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Masha Halpern

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How Much House Can You Afford?

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Now is the time to buy a home, there are so many homes on the market at great prices, but you want to make sure that you still purchase a home that won’t leave you overextended.  To make sure that the house you are thinking of buying is going to be affordable, make sure you do your research and budgeting before you sign the paper work.

To get started, figure the amount you've budgeted for your monthly mortgage payment. If you're not sure how much to spend on your mortgage, a great guideline to start with is somewhere between 30% to 40% of your monthly income. This should include principal and interest, as well as property taxes and homeowners insurance.

 Most people can afford a home that costs up to three times their annual household income, if they can make a 20% down payment and have only a moderate amount of other debt. If you have little to no debt and can put 20% down you can probably buy a house worth up to four times your annual income. Calculate how much house you can afford with this home affordability calculator to see an estimate of how much you can potentially afford for your new home.

When it comes to deciding how much you can afford to spend consider the following:

  •  Make sure you get pre-qualified or pre-approved for your loan before you start looking.
  •  If you buy a condo or a home that requires you to join the homeowner's association, your monthly dues will directly reduce how much you can afford to spend on a home. Some dues can be very costly, be sure to include the cost into your budgeting.
  •  Remember to assess and figure in the costs for any remodeling and repair projects.

If you're considering a new home purchase, it is crucial that you spend time calculating what you can truly afford. Remember, just because the bank says they will give you a certain amount of money, that doesn't mean you can actually afford it. Everyone's situation is different, and by planning ahead to ensure you're not overextending yourself, you can make it through the difficult times

Adjustable Rate Mortgages

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When you decide to purchase a home you will need to start to consider what type of mortgage will be best for you and your situation. You can choose to go with a fixed rate mortgage, which means the interest rate on a fixed rate mortgage remains the same throughout the life of the loan. Your monthly payment (consisting of principal and interest) generally remains the same as well. The entire mortgage is repaid in equal monthly installments over the term (length) of the loan.

Fixed rate mortgages are the most popular and almost 75% of all home mortgages are fixed interest rate mortgages. However, having a fixed interest rate on your mortgage has both positive and negative aspects. If interest rates rise, yours won't; and thus, your monthly mortgage payment will always remain the same. For homeowners on tight budgets or with fixed incomes this can be reassuring and this type of mortgage is typically the best choice.

Another option you can investigate is adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs.) With this type of mortgage, sometime also called a variable rate mortgage, your interest rate is adjusted periodically, rising or falling to keep pace with changes in market interest rate fluctuations. Your monthly payment amount is recalculated with each rate adjustment. Depending on what's specified in the mortgage contract, an ARM can be adjusted semi-annually, quarterly, or even monthly, but most are adjusted annually.

If neither of these options sound appealing, you do have an alternative choice-Hybrid ARM's. Simply put, they are mortgage loans that offer a fixed interest rate for a certain time period (3, 5, 7, or 10 years), and then convert to a 1-year ARM. The initial fixed interest rate on a hybrid ARM is often considerably lower than the rate on either a 15-year or 30-year fixed rate mortgage. The longer the initial fixed-rate term, however, the higher the interest rate for that term will be. Generally speaking, even the lowest of these fixed rates is higher than the initial (teaser) rate of a conventional 1-year ARM.

Hybrid ARMs are ideal for individuals who plan to stay in their homes for a short period of time (3 to 10 years), as they will be able to take advantage of the low initial fixed interest rate without worrying about how the loan will change when it converts to an ARM. If your situation changes and you decide to stay in your home for a longer period of time, look for a hybrid ARM with a conversion option. This option will allow you to convert your loan to a fixed rate loan before it turns into an ARM.

ARM mortgages are somewhat riskier than a fixed rate mortgage, but may benefit you if you have certain needs or find yourself in certain circumstances. In other circumstances, you may be better off with a fixed rate or other type of mortgage. Examine your financial and life situation with the help of your loan officer or financial advisor. Try this mortgage calculator to help you in your decision making.

