Category Archives: Highlands, NC Real Estate

Home Prices in Highlands Reflect Remodeling Choices

Here’s an instant spot quiz— (see what comes to mind within a second or two):

If you decide to sell your Highlands home, if you had a crystal ball, what’s the most important detail about the sale result? Quick! Answer!

If you’re like seven out of ten people, you were curious about the bottom line: “what price did it sell for?” Some people come up with “how long did it take?”—but usually, that’s the second or third choice (“what were the buyers like?” is another contender).

It’s hardly surprising that the closer they get to putting their own house up for sale, home prices are foremost in people’s minds. Yet most homeowners assume that the ultimate sale price will be determined by market forces outside their control. That’s sort of true, but not entirely so. Home prices aren’t set in stone. Homeowners do have a degree of control over what their property will bring—if they choose to exercise it. One key to seizing that control is the smart application of remodeling dollars to areas that pay off.

For Highlands homeowners who plan to continue living in their homes for the foreseeable future, it’s less of an issue. They can be comfortable putting their remodeling project dollars in the directions that make the home more comfortable and agreeable to their own family lifestyles. They can safely follow their own priorities without worrying too much about where current tastes and trends are heading, unless you are someone who just enjoys being counted in the fashion vanguard.

But if you’re fairly certain that you will list your Highlands home sometime soon, you should remember that a property’s salability can be greatly affected by the remodeling direction that’s taken. Rather than making those decisions guided solely by your personal preferences, it makes good sense to take into account what buyers consider valuable, if for no other reason than the likelihood that those dollars will come back! There are three areas that deserve consideration:

Kitchens always seem to get the most attention when it comes to boosting home prices. A homeowner may prefer a warm, comfortingly cozy space for the center of family activity that the kitchen usually becomes—but many prospective buyers go the other way. Light and bright is vastly preferred over cramped and dark for buyers who are comparing kitchens—and the resulting home prices offered usually reflect it. If your property will be among the Highlands listings anytime soon, think about directing some remodeling energy there.

The master bedroom is growing in importance, too. Many buyers who in earlier eras may have valued a formal dining room, now forego it altogether—preferring an attractive master as a sanctuary from the stresses of the outside world.

Living rooms can also add to the bottom line a home winds up fetching. An open, bright multi-purpose area that’s easily envisioned as a center for family entertainment and social gatherings can give a strong boost to perceived value. Simple renovation ideas like removing dated window coverings or replacing worn carpet can be dollars well spent.

If selling is anywhere on your horizon, it won’t be long before keeping tabs on trends in Highlands home prices becomes a new personal priority. Whether early-on or last-minute, calling me for a no-obligation consultation can make a big difference for maximizing your sale’s result!

Highlands Tenants Benefit from Professional Property Management

Everyone who owns a rental property in Highlands makes a continuing management decision concerning how much of the day-to-day operational responsibility to outsource. Some are inclined to tackle the nuts and bolts of tenant management, while others are content to leave it to one of Highlands’s professional property managers.

If the main motive for acquiring the rental was for its value as a long term real estate investment, there is an increased likelihood that one of Highlands’s professional property management firms will get the nod. Beyond the dollars-and-cents dimension—which can boil down to a calculation on how you value your own time—there can be personal elements behind the decision. Do you enjoy keeping a close watch on all your business dealings? Or is minimizing the hassle factor a higher priority? Those are tradeoffs only you can calculate, or recalculate if your initial decision doesn’t work out.

Another factor can come into play—one that’s seldom mentioned or written about. It has to do with another party in the business arrangement that is being created: the tenants!

When all is said and done, setting up the way a rental property is to be managed is identical to creating the operations blueprint for any ongoing business enterprise. Both involve a customer relations element. As landlord, you are the proprietor, and the tenants are the customers. Every business that hopes to maximize its return on operations soon experiences why taking customer satisfaction into account pays dividends (at least, the more successful ones do)!

By that yardstick, the decision on whether to choose professional property management is not only about a landlord’s willingness to expend the time and effort their personal involvement will require. That choice should also take the tenant’s satisfaction into account…and on that score, the years of experience that come with a veteran Highlands professional property management firm can tilt the scales in its favor.

