Monthly Archives: March 2013

Looking for a Real Fixer-Upper?

How about a church, silo, water tower, or pumping station?

We’ve seen an increasing trend recently of repurposed homes–buildings that began their lives as something other than residences. MSN Real Estate has a great slideshow of a few recent, unique homes that have made the transformation.

With stiff compeition from the cloister, water tower, hospital, chapel, church, pumping station, industrial silo, and barn, this repurposed water-treatment plant takes the top prize for most unique renovation:

water treatment

The British property started as a 1930s water-treatment plant, which fell into disrepair and was closed in 1942. It sat empty for years, until its new owners spotted it and undertook a dramatic renovation that set them back several million dollars.

It now boasts a rooftop pool and three-story dining room (and hit the market last year for just under $4,000,000).

Don’t be afraid to go bold with a unique building!

NASCAR Driver Lists Virginia Beach Condo

If you’re in the market for a property with pedigree, but can’t spring for a Home With History, take a peek at this listing: NASCAR driver Kurt Busch’s $2.8 million condo.

va beach

The driver, who bought the condo in Virginia Beach’s swanky, 508-foot Westin Virginia Beach Town Center Residences, has now listed it for its original purchase price of $2.8 million.

It’s also available for rent at $5,000 a month.

The tower is Virginia’s tallest, affording the home’s lucky new owner (or tenant) with breathtaking views. According to the listing, the new owner won’t lack creature comforts. As Zillow notes:

The 3-bedroom, 4-bath space is far from what race fans might expect from the rough-and-tumble Busch. Built in 2007, the 3,371-square-foot condo is full of modern finishes, including granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and a dark mosaic backsplash in the kitchen. Although darker woods and finishes fill much of the space, floor-to-ceiling windows provide plenty of natural light, and well-placed pendant lighting adds beauty and function.

Race on over to view the 18-shot photo listing.

Homes Prices Trend Upward

In another promising sign of stability in the housing market, home prices across the country rose in February, jumping almost 6% over last February. Median home prices have been making consistent gains for 16 straight months.

Average rents have also ticked up, while the number of foreclosures has continued to drop.

price increase

All these factors represent a healthy housing market returning to normalcy after a wild decade. Last month’s median home price across the country was $158,100. That marks a level not seen since the summer of 2004, as home prices were skyrocketing before cratering a few short years later.

Economists likewise expect about a 3% increase over the next year.

With the worst of the housing crash behind us, it’s a great time to start exploring selling or buying if you’ve been holding off due to market uncertainty and fear of falling prices.

Careful Buying Into “Bad” Neighbors

When looking for a house, we know all about “location, location, location.” But an undesirable “neighbor” could cause property values to plummet, even in the best locations. Via MSN Real Estate, here are seven of the biggest threats to property values:

power plant

Power Plants. Homes within two miles of a power plant see their values drop between 4% and 7%. That could mean up to $21,000 on a $300,000 house.

Landfills. No one wants a fresh garbage smell in their backyard. Settling in near a dump could cost you anywhere from 6% to 10%.

Sex Offenders. With online listing showing addresses of sex offenders, it’s no longer an option to keep the information secret. Living in very close proximity to registered sex offenders can reduce values by about 9%.

Delinquent Bill Payers. Neighbors not paying their homeowners’ or condo association fees can indicate a lack of interest in sustaining property values or the neigborhood’s general appeal.


Foreclosed Homes. Each additional foreclosure surrounding a home can decrease its property value by up to 1%. So if you have five neighbors on your street in foreclosure, count on taking a hit.

Bad Landscaping. Curb appeal plays a huge role in maintaining property values. Need proof? A report recently found that great landscaping can increase a home’s value by up to 11%.

Closed Schools. If a local school closes due to budget cuts or other factors, families are more likely to look elsewhere.

It may be impossible to avoid some of these “neighbors” if you already own your house, but they’re helpful to keep in mind when you’re buying!

The Scoop on Short Sales

The Zillow blog offers up a truly excellent article about the short-sale process and why it’s so complicated. The moral of the story, however, is simple: make sure your listing agent is versed in the short-sale process.

A short sale, as most folks know, happens when the house’s sale price doesn’t cover the outstanding loan balance. For example, if the seller owes the bank $300,000, but the highest offer they receive is only $250,000, there’s a $50,000 shortfall. The bank will have to approve the sale because it’s taking a loss.

short sale

Any number of things can drag out the short-sale process, but the biggest culprit is the bank’s review of all the sale’s (and seller’s) circumstances.

The bank has to look over all of the seller’s financial information, including income, assets, and credit. That takes time. Finding a listing agent who knows the process will ensure a smooth review by compiling and submitting all the right documents–the first time around. If something’s done wrong or the bank needs more information, that could set you back weeks or even months.

The negotiation process also eats up time. The bank may ask for the seller to put up some cash at closing, or it may ask the realtors to trim their commissions. When these last-minute negotiations don’t go as planned, it could scrap the entire deal.

Finally, multiple loans will cause headaches. If one bank holds the mortgage loan and a different bank holds a home-equity loan, both will have to approve the short sale. That doubles the process and adds another person who has to agree to any solution.

The one decision that’s totally up to you? Hiring a competent realtor experienced in short sales.

The Best Day to List Your Home Is…

We’ve already reviewed the best time of year to list your home (hint: there really isn’t one), but what about the best day of the week? Good thing someone’s done the research.

And the winner is…



That’s according to the Realtor’s Styled, Staged & SoldA Friday listing brings in the biggest weekend crowd and snags the highest eventual sales prices. Homes listed on Fridays end up selling for 99.1% of their asking price. Not only that, but homes listed on Fridays sell the quickest, averaging 81 days.