Selecting a Pest Control Professional

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The weather is getting warmer, flowers are blooming, Spring has arrived!  So have the bugs. A homeowner can often control household pests through a combination of preventive measures, including proper sanitation and over-the-counter pesticides. However, some pest infestations may be extensive or a particular pest may be difficult to control, requiring pest control services. While most  household pests are merely a nuisance, some can cause serious damage to our homes or property and other pose dangers such as bites, stings and transmit disease-causing agents. Choosing a pest control company is a serious matter, you want someone who is honest, dependable, state-certified, and who has the proper training and expertise to use the pesticides safely in your home. Below are some tips to help you in your search to find a professional in your area.

• Select a company based on their reputation, time in the community and willingness to answer your questions. They should give you written material that describes the problem they propose to treat and how they propose to treat it including what chemicals will be used and in what amounts.

• Pest control companies differ in their guarantees so be sure to Inquire on the specifics. If a guarantee is given, know what it covers, how long it lasts, what you must do to keep it in force, and what kind of continuing prevention and management are necessary.

• Do not select a pest control company based on price alone, an advertisement in the phone book or the "deal of the week". Be cautious of unsolicited sales pitches and never select treatment just because your neighbor's property is being treated or because there is "leftover spray from another job". Get references and check them. 

• Make sure you receive a written estimate detailing how much will they charge to do an inspection to determine the extent of your problem, outline the services they would perform.

• Ask how long it will take to solve your pest problem, and how often the company will return to do more work or to track results. Ask the company what other measures they can take to manage the pest problems, or what you can do to reduce future pest problems.

Choosing a quality pest control company is an important decision. You want the company to solve your pest problem, but you also want to keep your home safe.  Do not be pressured by a sales person or a company to sign a contract immediately or to pay in advance, take your time to make a sound decision. The key to any decision is having confidence in the company you chose.

In our current economic status, companies throughout the U.S. are facing a number of challenges, from the credit crunch to soaring commodity prices. In Forbes 10th annual ranking of the Best Places for Business and Careers,  #1 on the list is  Raleigh, N.C.   Following on the list, the Southeast is home to half of the top 10 for a third straight year.

For the second straight year, low business costs, strong job growth and a very educated labor supply have contributed to the outstanding ranking. According to Forbes, business costs are 14% below the national average, and the area boasts one of the most educated labor supplies in the country, with 38% of the adult population possessing a college degree and 12% holding a graduate degree. Raleigh has seen a growth of new residents over the last few years; net migration has averaged 25,000 or 2.4% of the population, seventh highest in the country.  Contributing to the growth are big employers in the area like Cisco SystemsGlaxoSmithKline and the SAS Institute.

Throughout the list, a common factor for the top ranked metros include solid job growth, an educated labor supply and low business costs. Forbes rankings cover the 200 largest metro areas (populations over 240,000) as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and are based on nine factors. The economic research company Economy.com, supplied data on five-year historical job and income growth as well as migration trends. The business cost index, which looks at labor, tax, energy and office space costs and its living cost index, which factors in housing, transportation, food and other household expenditures was also reviewed.

Raleigh is ranked among the top of many "Best Places to…” lists, it is a wonderful place to work and play!   It offers many advantages, opportunities and possibilities. Get started on your search for the perfect home in the area! 

Home Recycling Tips

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The United States is #1 in trash producing countries, producing about 1,609 pounds of trash per person per year. However, by reducing, reusing, and recycling  materials at home and throughout our communities we can make a difference by reducing waste in our homes. There are many things you can do to help, check out the below tips and start today!