Having a proven system for handling trouble calls in a timely manner is one obvious advantage—as is being able to tap the talent of professionals whose full-time job it is to take those inevitable situations in stride.

Locating and helping you acquire choice Highlands investment properties is one way I help my clients. Another is to provide a solid resource for new owners as they go about organizing their ongoing tenant-handling arrangements. Call me anytime to discuss today’s great current array of available investment properties—and the best ways you can make the most of them!

Today, Highlands Homes for Sale have Two Levels of ‘Curb Appeal’

The way the ‘curb appeal’ phenomenon applies to a Highlands home for sale is explained simply enough. Like the packaging on a store shelf item, its mission is to break through the competition—to strike a responsive chord with potential buyers.

That is the goal, but no Highlands home that’s up for sale can possibly ‘bat a thousand’ when it comes to curb appeal, since buyers start out with differing mental images of what constitutes an ideal home. For some, it’s a well-kept colonial; for others, a clean-lined contemporary. Today, most house hunting begins with the online Highlands listings. Each offering is introduced via its exterior glamor shot…making it possible to form quick impressions of the whole gamut of properties for sale in Highlands. Those pictures comprise today’s first pass at curb appeal—the photographic kind. For homes that pass that first hurdle, the next test is the three-dimensional, pull-up-to-the-curb experience. Making the most of that first impression can shape all that ensues.

A survey of hundreds of landscaping and photography “tips” for maximizing curb appeal for the most part confirms what common sense would tell us anyway: cut the grass; plant more flowers or shrubbery; keep everything neat and clean…and one even recommended “planting more shade trees—certainly the least practical ‘tip’!

Of course, as showings become imminent, every homeowner will hose off the walkway, sweep the porch, broom out the cobwebs. But before that stage—before the listing photography is done, it’s a worthwhile exercise to step back and take in the overall impression that first-time visitors are going to get. Step out front—then take the same walk your visitors will be making, but seeing it the way they will.

If the siding isn’t really fresh-looking, it’s worth considering whether a professional power wash or exterior paint touchup might make a substantial improvement. Getting rid of even traces of grime can subtly turn an ‘okay’ impression into a strongly positive one. A fresh doormat is a simple addition; likewise, scouring or replacing tarnished or pitted hardware (like address numerals, doorknobs, locks and door knockers) can subtly transform many a first impression.

When you allow yourself to abandon your everyday perspective, fresh ideas and energy have a way of materializing. Putting your house up for sale is also infinitely easier when you have an experienced Highlands real estate professional helping out from the very start—giving me a call early on is the first step!

Highlands Homeowners Can Save via Today’s HELOC Option

2-23-16-helocIt’s hard to imagine anyone in Highlands who hasn’t been hearing worried Wall Street commentators discussing the latest news. Starting with the worst January performance on record, even people without a lot of affected investments are aware of how ripples from that part of the finance world tend to reach almost everyone’s doorsteps.

Highlands homeowners can feel at least partially insulated—at least to the extent that the value of their homes constitutes a ‘real’ investment in ‘real’ property. That remains one of the principal attractions of owning your home. If a high-flying tech stock falls off the end of the world, investors can be left with a piece of paper and little else. They can’t live in it (and passing it on to their kids wouldn’t mean much).

The major investment drawback to home ownership is that it lacks liquidity. If you want to turn the investment into cash, it takes time to find a buyer—a lot more time than calling up your stock broker and telling him to sell. But that is such a universal need, there are several ways to solve it.

One increasingly popular ‘fix’ for the liquidity problem is the HELOC—the Home Equity Line of Credit. Using a local residence as collateral, a Highlands HELOC is a flexible way to free part of the underlying value of the investment without losing access to the home. After such a line of credit is established which reflects a portion of the net value of the property, the homeowner has the option of drawing on that account whenever he or she wishes. The amount used becomes an interest-bearing loan, to be repaid under the terms of the line of credit.

