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By Lynn Caison Johnson | Agent in Rockport, TX
  • Remodeling Activity Expected to RISE

    Posted Under: General Area in Austin, Remodel & Renovate in Austin  |  April 25, 2012 11:02 AM  |  801 views  |  No comments

    After hovering around a bottom for nearly two years, remodeling activity is expected to increase later this year, according to the Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA) released by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. The LIRA projects annual spending on remodeling projects will rise 5.9 percent by the end of 2012. Stronger pending home sales and continuing low interest rates are driving the rise in remodeling activity, but a mild winter in many parts of the country was a factor too, says Kermit Baker, director of the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center.

    “Unusually mild weather this past winter in many parts of the country accelerated the pace of homebuilding and home improvement activity. This may produce a brief pause in remodeling activity this quarter, but then a strengthening economy should provide a foundation for continued growth moving forward,” Baker says.

    Source: Council of Residential Specialists, Published April 20, 2012
  • Reverse mortgage not just a 'last resort'

    Posted Under: General Area in Austin, Financing in Austin  |  April 23, 2012 11:17 AM  |  769 views  |  No comments

    The number of Americans 65 and older who continue to work has risen in the past decade. The unexpected rise can be traced to a variety of factors, including shell-shocked retirement accounts, falling interest rates on savings tools, fewer company pension plans, and the inability to save.

    Many of these people have raced to take part-time employment, and baseball spring-training facilities are a prime example. There were seniors selling tickets, programs, hot dogs and popcorn, plus acting as ushers and parking lot directors in nearly all of the recently completed Cactus and Grapefruit League games.

    The goal of this age cohort is to supplement their Social Security payments and portfolio securities (such as 401(k) and individual retirement accounts) so that they won't run out of money before they die. What other sources might be available?

    Barry H. Sachs, a real estate tax attorney in San Francisco, and Stephen R. Sachs, professor emeritus in economics at the University of Connecticut, researched ways to further enhance a senior's finances by adding home equity via a reverse mortgage. In a recently published study, the authors found that a reverse mortgage can be powerful tool when used within a coordinated strategy rather than a "last resort" after exhausting the securities portfolio.

    The model shows that the retiree's residual net worth (portfolio plus home equity) after 30 years is about twice as likely to be greater when an active strategy is used than when a conventional strategy is used.

    "It's so important that financial planners have begun to ask the question about what's possible with reverse mortgages," said Martin J. Taylor, president of Bellevue, Wash.-based Stay In-Home, a reverse mortgage lender. "While they have often been known for solving desperate situations, they have a variety of uses in long-term financial planning."

    What Sachs and Sachs have done is to compare three strategies for the use of home equity via a reverse mortgage to increase the safe maximum initial rate of retirement income withdrawals. The commonly accepted "safemax" begins with a first year's withdrawal equal to 4-4.25 percent of the initial portfolio value. Subsequent years' withdrawals then continue at the same dollar amount each year, adjusted only for inflation. Since many retirees have found the safemax uncomfortably limiting, Sachs and Sachs calculated greater percentages in some examples.

    The strategies:

    (1) The conventional, passive strategy of using the reverse mortgage as a last resort after exhausting the securities portfolio.

    (2) A coordinated strategy under which the credit line is drawn upon according to a formula designed to maximize portfolio recovery after negative investment returns.

    (3) Drawing upon the reverse mortgage credit line first, until exhausted.

    The authors found "substantial increases" in the cash flow survival probability when the active strategies are used as compared with the results when the conventional strategy is used. For example, the 30-year cash flow survival probability for an initial withdrawal rate of 6 percent is only 55 percent when the conventional strategy is used, but is close to 90 percent when the coordinated strategy is used.

    So, how is the reverse mortgage best blended together with other investments? In a nutshell, it's a basic algorithm:

    At the end of each year, the investment performance of the account during that year is determined. If the performance was positive, the next year's income withdrawal is from the account. If the performance was negative, the next year's income withdrawal is from the reverse mortgage credit line.

    According to the study, this spares the account any drain when it is down because of its investment performance. It also leaves the account more assets to recover in subsequent up years. This is done in the early years of retirement, so the account grows before the reverse mortgage credit line is exhausted.

    The authors emphasize that a reverse mortgage is not necessarily a useful vehicle for every retiree who has substantial home equity. A retiree whose primary source of retirement income is a securities portfolio and who also has substantial home equity must decide early in retirement whether to live within the safemax limit set by his or her portfolio. This decision is a fundamental component of overall retirement planning.

    Tom Kelly, Inman News, Published April 23, 2012

  • When is an agent a REALTOR?

    Posted Under: General Area in Austin, Home Buying in Austin, Home Selling in Austin  |  March 14, 2012 1:44 PM  |  803 views  |  2 comments

    Sometimes the terms "agent" and "realtor" are used interchangeably by people. These two terms mean very different things, though!

    Let's take a look at just what makes an agent a REALTOR® and how you can know which one is the right fit for you.