 Reduce

• Stop junk mail by removing your name
• Purchase durable long lasting goods
• Stop delivery of unwanted newspapers and donate old magazines
• Use your own shopping bags when visiting the supermarket
• Take a packed lunch to work or school in a reusable plastic container 
 

Reuse

• Reuse plastic shopping
• Buy rechargeable items instead of disposable ones e.g. batteries and cameras
• Buy things in refillable containers
• Buy concentrated products which use less packaging

Recycle

• Choose products in packaging which you know can be recycled
• Contact your home trash collection service's recycling program. Most cities offer a free curbside service that makes it convenient to recycle!
• Place recycling bins next to your garbage can. This will make it easier to recycle if you have all waste containers in the same area.
• Designate separate bins for plastic and newspapers. Recycling a four-foot stack of newspapers saves the equivalent of one 40-foot fir tree.
• Buy products made from recycled materials. Most supermarkets now stock a wide range of these items, click here for some examples and to learn more.
• Locate your nearest recycling facilities are by clicking here 

 

What To Look For During A Final Walk Through

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Before the final closing on your home you will have the opportunity to inspect the property again, also known as a final walk through. The main purpose to this inspection is to ensure that the property is in the same condition as day you signed the contract.  You are making sure that the seller has lived up to his or her agreements in the sales contract.   It is a good idea to schedule the walk-through as close to the actual closing as possible, typically within the 24 to 48 hours prior to closing.  It is also advised that you do it after the sellers should have already moved out as there can be damage caused by moving.

What should you look for in a walk through inspection? To start with, you want to make sure that the overall condition of the home has not changed since you signed the contract. Below are some things you should look for in a pre-closing inspection, it is also a good idea to bring along a checklist so that there is nothing overlooked.  

 • Ensure that all required repairs have been satisfactorily completed or are in the process of being done
• Did the seller leave "junk” or debris behind in the basement, attic, yard or garage?
• Have the items that the seller agreed to leave been removed?
• Are the instruction books and warranties for any appliances or fixtures available?

 In addition to looking at condition, repairs, and items remaining or removed, pay particular attention to key areas such as:
Major systems and appliances – Confirm that these components are in good working order.
Attic and basements/crawl spaces – Look for discarded items and potential problem areas.
Walls and floors – Check for any damage that may have occurred when the sellers moved or that may not have been obvious when you originally looked at the home.
Exterior – Check the condition of windows, doors, sprinklers, gutters, and landscaping.

Unfortunately, things don't always go as planned when buying a home.  If you find during your final home inspection that the seller has not lived up to their part of the agreement, you want to know about it in advance of the closing so a solution can be agreed upon before money changes hands.  If this occurs you do have options, it is a good idea to work with a real estate attorney to come to a satisfactory arrangement. 

• Placing Repair Money in Escrow – One solution is to have the seller place the anticipated repair costs in escrow.  It is important to make sure the amount is sufficient to cover the costs of the repairs.  Once the money is placed in escrow, the funds can be withdrawn to pay for the repairs as needed.

• Reducing the Selling Price – Another option to resolve this matter is to negotiate the costs with the seller and have the costs of the repairs removed from the selling price of the home at closing.  It is very important you have enough information to make a proper estimate of the repair costs so you can negotiate enough money to be able to make the repairs.

• Delaying the Closing - Finally, if you're uncomfortable with either of these two options, you may want to delay the closing itself.  The details will need to be worked out with your attorney but it's not unreasonable to ask the seller to help you pay for costs that you'll incur because of the delay in closing on the home - especially if they've purposefully ignored the repairs in the first place and you're forced to live elsewhere and/or pay to have your furniture placed into storage.

Spring Yard Preparation

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The smell of spring is in the air and soon the temperatures will gradually warm and you can finally start to spend more time outside. Winter can take a toll on your lawn and landscaping, harsh conditions such as  fluctuating temperatures and dry winter winds can be damaging. Spring lawn care is important, as early season care has a big impact on lawns. Here are a few tips to get you started on your outdoor “to do” list and to help you prepare your lawn and landscaping for the months ahead.