The popularity of HELOCs in Highlands has much to do with its built-in flexibility. The Wall Street Journal points out that, as housing prices continue to creep upward, “high-end homeowners looking for something bigger and better may find it cheaper to renovate than to relocate.” A HELOC is made-to-order for just such a purpose, because individual withdrawals can be made to coincide with expenses as they are encountered. In that way, a Highlands HELOC can prove considerably less costly than a traditional second mortgage, where interest builds up on the entire loan amount whether or not it is spent at once.

HELOCs may be offered on an adjustable interest rate basis, which usually comes in at a lower rate than for comparable fixed rate second mortgages. There can be some difference in the way the rate is calculated. HELOC rates are typically pegged to the Federal Reserve’s short-term rate, whereas mortgage rates tend to reflect 10-year Treasury note yields (the short-term rates rise more quickly).

Some banks report that demand for HELOCs has grown 25% to 30% for each of the past two years—even though credit requirements have risen, as well. Every lender has its own guidelines, but the industry standard is a maximum of 85% of loan-to-appraised-value (and at least a 640 credit score). Another positive note is that there is general industry agreement that those tapping their home’s equity via today’s HELOCs tend to do so more cautiously than heretofore. Considering that the interest on up to $100,000 of a home-equity loan can be considered tax deductible, it can provide considerable financial flexibility.

I make sure all my clients are aware of the many options that can go into planning their smartest real estate strategy. Please feel free to call me anytime to discuss your own plans!

Thinking about Highlands Homes for Sale in an Election Year

This one was news to me. The Wall Street Journal had it buried in a ‘spread sheet’ section of their online Real Estate section: “Why It’s Harder to Sell Your Home in an Election Year.” If you are like me—never having had an inkling that Highlands homes for sale have rough sledding in an election year (like this one)—you’d have to read the details.

“The uncertainty of a looming election can cause a dip in home sales,” it detailed, “especially if the race is close.” The article was illustrated by a cartoon showing a neighborhood street whose every lawn was graced by alternate “vote!” signs and homes for sale signs. The underlying thesis was that in close elections, house hunters are reluctant to buy if an uncertain political future makes them unsure about their own financial fortunes.

This might sound reasonable from a logic perspective, but as you read further into the factual basis for the idea, you’re likely to start losing confidence.

The whole basis for the article is a political science paper published in 2014.

In the British Journal of Political Science.

Based on housing sales back in 1999-2006.

In 73 elections.

Most of us would begin to worry about why this couldn’t make the grade in a United States journal of political science, since it centered on U.S. elections. Perhaps a research quality issue? Then there’s the fact that those dates are 10-17 years old. There is also the puzzling notion that there have been 73 elections in the past couple of decades…but it turns out that they are dealing with gubernatorial elections from a select number of states. Perhaps our average house hunter checking out homes for sale in Highlands actually does hang their financial fortunes on who the next Governor is going to be…but I wouldn’t bet on it.

As for Presidential elections, the article mentions a separate analysis that “uncovered a similar effect.” But, on closer reading, not really. This analysis was by someone who studied California sales only, and determined that in the Golden State, home prices rose by an average of about 1% less during election years. But they still rose by 4.5% in those years. If that means they were “harder to sell,” you’d have to explain why…

This is only a guess, but if you were trying to determine if it will be easier or harder to find buyers for Highlands homes for sale in Election Year 2016, it seems more logical to look for factors that directly affect the buyers—such as today’s historically low mortgage interest rates. When buyers do the arithmetic showing how low monthly payments have become, I’m willing to bet that overshadows errant thoughts about who the next Governor is going to be.

If you are readying to buy or sell a Highlands home, you probably don’t really need to worry about who will occupy the Statehouse as much as who will be helping you navigate the market. I hope you’ll elect me for the job!

New Survey Could Reveal Highlands Real Estate Attitude Shifts

Any way you cut it, real estate makes up a huge chunk of the overall economy. One consequence of that is that the health of the real estate industry is constantly being put under a microscope (if it were a human patient, it would probably grow alarmed by all the doctors and specialists constantly calling it in for routine check-ups).