    A real estate agent is a professional that helps people buy and sell houses and land. In order to legally do business as an agent a person must take a real estate licensing course and/or pass their state exam.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics says, "Real estate agents must have a license from the State in which they work. To get a license, a person must have graduated from high school. The person must be at least 18 years old and pass a written test. In some States, a person who wants to be a real estate agent must go to a special school for a few months."

    In reality, all REALTORS® and agents are licensed. What makes a Realtor different then? Today there are many real estate agents across the globe and more than 1 million are members of the NAR.

    According to the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR), "The term "REALTOR®" is a registered collective membership mark that identifies a real estate professional who is a member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and abides by its strict Code of Ethics."

    This code of ethics is what entices many customers to seek out a licensed REALTOR®. From pledging to protect and promote the interests of their clients to pledging to avoid exaggeration, misrepresentation, or concealment of pertinent facts relating to the property or transaction, they must follow certain standards in order to keep their membership.

    Just because an agent isn't part of the National Association of Realtors®, though, does not mean they won't be a valuable and trustworthy asset in your home buying or selling process. Many agents across the country work as part-time agents or are new to the field and can't afford dues to larger affiliations. These agents can be just as hardworking and ethical as the next.

    In large cities where there are lots of agents to choose from, though, you can be lost without a recommendation. Who do you trust with your time and money? In cases such as these it might be wise to work with agents who have extended credentials, such as being a member of the NAR. These agents are bound to a specific set of standards and pay to be a part of this elite organization. An independent survey reports that 84% of home buyers would use the same REALTOR® again.

    So, the next time you are starting your search for a real estate professional who can help you complete your next transaction, be sure to explore all of your choices. And remember -- all REALTORS® are agents, but not all agents are REALTORS®!

    Call Lynn's TEAM ADVANTAGE, Lynn Johnson Realty, Inc., Broker of Rockport/Fulton TX toll free 1.866.232.1876, local 361.729.8263 or cell 361.463.9518 to buy or sell property in Aransas County.

    Carla Hill, Realty Times, Published: March 14, 2012

  • A PATHWAY to a perfect garden

    Posted Under: General Area in Austin, Curb Appeal in Austin, Going Green in Austin  |  February 24, 2012 12:02 PM  |  1,725 views  |  2 comments

    Framing a View
    Framing a view is a technique, shown at far left, that uses man-made structures or natural objects to focus your eye on a scene or object in the distance. In a small area, you can employ this method to call attention to a sitting area, fountain, piece of art, or plant. In a large space, it can capture a dramatic view.

    Symmetry means that if you drew a line down the center of your garden, one side would mirror the other. In the garden at near left, the two potted plants anchor the entrance's symmetry. This technique works well with formal houses, and is also an easy concept for beginners to understand and use. If you're going for a cottage or naturalistic garden, however, avoid planting a symmetrical garden.

    Modified symmetry, however, is a bit more accommodating for relaxed styles. With this technique, the major features on each side of the centerline are the same. However, smaller plants and features can be different, so you don't have to strive for perfection.

    photo: Southern Living


  • Don't Fool with Mother Nature

    Posted Under: Curb Appeal in Austin, Going Green in Austin  |  February 24, 2012 11:26 AM  |  804 views  |  No comments

    The natural landscape surrounding some houses is so spectacular or unique that it makes sense to capture in it the garden. This is called the naturalistic style. Such a garden reflects the authentic look of a region without strictly adhering to a palette of native plants. Non-native plants can be included, as long as they blend in with the native flora and express seasonal colors and the casualness of the wild.

    Naturalistic gardens can exist in the heart of the woods or the middle of a prairie. They emphasize the landscape, rather than the house, and generally lack foundation plantings. Maintenance is minimal because plants thrive on their own, and almost nothing is pruned or weeded. This kind of garden style looks good with vernacular architecture.

    photo: Southern Living


  • Be a Staging Star

    Posted Under: General Area in Austin, Home Selling in Austin, Remodel & Renovate in Austin  |  February 17, 2012 12:31 PM  |  1,171 views  |  No comments

    If you're an HGTV junkie then chances are you've tuned in for some of the network's popular home improvement shows, nearly all of which have stressed the importance of staging your home for sale.

    Are you tired of waiting for a TV crew to come help you with your own home? You don't have to find yourself on one of these hit shows to be a staging star. Simply follow a few of our expert tips!