Lawn Care

It is important to begin by removing any accumulated debris from last fall such as leaves and be sure to remove all the thatch (dried dead grass and weeds) with a rake. If the thatch is left in the yard it can prevent water and nutrients from reaching the roots of your lawn. If you will be planting grass seeds, this will help them to root in the soil better.

Before you mow the yard for the first time of the season, it is important you change the oil, spark plug, put fresh gasoline in the tank and make sure the blade is sharpened. 

Lawns can be fertilized organically by using compost and mulching mowers.   It is also easy to  go green when looking for solutions for lawn and soil problems. There are many organic  non chemical based products available from fertilizers to weed control.

Planting

Depending on your area you may be able to plant some types of perennials, start now to get your plan together. Research gardening books, magazines as well as online  for ideas and information on certain plants and the amount of care required. Depending on your area you should also be able to plant roses, berries, fruit trees and most deciduous plants now. Some other flowers that can take the often chilly temperatures of spring are: Snapdragons, Violas and Purple Cabbage.

Pruning

Now is the perfect time to prune ornamental trees and shrubs, the best time to do so is before growth starts. This is also a great time to prune roses, by doing so you will see a much fuller and robust plant when they begin to bloom.
Proper pruning enhances the beauty of almost any landscape tree and shrub, while improper pruning can ruin or greatly reduce its landscape potential, so be sure to research the correct methods!


With a little extra care and prevention now can make for a beautiful landscape to be enjoyed all summer long. Take advantage of the cooler temperatures to get your yard and garden ready now!

Should You Use A Real Estate Attorney?

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Getting involved in a real estate transaction is an exciting but sometimes confusing time. The process can take a lot of time and money to complete. With something so complicated, there is certainly some merit to involving a lawyer in the real estate proceedings. Use the below information to help you decide if you need to use a real estate attorney for your transaction.

How an attorney can help me?

A real estate attorney can offer many different services and some may specialize in certain areas but some general services that are typically offered are:

• Reviewing and outlining the real estate transaction process
• Reviewing any listing or agency agreements
• Drafting and reviewing real estate condition reports
• Drafting and reviewing residential offers to purchase and counter offers
• Assisting buyers and sellers through the property inspection and financing contingencies
• Working with title insurance companies and reviewing title insurance commitments
• Checking the settlement statement figures with you prior to closing
• Advising you at closing

In addition, because you will likely have questions throughout the purchase process, having an attorney available to answer all of your questions that arise during the course of your sale will be an added benefit.

What are the costs involved?

The actual cost for an attorney varies by state and by amount of work required. Fee structures also vary (some lawyers charge by the hour, others by flat fee, some by both depending on the task.) but the typical range is $350-$1500.  While it is important to do your research and shop around for the attorney that best fits your budget, don’t let the price factor determine your decision. You may find the worst attorney that is the most expensive or you may find an excellent attorney that offer decent services at a fair price.

Where can I find a reputable attorney?

A good place to start in locating a real estate attorney is to ask for referrals from your local bar association, your real estate agent or your mortgage broker.  Word of mouth has great value as well; ask friends, colleagues and family whom they've had a good experience working with. The internet is a valuable tool you can use to research also, locate an attorney in your area.


For most people buying or selling a house is the most complicated and largest legal transaction that a person will make in their lives. Having your real estate lawyer sitting next to you to make sure that your interests are being looked out for will relieve a lot of the stress associated with that sale.

Good Faith Deposits

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If you are buying a home, condominium or other real estate, you will most likely be asked to make a good faith deposit. The good faith deposit (also called earnest money deposit) establishes that you are serious and, to some extent, has the financial capacity to follow through on the purchase. Keep in mind that these deposits however should not to be confused with a down payment.

How much do you need to deposit?

The amount of the good faith deposit is dependent upon the agreed sale price of the real estate. Deposits vary and typically can range anywhere from 1 to 3 percent of the sales price but, there is no set requirement. Generally speaking, you want your deposit to be large enough that your offer is taken seriously, but you do not want it to be so large that you put significant funds at risk.   While the chance that you will have a problem is slim, the smaller the amount you have tied up and at risk in a deposit, the better.

