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Chapel Hill NC and Beyond

Masha Halpern

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New Housing Bill Signed

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After vows from the White House of vetoing a bill designed to help rescue homeowners buried under increasing mortgage payments, President Bush quietly approved and signed a new housing bill behind closed doors.  The bill will give the Federal Housing Administration the authority to help homeowners refinance with mortgages backed by the federal government.  Current lenders, however, will have to agree to take a loss on their loans.  The new bill will offer up to $300 billion in loans and will reportedly help as many as 400,000 homeowners refinance and be able to keep their homes. 

This bill also gives the Treasury Department the authority to protect the mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.  Those who opposed the bill have said it will end up taking money out of the pockets of the taxpayers and putting it in the pockets of the stockholders.  At this time there is no limit to the amount of help Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae will receive.  The two companies own or back nearly half of the country's total mortgages.  The bill puts a cap of $625,500 on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae in certain higher priced markets and up to 15% over median prices in other areas.

In addition to FHA-insured mortgages the bill will offer a number of other incentives.  One such incentive is the $15 billion in tax breaks such as a $7500 tax credit for first time homebuyers.  This credit is retroactive to April 9, 2008 and is valid until July 1, 2009.  Another incentive is $3.9 billion in grants for communities with the highest forclosure rates.

Flood Insurance: Are You At Risk?

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What would happen if you woke up tomorrow and your house was underwater?  What would you save?  What would you do?  It’s a scary prospect isn’t it?  Even if you are dealing with a few inches of water, flooding causes serious damage to your home.

There is a slogan that comes from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is that “Everyone Lives in a Flood Zone”.  While this certainly doesn’t sound optimistic, it is true. Even where there have not been floods for 40 years or more, floods do happen, the recent floods this spring are a sobering reminder.

The hard facts are that a regular homeowner’s insurance policy does not cover flooding. Homeowners insurance covers damage to your property if caused by other means, such as a fire or a tree falling on it, but it does not cover water damage that results from flooding. 
If you are looking for a unique way to evaluate your risk, there is an assessment tool located on the National Flood Insurance Program

There are two types of flood insurance:

Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA)

The SFHA, as designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) represents the 100-year regulatory floodplain. What this means is that in any given year, properties in this area have a one-in-100 chance of becoming flooded. Residents in the SFHA are only allowed to carry regular or Standard flood insurance which is available through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). To get a Standard or Regular flood insurance policy, please contact your local insurance provider. For information about the NFIP or flood insurance providers, please call 800-427-4661 or visit www.floodsmart.gov.

Preferred Risk Flood Insurance (PRPs)
This is available to home-owners that are not considered at immediate risk However, FEMA warns that over the life of a 30-year mortgage, property owners in areas like Sacramento can expect an approximately 26% chance of flooding.  So this really is the “what if’ policy.  Again, just because you haven’t had a flood in 100 years, doesn’t mean it can’t happen.


So, when buying a policy there are a few things to ask and things you need to know:
• Does my community participate in the National Flood Insurance Program?
• Can you confirm which flood zone I live in?
• Does my community participate in the NFIP Community Rating System (CRS)?
• If so, does my community's CRS rating mean that I qualify for a CRS rating discount?
• What exactly will be covered in case of flood damage? What won’t be covered?
• How will my premium costs be affected by choosing coverage for building only, contents only or building and contents?
• How will my premium costs be affected if I choose a higher deductible?
• What is the policy fee?
• Are there additional expenses or fees I should be aware of?
• What is covered by Replacement Cost and what is covered by Actual Cash Value only?
• If your home is considered in a “Flood Zone” your agent may ask you for an elevation certificate.  More information on Elevation Certificates can be found by clicking here.
• Flood insurance has a thirty day waiting period on your policy. 


Finally, put together an inventory of your home’s contents.  Should something happen you will need this to make your claims. A simple form like this checklist can be priceless, it’s a good thing to have in the event of any disaster.

 

Selecting a Lawn Care Company

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You have seen them on television- lawns that are immaculate.  You scan over their green lushness to find their blooming flowers and perfectly pruned hedges and shrubs.  But, what happens then if you don’t have a green thumb, let alone time to fuss with the crab grass and dandelions?  You hire a lawn care maintenance crew! So what do you look for in a lawn care crew? 

 

How much does this cost?

Lots of companies provide a table or scale for lawn care.  If you don’t already have the tools to maintain a lawn, the start up can be quite expensive.  Call around and get a few quotes and find out what a general fee is like and what they handle.  A good place to start is the Professional Landcare Network.  This is an organization for lawn care, landscapers and other garden professionals.  Get a ballpark figure from them and go from there.  TruGreen offers a free lawn analysis which can give you an idea of what your lawn needs and how much this costs.  This can help you determine what services fit your budget and needs.  Also, don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors who they use, if you like they way their yard looks. 

What do you want to do?

Some people love to plant their flowers and mulch the beds, but hate the edging and weeding and grass cutting.  Other people would prefer to just forget about it and put the whole lot on someone else’s to do list.  If gardening is therapy for you then don’t be afraid to say all I want is someone to handle the yard.  Be clear about what you are expecting and make sure you understand what they have to offer. 