Everyone from Washington regulators to Highlands tradespeople look to the performance of residential real estate as one of the most meaningful indicators of how everything else is doing. Locally, it’s not surprising that the pace of real estate sales in Highlands always seems to align with many other area business prospects as a whole.

Probably because that’s true in most places, the National Association of Realtors® has come up with a new way to poke and prod the patient. It’s called the “HOME Survey”— ‘HOME’ being an acronym for “Housing Opportunities and Market Experience.” This is a somewhat strained way to describe the purpose, which is to find out how typical consumers feel about residential real estate in general, and homeownership in particular.

Instead of being another dry collection of statistics, this survey could turn out to be a lot more revealing than many others because it is going to be measured every month from now on—then reported every quarter. Even though it will be conducted nationally, I’m guessing that Highlands real estate trends could well turn up here, since it is the changes in attitude that will become apparent.

Anyway, the first survey results are in—so we have a baseline we can use for comparison. These first findings reveal some very positive findings. Among them:

Percentage of renters who want to become homeowners: 83%
Percentage of households believing homeownership is a good financial decision: 88%
Percentage of households who believe owning a home is part of their own American Dream 87%

Since ‘The American Dream’ is such a generalized term, the survey attempts to nail down which features of owning a home are the most appealing. The three leaders are, “A place to raise a family” (36%); “Owning a place of your own” (26%); and “A nest egg for retirement” (14%).

It should be interesting for Highlands real estate watchers to compare future findings with that baseline—and to see if local attitudes reflect the same kind of shifts. In any case, if your own feelings about home ownership match those findings, you can easily begin your own made-to-order version of a Highlands “Housing Opportunities and Market Experience.” Just call me!

Highlands Appraisals: by Definition, Part Art, Part Science

Built into the way a Highlands home changes ownership is the institution of the appraisal report—the document which attempts to place a dollar value on the property in question. That word “attempts” is the key when it comes to appraisals. Although it would make life easier if Highlands appraisals consisted of completely objective, scientifically verifiable calculations, in the real world, they can’t be.

Highlands appraisals are created by locating comparable properties that have sold recently on the open market, then adjusting that dollar amount to reflect the differences between them. That’s where perfect objectivity becomes…um…subject to interpretation.

If only any two homes were exactly the same in every detail, the latest price paid for one would be the best appraised value for the other. But even in the best case—say, two tract homes built at the same time with exactly the same features—their appraised values probably wouldn’t be exactly the same. After all, they can’t occupy the same plots, and one location might be preferable. They might not have the same maintenance history, so one might be in better condition than the other. The landscaping could differ greatly…and so on.

This is the reason why adjustments need to be made—and why the skill of the appraiser is so important. (I’m tempted to say that’s why appraisers get the big bucks; but in fact, our Highlands appraisers’ fees are actually quite reasonable). Details on how they go about finding fair value for those adjustments is the subject of a recently revived investigation done by CoreLogic’s Jon Wierks. For anyone who finds themselves relying on local appraisals to validate an asking price (or the home loan that will allow a sale to close), the report makes for interesting reading.

The focus of the piece was to elaborate on which adjustments are most influential in creating appraisals. By analyzing more than a million sample appraisals made between 2012 and 2015, the study determined which features had the greatest impact on the resulting evaluations. They disregarded any feature that didn’t appear on at least 10% of the reports—and came up with the most important features. If this were the Oscars, we’d now say, “the envelope, please”:

Most frequently adjusted: LIVING AREA (no surprise here; square footage almost always differs).

Runner-up: ROOMS (that is, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms).

Greatest value adjustment: QUALITY RATING (the average adjustment came in at a not inconsiderable $15,000!).


These findings underline truly how important the skill and experience of the appraiser turns out to be, since the greatest dollar amount impact depends on the more subjective criteria. That’s even before taking into account that three free-form factors appeared in more than 10% of the appraisals. These miscellaneous factors, given the mysterious names “Other1, Other2, and Other3,” reinforce how unclassifiable are the differences between most properties and their closest comparable neighbors.

