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Carrboro High School ranks high!

by Masha Halpern

Exciting News!!

In 2011, Carrboro High School ranked highest among public high schools in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, Chatham, Orange and Durham County.

The Washington Post's Jay Matthews has been ranking public high schools using the Challenge Index since 1998. This index measures how a high school prepares its students for college. It divides the number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or other college-level tests a school gives by the number of graduating seniors.

Carrboro High School ranked 6th in the State and 144th in the Nation. East Chapel Hill High School ranked 8th in the State and 157th in the Nation. Chapel Hill High School ranked 13th in the State and 277th in the Nation.

It's nice to know our kids are getting a good education in the Chapel Hill School system. Living in a highly ranked school system can also help the resale value of your home. If you're thinking of buying a home in the Triangle and you want to work with The Best Buyer's Agent in Chapel Hill, choose Masha Halpern & The Smart Move Team.

Homeownership: Building Family Wealth

by Masha Halpern

The question facing many families making a move today is whether it makes more sense to rent or buy. We have been very upfront in discussing our unwavering belief in homeownership in North Carolina. It is for that reason that today we want to quote from a study issued by an institution with no ties to the real estate business or mortgaging.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University just released a study, America’s Rental Housing: Meeting Challenges, Building on Opportunities. The study discusses the need for a greater supply of quality rental units in America. We agree. However, there were a few nuggets of information found in the study we want everyone to know.

American’s Belief in Homeownership Has NOT Fundamentally Changed

There seems to be some feeling that homeownership has lost it’s luster and perhaps is no longer a component of the American Dream. Harvard explains:

To date, attitudes about owning have become only slightly more negative while attitudes about whether now is a good time to buy are little different than before the housing boom. In the latest Fannie Mae housing survey from October–December 2010, the vast majority of respondents—including renters—continued to believe that homeownership makes more financial sense than renting. In addition, nearly two-thirds of all renters surveyed reported their intention to buy homes in the future.

Homeownership Creates Wealth

Because prices have fallen dramatically in many parts of the country in the last five years, some are too easily dismissing homeownership’s role in building family wealth over the last century. The study explains: 

In addition, renters have only a fraction of the net wealth of owners. Near the peak of the housing bubble in 2007, the median net wealth of homeowners was $234,600—about 46 times the $5,100 median for renters. Even if homeowner wealth fell back to 1995 levels, it would still be 27.5 times the median for renters.

The recent fall in prices can’t wipe out the 100 year history housing has as a good long-term investment.

Bottom Line

The study was promoting the need for the construction of more rental housing for the average American family. However, when it came to a discusion on building wealth, Harvard offered:

“And for individuals as well as businesses, owning rental properties is an avenue for wealth creation.”

And how do these individuals and businesses create that wealth. Owning the real estate and collecting rent from their tenants to offset the mortgage payments. Build your family’s wealth – not your landlord’s. We believe OWNERSHIP almost always makes the most sense.

Article from KCM Blog




Know Your Debt-To-Income Ratio

by Masha Halpern

Knowing your debt-to-income ratio is important when you find your Chapel Hill dream home and are ready to apply for a mortgage.  Your lender will look at it and see if you are able, financially to begin this journey.  If you are not familiar with your debt-to-income ratio, below you can learn more about it and how it affects your financing.

Debt-to-income ratio is simply a comparison of the money you earn to the money you owe. It includes credit card debt, existing mortgages, auto loans, and any other personal debt.

Your mortgage lender will look at your Debt-To-Income (DTI) to evaluate your ability to afford your new mortgage. You should have a good idea of what your DTI ratio is before you approach a lender or consider buying a new home.

You ultimately want to achieve a low DTI ratio. A high number means that you have less disposable income and less ability to maintain the home once you purchase it. With foreclosures at an all time high, lenders are not willing to assume any additional risk in lending.

Most lenders seek DTI ratios in the 20-36% range or lower, with no more than 28% of debt dedicated to the mortgage itself. While some lenders will consider higher ratios, DTIs in the upper 30% range are considered high risk.

There are several different calculators available online to help you determine your ratio, and you can always check with your financial institution for guidance on determining your DTI ratio.

Here’s a simple formula:

  • Add all your monthly payments (mortgage or rent, car, credit cards, any other debt payments)
  • Add your gross income (before taxes), bonuses, alimony, or any other outside income and divide by 12
  • Then divide the total number in (1) by the final number in (2)
  • The result is your DTI ratio


If you are either ready to buy a Durham home or are just interested in  your financial health, it is a great idea to know your DTI and understand the steps to lower it and become as close to debt-free as possible.