    1. Remove the Clutter. Instead of a potential buyer's eyes moving easily from one side of a room to another, leaving their mind at peace to imagine their own life in your space, clutter disrupts the flow and catches the buyer's gaze. They will focus on your mess or dust instead of your lovely fireplace or hardwood floors.  
    2. Organize. Once you have removed the clutter and knick-knacks (staging is more about minimal accents) it's time to organize what has been left behind. Built-in storage systems are an excellent way to get offices and closets in order. Need a way to take extra clothes or seasonal items to the garage? Invest in a few inexpensive plastic tubs. For future convenience, be sure to label all boxes.  
    3. Clean. You want your home to appear move-in ready at showings. That doesn't just mean that your title and contacts are in order. It means that your home needs to look and smell clean. Mop, vacuum, and wash down every surface. Leave no dust bunny unturned! This could be the time to hire a professional cleaning service.  
    4. Refresh Paint. Walls turn dingy over time even in the cleanest of homes. Consider putting on new color to freshen and update your rooms.  
    5. Room Appropriate. When your home is listed on the MLS as a 3 bedroom home it is important that this is what buyers see. They don't want to see 2 bedrooms and craft room, exercise room, or home office. During the staging process keep rooms what they were designed to be.  
    6. Create Ambiance. Ambiance is about the way a home makes you feel. In some homes you'll want a cool, modern atmosphere created by simple decor and perfect lighting. In most homes, though, buyers seek a warm and homey atmosphere. Accomplish this through the use of vanilla candles, lit fireplaces, area rugs, baked cookies, and staged living areas (set dining tables, games in the living room, and outdoor patios).  
    7. Staging Outdoors. Don't forget one of your most important spaces -- your outdoor “rooms.” More and more buyers are extending their living spaces into the great outdoors. Stage patios with simple furniture, outdoor dining sets, comfortable pillows, and chiminea or plant life.  
    8. Leave No Closet Unturned. Buyers will open your closet doors, so don't think you can stuff your clutter away! Stage these areas by color coding clothes and storing away small items in totes or boxes. If the budget allows consider investing in built-in storage units.  
    9. First Impressions. It is of paramount importance that you stage the front of your home. You never know what prospective buyer might drive by and see your For Sale sign. Front doors should have fresh coats of paint. Yards should be tidy and trimmed. And a new welcome mat and flowers or wreath are a great finishing touch.  
    10. New Eyes. One of the most important tips for staging is seeing your home through fresh eyes. We become accustomed to the way it looks and are apathetic to what changes need made. See your home through the eyes of a new buyer.

      Staging is one of the best ways to let your buyers see the true potential of your home. By creating an ambiance that is clean and stylish you can inspire buyers wanting to live that lifestyle to buy your home

    Call Lynn's TEAM ADVANTAGE, Lynn Johnson Realty, Inc., Broker of Rockport/Fulton TX toll free 1.866.232.1876 locally 361.729.8263 or cell 361.463.9518 for more STAGING Tips to help SELL your home in Aransas County.
    1. Published: February 16, 2012, Carla Hill, Realty Times

  • Maintaining Existing Fire Safety Equipment

    Posted Under: General Area in Austin, Crime & Safety in Austin  |  February 17, 2012 12:20 PM  |  1,015 views  |  No comments

    In the midst of economic uncertainty, there is one constant within the real estate market: safety. More to the point, the only thing separating a residential home or commercial property from devastation is the right protection. And, lest I come across as too alarmist or unfamiliar with the "real world," I write these words from Southern California, where fires and other natural disasters can quickly destroy buildings, upend lives and cause massive financial losses. Also, while I believe fire safety should be part of any property ownerâs vocabulary, I recognize that maintenance of existing fire safety equipment is often the difference between saving a building and watching something go up in flames.

    For commercial building owners, including hoteliers and anyone else in the service or business industry, it is essential to do an overview of all existing fire safety equipment. This inventory of sprinklers, alarms, pipes and pressure systems can produce considerable savings. Think of the alternative: a fire starts, quickly enveloping multiple floors of a high-rise, and none of the sprinklers - no matter how expensive or advanced this equipment may be - start, leaving tenants trapped.

    If this scenario seems too far fetched, or if this warning seems too removed from the everyday concerns of commercial real estate, I would remind people that fire is one of the biggest threats - and one of the largest insurance liabilities - a commercial property can face. So, it is one thing to install fire safety equipment, which various laws require, but it is something else, entirely, to inspect and maintain these devices. On this latter point, too many building owners fail to give themselves - and their tenants - the peace of mind they deserve.

    By making safety a hallmark of service, commercial property owners can distinguish themselves in an otherwise depressed marketplace. For example: when the difference between two otherwise identical (in terms of square footage, pricing and amenities) buildings is an emphasis on safety, then prospective tenants will gravitate towards a property that makes protection a priority.

    This emphasis on working with licensed, fire safety professionals is yet another way for building owners to stand apart from the competition. In addition, this campaign for safety may result in lower insurance costs; these types of rewards translate directly into savings for owners, which can be reinvested for other real estate projects. In fact, the success of other campaigns - like the green movement and the push for energy efficiency - proves that tenants want to partner with building owners who are also good citizens. Meaning: safety begets many returns, attracting more prospective occupants and favorable press attention.

    As someone who values these principles, I can attest to the importance of protection as a workplace necessity. With this commitment to properly maintaining existing fire safety equipment, building owners can enjoy the best form of free advertising: word-of-mouth testimonials from tenants who appreciate this campaign against possible threats and probable hazards. The long-term benefits will be evident to everyone - higher occupancy rates, increased applications by prospective tenants and the respect of colleagues. Those goals are admirable, indeed.

    by Simon Farahdel, Realty Times, published 2/17/12

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