When it comes to Highlands real estate, I aid in every aspect of the process. I hope you’ll think of me (and definitely give me a call!) when the time to buy or sell approaches.

Highlands Agent Wonders What Is It about Real Estate and Threes?

When you go searching for the latest Highlands real estate news online, as likely as not you will find the lion’s share is dominated by advertisements (not to complain: I advertise, too) and the current Highlands listings. There is rarely any true Highlands real estate news as such—since what’s ‘new’ is principally the arrival and departure of the latest batch of Highlands homes for sale.

All the other nuggets of Highlands real estate “news” are actually news’ first cousins: features about real estate—most of which deal with the age-old verities of the field rather than anything that is truly up-to-the-moment new. The other day, while hunting down the latest Highlands real estate goings-on, as usual, our national Realtors’® web site kept coming up. This is not unusual, since our organization is one of the most active trade organizations in the country, quoted often right here. But one of the features stood out, and I clicked on it.

The video in question was brand new last week: “3 of the Dumbest Home Loan Mistakes You Can Make”—a fairly irresistible title. The three were: don’t lie; don’t buy an expensive auto while applying; don’t use an out of town lender who doesn’t know the market, and don’t skip getting a second opinion (I know that’s four, but I threw in ‘don’t lie’ myself, since that’s the dumbest of all).

Once you begin looking around for interesting real estate videos, what really stands out is how many of them are lists. Apparently people (including people like me) find it hard to resist titles that promise to list things. That could be because everyone is curious about other peoples’ opinions of what’s important…and how important (what’s first and what’s last).

At any rate, a quick scan of the titles among the real estate videos revealed something that would be hard to guess. Not only are there a whole lot of lists—there are a whole lot of them whose list stops at three. Top 3. Best 3. Dumbest 3.

There were 3 Secret Tips to Winning a Bidding War; 3 Tough Conversations Sellers Can Avoid Having with their Realtor; 3 Insider Hacks for Staging Your Home; 3 Home Improvement Projects You Shouldn’t Do Yourself; 3 Sneaky Ways to Make Your Kitchen Look Expensive (declutter and clean; replace hardware; and fix fixtures…the only ‘sneaky’ thing about this list was the title).

All of those were on that single Realtors’ web site! And when you start looking around everywhere else, you come up with an avalanche: 3 Things to Consider Before You Pull the Trigger on Real Estate; The 3 Things Real Estate Marketers Can Learn from Black Friday; 3 Things Poker Can Teach You About Real Estate (no surprises there: “weigh risk vs. rewards;” “know the odds;” “pay attention to the human factor”); 3 Things to Know Before You Buy Your First Home (these three weren’t very illuminating: “get preapproved;” “save up”; “consider your lifestyle when house hunting”).

It was tempting to try to see if the Top 5 lists were even more numerous, or the Top 10; but by then the clock had already run out on the Real Estate List Research project. There are more than three items to act on when you decide to sell your Highlands home, or begin looking for your next. For a dependably good start, begin with Item #1: call me!

When a Home Doesn’t Sell, Two Rules before Listing Again

2-1-16-listingsSuppose you had done everything right: interviewed several Highlands real estate agents and compared what they told you; prepped your property to near-perfection before the professional photographer’s arrival; confirmed all the descriptive details before they appeared in the Highlands listings…yet six months later, the place still hadn’t sold.

Your agent had done a reasonable job, it seemed—yet the results were disappointing. Not nearly enough showings for one thing. And even though the marketing materials seemed sufficient, the response had been, in the end, weak. What do you do now?

There are several guidelines to follow that will increase the likelihood of a timely sale. Of them, two are absolute musts. One of them is well known­­—mentioned in every credible source of residential real estate knowledge. The other is seldom mentioned.

That first one is the obvious, universally-recognized action item: double-check your asking price! If that amount is out of line, almost anything else you can do is likely to be wasted effort. If you require any future buyer to fall in love with your home to the extent that they will ignore better values that are on display elsewhere in the Highlands listings, you are probably living in, as the English like to say, “cloud cuckoo land.” The wished-for result could happen—but it’s probably not going to happen to you.