Tips on Being Prepared for a Power Outage

by Masha Halpern

Spring storms can bring power outages but they can happen anytime and usually do happen at the most inconvenient times. Whether it lasts a second or two hours, you can minimize the problems and safety hazards of a power outages by following these simple suggestions.  These will protect your family AND your Chapel Hill home!

Be Prepared

Don’t wait for a power outage to buy emergency supplies, be prepared and have everything you need on hand. If your power goes out, it’s likely you could find the store shelves raided and empty during a power outage. It is a good idea to purchase emergency home kits and store them in a general area in your home so you won’t be searching for needed supplies in the dark in an emergency. While most power outages are short-lived, but some may last days. Here are some things to consider for a long-term outage. Stock up on:

•  Matches and disposable lighters.
•  Flashlights and extra batteries.  It is recommended you not use candles unless necessary to avoid fire risks.
Battery operated radio and extra batteries
•  Canned goods and dry food mixes. Water and juices. Don’t forget the hand-operated can opener
•  Special items for infants, the elderly or family members with special needs and prescription medications
•  Paper plates, cups and plastic utensils.
First-aid kit
•  Fire Extinguisher

Refrigerated Food Safety

Refrigerated food must be kept at temperatures of 40 degrees to avoid spoiling. Do not taste food to figure out if it’s safe to eat.

• A closed refrigerator will keep food safe for about four hours.
• A closed freezer will maintain food quality for about 48 hours if full, 24 hours if half full.
• 50 pounds of
dry ice will keep a freezer cold for two days.
• If your power outage lasts longer than four to eight hours, discard the following items:
• Eggs
• Mayonnaise
• Leftovers
• Milk products (except butter)
• Fresh meats, poultry and seafood
• Soft cheeses, low-fat cheese and shredded cheese
• Creamy-based dressings, gravy and spaghetti sauce
• After six hours of a power outage, discard all frozen products except breads, nuts, hard cheeses and fruit juices.

During an Outage

• Turn off all the major appliances in your home, especially the heat pump. This will prevent damage to the appliances once the power is restored. Turn on appliances one at a time so the electric demand does not jump suddenly.
• Make sure the oven and stove are off; this will prevent fires if the power comes back on while you’re away. Do not set dishes, towels, or paper on the stove; these may catch on fire if a burner is on when the power comes on.
• Leave the freezer and refrigerator closed. This will help food stay fresh longer.
• Never touch downed power lines or attempt to remove trees from power lines. Contact with power lines may result in serious injury or death.  Report any downed lines to your power company and leave the clean-up and repair work to the professionals

Other Storm Preparedness Tips

• If you use electrically powered life-support equipment, ask your doctor about emergency battery backup systems.
• Protect sensitive electronic equipment, such as computers, televisions and other devices, with surge suppressors.
• Make sure you know how to safely reset your circuit breaker or change fuses. Keep extra fuses on hand.
• If a well is your source for water, plan ahead to determine how you will get drinking water. Store containers of water for cooking and washing.
• Know how to open your garage door manually if it is equipped with an automatic opener.

Power outages can be caused by storms, accidents in which the power lines or poles have been knocked down, circuit overloads, a number of things!  These can cause you to be without power for an extended period of time. But no matter how long you are out of power, it can cause you a lot of disruption to your lives! Take the time and prepare for power outages. Gain the knowledge that you need to be able to respond effectively and safely during the outages.  Preparations can make it a lot less inconvenient!




It is always a delight to host a party or gathering at my house. Everyone gathers in the kitchen!  It is really is, in my opinion, the heart and soul of our home. According to some of the best listing agents in Chapel Hill, the kitchen is also one of the critical areas that contributes—or detracts—from the value of a home.

 I cannot tell you how many times I have shown  a home to one of my buyer clients and had them walk away from a house because the kitchen had a bad floorplan or needed updating!

Frequently, I will counsel my seller clients to find ways to  enhance the design  and atmosphere of their home. A kitchen update is  always a good idea—it will pay dividends in terms of value, whether you are selling now, or in the next few years.

Be careful when planning your renovation though. There are lots of things to consider besides what type of countertop or appliance you prefer!

Many  kitchen experts will tell you, the best designs are based on the “work triangle”—that's the space among the prep , cooking,  and sink areas. Those same professionals agree that this area should be spacious!

Here are some other key tips to follow when planning your kitchen remodel:

1. Create a Budget. T
he average kitchen remodel costs between 10-20% of the home’s value. I would suggest a 10-15% cushion for  unexpected structural repairs. Avoid settling for a cheap option, thinking someday you will replace it with something you really want. Chances are that will never happen.