Tuesdays are second best. Tuesdays are big planning days and buyers are more likely to sift through listing for their upcoming weekend.

The worst day to list? Sunday.

Extra Cash Eliminates Mortgage


Ever dream of fully paying off your mortgage? Want to get there faster? Seem impossible?

Try this.

Each time you make your monthly payment, add in an extra $100. Make sure it gets applied to the loan’s principal and not to interest. The principal is the actual amount you borrowed. If you pay off the principal quicker, you will save a boatload on interest.

Consider this example from Houselogic:

If you take out a $200,000 30-year mortgage at an interest rate of 6%, and hold it to term, you’ll pay a total of $382,537.97 for your home, including interest of $182,537.97. However, if you send in just $100 each month in additional principal, you’ll save more than $49,000 in interest over the term of the loan.

There’s another huge perk: You’ll pay off the loan five years and five months ahead of schedule. This strategy puts you in total control of the restructuring process, and there are no fees involved.

While it definitely requires discipline, just think of it as an extra bill each month. And if you try and just can’t commit to an extra $100 a month, try $50. You’ll get the same result, just a little smaller. Do what you can now to avoid future interest payments–your future self will thank you!

Homes With History

Sometimes real estate is more than just a place to live, it’s a piece of history. Case in point: three recent listings that add a whole new dimension to your space:

The Fugitive


Located in the heart of Chicago, the modernist residence where The Fugitive was filmed was on the market last year–and is now available for rent. The 6,000+ square foot expanse, largely made famous by its staircase where Harrison Ford dukes it out with the one-armed man, boasts a not-so-small asking price of $17,000 per month. But that does include the spacious home, top-notch location, and an indoor swimming pool. Plus, you get to reenact an epic Hollywood battle on your very own staircase.


Dickens’ “Summer Gypsy Tent”

Nestled on top of a London building, this 358-square-foot attic apartment was once Charles Dickens’ post-writing relaxation spot, which he dubbed his “summer gypsy tent.” Curbed reports that it reeled in an offer just after hitting the market for US equivalent of $720,100. That price rings in at a startling $2,000 per square foot, but, then again, London is one of the world’s priciest cities. No word on whether the post-Dickens residents went on to pen timeless novels.

A Stop on the Underground Railroad


Curbed offers another look at a stunning home packed with historical importance. Situated in Brookline, Massachusetts, this 180-year-old house served as a stop on the underground railroad when abolitionist Samuel Philbrick occupied it in the mid-1800s. All that elegance and history will cost you though: its current owners are looking for a whopping $4,250,000.

Hidden Staircases and Secret Rooms

Want to breeze past the typical decorating touches in your home? Try a hidden staircase, secret room, or even a trap door.

Concealed doors, staircases, and even entire rooms are no longer relegated to spy movies. Believe it or not, they can serve useful functions and add an element of surprise that you (and potential buyers) will love.

concealed door

Concealed Doors

Creative builders (or talented homeowners) can conceal doors and entire rooms they want to keep out of plain sight. Maybe it’s a bathroom right off the living room, a laundry room in full view of the front door, or a utility closet you would rather ignore. Whatever the reason, and however creative you want to get, you can always conceal the doors so they blend right in.

Secret Rooms

Need a quiet place to ease away your stress? Want a safe place to stash your valuables? Just like the idea of a secret room? Go for it! Some owners opt for peaceful sanctuaries for reading and relaxtion. More security-minded buyers might prefer a privileged storage area that intruders wouldn’t notice in a rush. Whatever the reason, a secret room will add an element of intrigue or curiousity far from the ordinary.

trap door

Trap Doors

Tip: stay away from the evil-villian-fall-through-the-floor models. Instead, opt for a small trap door in your kitchen leading down to an underground wine cellar or pantry. You’ll appreciate the added storage, and guests will be wowed.

Just make sure you don’t leave the door open!

The Prescription for “Model-Home Syndrome”

The Zillow blog offers a prescription for relief from “model-home syndrome,” the feeling when you see a bland, predictable look that often accompanies developer-built new construction.

Mass-produced homes have incredible benefits: solid design; tried-and-true construction methods; adaptable floorplans; and inclusive features that will serve most families extremely well. But they also lack the charm of a custom-built home with personalized touches. How about five easy ways to overcome the everyday and transform your space into something remarkable?


Custom Molding

Nothing says custom home like elaborate woodwork. If money is no object, go for coffered ceilings. For the more budget-minded, chair rail, crown molding, and wainscoting offer added elegance without the high cost. Experienced DIYers can even install most of these.

New Hardware

Give cabinets, drawers, and doors a one-of-a-kind look with custom pulls and knobs. Inexpensive and extremely simple to install (usually with only a screwdriver), don’t be afraid to go bold with these decorative touches: they can always be removed just as easily. Let your house’s personality shine and distinguish it from the standard fare.

Moving on Up


Stairs are an often-overlooked source of design features–setting yours apart can create a truly custom feel. Adventurous owners can tear up carpet and stain their steps. Also try replacing a banister with custom spindles or rails.

Switches and Plates

Swap out the hardware-store plastic light switches and outlet covers for more solid, artful hardware. Like knobs, these inexpensive items are easy to replace with a screwdriver and a few spare minutes, but can really set apart a room.



Probably the biggest complaint about “builder-standard” items is the overuse of generic light fixtures. No developer will add a wrought iron and crystal chandelier to their standard plans–you’ll have to bring your own creativity and sense of style. While light fixtures may set you back a bit, they will elevate your home’s custom appeal into the stratosphere.