The rock-solid evidence points in only one direction: people who seriously comb the Highlands listings are planning to spend a large sum—so they will be noting and comparing prices. If your proposed number is far out of whack, they’re unlikely to waste a lot of time investigating the details. If they show up at all, it’s very likely to be out of curiosity (“what in the world are these people thinking?”). The agents who bring them, will probably have warned their clients about the asking price. This is not how to sell your house.

The second guideline is equally important, but seldom mentioned. It is to continue to use common sense. Do not, in other words, take leave of your senses. Don’t dummy-up all of a sudden. Do not abandon everything you ever learned about doing any kind of business.

The reason that this important guideline is seldom mentioned is because you would not think it’s necessary to put it into words. That’s not always the case when your home has not sold, because of what happens next. After a listing in the Highlands MLS has expired, a homeowner is likely to receive multiple solicitation letters that GUARANTEE that the sender’s company will be able to sell the property! They might as well write, “Take Leave of Your Senses! Sign here!”

The reason that such solicitation promises exist is the frustration level their authors impute to the recipient homeowners. That, plus the fact that they can actually promise to sell the property…but there’s a catch. It’s associated with the first guideline. Yes, they can sell anyone’s house…for an asking price that’s well below its market value. (So could anyone else). But that’s not what any homeowner, frustrated or not, is looking for when they list with a Highlands agent.

The cool, collected way to proceed is to decide whether the asking price is in line with the Highlands competition—then seek an agent who will bring new energy and integrity into play. This should definitely not be someone who guarantees anything that common sense tells you cannot be guaranteed. Or whose introduction is misleading.

If you find yourself in the process of re-evaluating your home’s selling strategy, I hope you’ll consider giving me a call to discuss a new, more promising plan of attack!

Buying Your First Highlands Home: More Doable Than You Think!

New Home
For Highlands first home buyers who are of a certain age (for the moment let’s call that 40+ or so), the prospect of making such a prodigious commitment should be less intimidating than for the younger set.

You have been around for long enough to have seen the ups and downs of the economic cycles; most likely have had a number of different jobs with good and bad employers; may even have entered into the entrepreneurial arena yourself. You’ve also observed friends, relatives and colleagues who as they acquired their Highlands first homes, and have seen how they have fared as they enjoyed the benefits of homeownership and weathered the accompanying responsibilities. You know from observation that it doesn’t take spectacular luck or extraordinary business acumen to buy and own your first home—you’ve watched lots of regular people doing it all the time.

If you are part of the younger set, you may intuit the same thing—but haven’t yet seen it play out with your own eyes. Homeownership involves some dauntingly high numbers, after all. Add to that the current general sense of unpredictability about the world economy (who knows what’s going on in China?); the domestic business environment, jobs outlook, political scene (It’s an election year! An election year!)—maybe this is just the wrong time to make long term commitments…

If you belong to the more youthful group, there are some reassuring truths to make the first home buying plunge less worrisome. For one thing, if you’ve sometime sensed that the future is always unpredictable, you got that one right. When the economy is bright and looking brighter, those who have lived through the economic cycles are apt to be more skeptical than ever. It’s actually at the bottom of the economic cycle when the best buys are most likely to appear (though it’s never completely clear when that is!).

One thing that is completely reliable is the amount of money that Highlands mortgage lenders are contracting to charge you every month (that is, if you play it safe and stick to a non-adjustable home loan). And right now, interest rates are still almost unbelievably low. Historically speaking, this is an unusually advantageous time to be joining the ranks of Highlands first time home buyers. In an unpredictable world, that’s an attractive situation.

What every Highlands first home buyers should ask themselves before proceeding any further is how long they plan to live in their next home, and how much can they afford to pay each month. If the answer to the first question is one or two years (or “I don’t know”)—it’s almost certainly a better idea to keep renting for a while. Otherwise, take a look at your monthly budget (if you don’t have one, get out a pencil and paper and commit to one)—and come up with the number. After that’s done, you’re already on your way to getting serious about owning your first home. Then give me a call to see what the current town market has to offer.

Before long, you might be walking through the doorway of your first Highlands home!