2. Determine Your Priorities.    Think Lifestyle.. Design your kitchen around this. Do you have a large family? Do you love to cook? Entertain? Factors like these will determine both layout and style.

3. Research.  Take advantage of the many resources available in your local community. I have TONS of magazine clippings in a folder I have called " Dream House". Every time I find something I like, I tear it out and put it in the folder. If it stays for a long time, its worth considering when you renovate!

I also watch TV remodeling programs,but you can go to your local Home Imrovement store too. Keep an eye open for those home shows at your State Fair grounds! or call me! I have a lot of contractor resources and would love to chat with you about any ideas you have!

4. Finding the BEST contractors. Get referrals from friends, neighbors and call me, the best listing agent in Chapel Hill  Interview Interview and Interview. If you cant chat with your contractor- dont use them. This is a very personal project and if the contractor has their own idea of "what's right" ( and its not a structural thing ) keep interviewing.

Dont forget the good contractors are usually scheduled early on so book them right away! They may not be the cheapest but you are investing in your family's lifestyle and the value of your home.Oh, and dont forget to have them come to your home so they can see your current kitchen and make recommendations.

5. Dont jump in to this! Changing your mind after the project is started cost YOU money...and maybe a lot! Make sure you have what you want before you start.

6. Get Everything in Writing. No doubt you’ve heard a horror story about a remodel nightmare. I have! When using a professional for a remodel, the written contract should list each phase of the project; every product, including the model number; and copies of each contractor’s license, and workers compensation and liability insurance to confirm they are current. Please dont forget to check these documents.

7. Don't forget to update your Insurance Policy!

I have had the pleasure of seeing many of my client's kitchens become beautiful places where memories begin.  Please feel free to email me with comments if you would like some more ideas for home renovations. Also be sure to send this email on to those who may be considering a kitchen remodel.

Your Credit Report

by Masha Halpern

Your credit report is a very key part of getting a loan for your Chapel Hill dream home.  You should know your credit report before your lender views it. You can get the information by calling and requesting it. Once you have the report in your hand, check the “high credit limit”, total loan,” and “past due” columns.  It is a very good idea to get copies from all of the reporting agencies. 

Credit reporting companies:

Experian (800) 682-7954

Equifax (800) 685-1111

TransUnion (800) 888-4213

You can also get a copy of your credit history at the following online locations:

What if I find a mistake in my credit history?

You can correct simple mistakes by writing to the reporting company, pointing out the error, and providing proof of the mistake. You can also request to have your own comments added to explain problems.

For example, if you made a payment late due to illness, explain that for the record. Lenders usually understand about legitimate problems.

What about my overall (or FICO) score?

What does it mean? Prior to the late 1990s, credit scoring had little to do with mortgage lending. When reviewing your credit worthiness, an underwriter would make a subjective decision based on past payment history. Then things changed.

Lenders studied the relationship between credit scores and mortgage delinquencies and found a definite relationship. Almost half of those borrowers with FICO scores below 550 became ninety days delinquent at least once during their mortgage. On the other hand, only two out of every 10,000 borrowers with FICO scores above eight hundred became delinquent.

When can I stretch the percentages?

Depending on your area's housing market, lenders sometimes will allow you to stretch their allowable debt ratios. One of the best ways to encourage your lender to do so is to increase your down payment.

 Underwriters sometimes also will stretch the ratios for other "compensating factors," including:

  • Strong cash reserves after close of escrow
  • New payment that’s only slightly higher than current rent or mortgage payment 
  • History of increasing earning capabilities 
  • History of an ability to save money 
  • Large cash down payment






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Contact Information

Photo of Masha Halpern - Boutique Real Estate Real Estate
Masha Halpern - Boutique Real Estate
Keller Williams Realty
101 Cosgrove Avenue, Suite 200
Chapel Hill NC 27514
Direct 919-951-1780
Toll Free 877-478-4669
Fax: 919-928-9030

Masha Halpern of Keller Williams Realty provides real estate services in the Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham, North Carolina area including real estate services for buyer, sellers and those relocating to the surrounding areas of Apex, Bahama,Cary, Efland, Hillsborough, Holly Springs, Mebane, Raleigh, and Wake Forest. Search for homes in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Durham or the surrounding communities.  Request a market analysis for your North Carolina property.  I list and sell residential real estate, investment property, vacant land, lots for sale in Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham, North Carolina area.

Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Durham, North Carolina real estate and homes for sale in North Carolina - Masha Halpern & The Smart Move Team