open up the space between a kitchen and family room.

Kitchen and bathroom upgrades are well worth the effort. Replacing backsplashes and tile is an economical way to refresh either room. If you want to go granite for your countertops, consider granite tile instead of slab. Using tiles can be a $300 material cost instead of $5,000.

New or replacement cabinet fronts will impress potential buyers. Install rollout trays in the kitchen for better organization and give the buyer a sense of more space. A new medicine cabinet in the bathroom, plus light fixtures, an inexpensive vanity and faucets will make your bathroom new again.

Putting thought and coordination into your remodeling plans now will reap huge rewards in the spring.

Written by Myra Vandersall

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Home Sales Up

St. Charles existing home sales increase 16.3 percent in October; first time homebuyers make a huge difference

Consumers are responding to federal government stimulus programs and have an eye out for foreclosed properties for investment

First-time homebuyers have been out there in force, accounting for 47 percent of the homes purchased between July 2008 and June 2009. That group represents the largest share of first-time buyers in more than 18 years. These buyers have also helped the St. Louis region real estate market score an increase of 27 percent for October 2009 in comparison to October 2008, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Charles County sales increased 16.3 percent with the median home price of $168,000.

Our local market pretty much mirrors the national scene–pending home sales are up again for the eighth consecutive month, the longest streak since 2001. The National Association of Realtors keeps track of such things; the gain was 6.1 percent to 110.1 percent.

All of this activity shows that federal stimulus packages such as the $8,000 tax credit for first time buyers are working. The plan was scheduled to end on November 30 and that pumped up the October sales.

Now that the tax credit program has been extended through June 2010 and has been expanded to include repeat homes buyers with a $6,500 credit, we’ll have even more time to stabilize a recovering market.

The time to start looking for your next home is now–it could be just around the corner or in the next town over. Spend your winter months planning and investigating the housing market in your target area. Some investors and single-family purchasers are looking into buying foreclosed properties as a way to plan for the future and see their investments increase over the next decade.

A recent homeownership survey released this month shows that the number of consumers interested in investigating in real estate has doubled since March 2009. And, affordability and foreclosures are the top reasons why buyers are making home purchases.

Potential foreclosure buyers expect to pay 20 percent or less than market price for a foreclosure and 57 percent of these buyers will live in the property. Foreclosures are a very unfortunate consequence of the economy meltdown we experienced, but buyers can give new life to foreclosed homes and help enhance the neighborhood living experience.