Who gets the money?

Typically the earnest money deposit should be made to a reputable third party such as a well known real estate brokerage, legal firm, escrow company or title company.
As a buyer, be aware that if you allow earnest money to be held and deposited by a seller or by a builder or developer for use in construction, you risk that they will not be able to return it to you in the event the transaction does not close for whatever reason. Most buyers prefer to have real estate agents or attorneys hold the earnest money deposit as  they are licensed by the state and required to deposit the money in a trust or escrow account, this reduces the risk that the monies will be improperly used. To avoid the loss of your deposit, follow these tips.

• Never give an earnest money deposit to the seller.
• Verify that the third party will deposit the funds into a separately maintained trust account.
• Obtain a receipt.
• Ask how the money will be returned if necessary. Do they hold the check until it clears or return it?

Is the money refundable?

Your real estate contract will indicate if your deposit is refundable, so be sure to review this document very carefully. It is advisable that you consult a real estate attorney who can help ensure that your offer is written in a manner that protects your rights to the deposit.  Do your research to get the facts about state law and even local customs on refunds of deposits before your earnest money leaves your hands. Even if your money is refunded, you may not receive the entire amount. Often, third party fees are paid out of earnest money deposits. For example, if an appraisal has been completed on the property then the appraisal fee is going to have to be paid before money can be released to either of the parties. Check the laws in your state  as some states have laws requiring the buyer and the seller to agree on the disbursement of these funds before they are refunded, which can lead to further problems and legal action.


A good faith deposit acts like an insurance option for a seller. Because the escrow process can take 30 to 60 days, their property is off the market. The good faith deposit essentially compensates the seller for this time in the event the buyer is unable to follow through on the purchase of the property. This deposit helps reassure the seller you are serious about buying their home.

Need Storage? Explore Your Options

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There are various reasons why you might need to look into storage options, especially during the moving process. You may be moving from your old house before your new place is ready or if  you're down-sizing and your new home does not have enough room for all your treasured items you will need to consider storage. Whatever your situation there are different options that may work for you, read more below to find one that will work best for your situation.

Self Storage Facilities

These consist of mini-storage units where a monthly charge is incurred. Most have a variety of units in different sizes to accommodate your storage needs; if you are not sure of what size you may need, use this estimator to help determine the best size you may need.
Depending on the facility, access can be granted at specific times but some do have 24 hour access. Find a self storage facility near you.

Container Storage

This type of storage can be used for long-term, portable storage. Many people refer to this type of storage as Pods, they are delivered to your home where you pack them and then can be stored at a storage center, and once you move to your new home, delivered at your doorstep for your convenience.  This can be a time and money saving solution because you only have to pack once, you don’t have to move your items to the storage facility and then again to your final destination.

Moving/Storage Facilities

Many moving companies offer storage as an extra service to their moving capabilities. This can be very convenient as they simply load up your possessions, take them back to their facility and store them for you rather than dropping them off at your new home. Then, when you're ready, they load them back up again and deliver them.

Important factors to consider when making your storage decision:

Location. It is important to consider the location to your residence and the time and expense associated with frequent visits to the location. 

Convenience. You will need to ask about the accessibility of your storage facility on weekends and evenings.  Some self storage facilities are 24 hours, but check first.

Security. Be certain you understand the security in the storage facility that you choose. How will your household goods be stored within the storage unit? What kind of security does the facility have both during regular business hours and after hours?

Insurance. While it is smart to ask about what would happen to your stored items in case of fire, flood or other natural disaster. Don’t assume the storage facility will cover your items if they are damaged or stolen. Check your homeowners or renters insurance policies to see if they will cover items kept in storage.

Whatever decision you make it is always a good idea to tour the facility before signing any contract in addition to asking the above questions. It is important to do your research, just like choosing a moving company, you want to be sure your things are in safe hands.

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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


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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