Supplies

Be sure to understand what they use on the lawn and what they provide.   Some companies package the whole care, some companies itemize.  While there is a mark-up on the products used by the lawn care professional, that is an industry standard.  After all, they had to shop, buy and store the product before it made it to your lawn.  Be sure to ask what products they will be using, particularly if you are trying to stay “green” while your lawn does the same. 

Other Services

Many lawn companies offer year around services which also include leaf removal and snow removal.  While some residents may not be in need of seasonal services, it doesn’t hurt to find out what services are offered. 

Your lawn is a reflection of your home.  A well maintained yard is like a well maintained roof, it can affect the value of your home and your neighbors homes as well!  Today, everyone has a busy schedule and there may not be enough time to do yard work, so do your research to find a company you feel comfortable with.

Home Inspections

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Does the thought of termites, black mold or buying the home from the money pit fill you with terror?  There are ways to avoid the hidden traumas that can come with purchasing a home.  While most states require a home disclosure, if the house was a foreclosure OR there are issues that the home owner was not aware of, this does not offer any protection or warning of possible pitfalls your new home may have. 

With foreclosures, the bank is not going to be aware of any of the possible problems that a person who lived there might have been aware of.  Nor is it likely that you would be able to contact the previous owner. If the home-owner was not living in the home for more than 90 days or if the house was being leased out/rented out.  The home owner may not be aware of any difficulties that may have arisen in the home.   In these cases and for your own peace of mind, it is always advisable to have a home inspection.

So how do you go about selecting a home inspector?    One good way to start is one of the two nationally recognized professional associations for home inspectors; the American Society of Home Inspectors or The National Association of Home Inspectors.   In order to be listed with either of these organizations one has to go through a certification process. Both of these have a search engine to help you find “state certified home inspectors.”  Once you have a few names it doesn’t hurt to check with the Better Business Bureau.  Make a list of inspectors that have been recommended.  Avoiding anyone who has a negative report can help you avoid any potential problems with your inspection. 

A few things questions to ask when talking to your potential home inspector:

• What is the inspector's experience? How many years have they been in the business and how many inspections do they do a year?
 
• Exclusively inspections? Beware of contractors who do house inspections "on the side"--they may be looking for work and this isn’t necessarily what you want.

• What type of report? Will it be written or oral or both? Will the report contain suggestions for remedying deficiencies?   Preference should always be to get it in writing.

• How long will it take? Depending on the size of the house an inspection should take between 2 and 4 hours.

• What will be included in the inspection?

• What certifications do they have? Are they ASHI or NAHI certified?

• Does the inspector have Errors and Omissions Insurance? (This helps protect you if there were to be a problem with the inspection not finding a problem that becomes a big problem and was obviously there already.

While home inspections vary by market you can count on it costing over $100 and possibly up to $500.  If you are dealing with a very large house with lots of “extras” you might be dealing with additional fees.  Also, understand that most real estate agents cannot (because of conflict of interest) recommend an inspector.  It may seem like an unnecessary expense, it can protect you potential problems which may well be worth it in the long run.

Real Estate Prorations

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At the closing, certain costs are often prorated between the buyer and the seller, typically property taxes. The reason for this is because taxes are typically paid toward the end of the year for which they are assessed. Often the closing agent must use the taxes from the previous year to compute the prorations for the sale. 

Taxes are not the only costs that can be prorated, below are some other prorations that a buyer may be charged.

Homeowner Association Dues-Some homeowner associations collect monthly dues upfront while others bill quarterly or annually. Thus, if a seller has not yet paid the dues, the dues will be paid from the seller's proceeds. 

Insurance Prorations-Insurance premiums are typically paid in advance. If the buyer is assuming the seller's existing loan or buying on a land contract, a buyer might ask the seller to transfer the existing insurance policy.

Utility Prorations-While utilities are not typically prorated at closing, in certain instances if a seller doesn't pay the county or city utilities (water, sewer, garbage), then the utilities roll over to the tax assessments. This can happen many times in short sales and foreclosures because, if the seller isn't making the mortgage payments, the seller is probably not paying the utility bills, either.

It is always a good idea to do your due diligence and before signing a purchase contract, be sure to read it to find out how prorations are handled, because you might want to propose a change in the verbiage about prorations.

 

Pool Safety

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Summer is in full swing and the sunny days and hot weather make the thought of a dip in the pool is a very tempting prospect.  For children, it is even more tempting.  It comes as no surprise that the National Safety Council reports that the number two cause of injury-related death among children is drowning. About 1000 children drown each year and another 4000 are hospitalized for near-drowning. Many of these tragic events could be prevented by the installation of a pool fence or barrier.

Most county and townships have specific requirements for a perimeter fence around a yard containing a pool.  Those requirements have to be met to the letter.  However, if your yard is like most, it does double duty in the summer, housing a pool and also a play area.  While nothing can replace a parents vigilant supervision, there are a number of products on the market that can make things a little safer and offer a little more peace of mind.

Pool Fences:

Pools should be completely surrounded by fencing material at least 4 feet tall. Chain link fence works,  A slatted fence should have no gaps wider than 4 inches, so kids can't squeeze through. Gates should be self-closing and self-latching. The latch should be out of a child's reach.  There are several fencing options available specifically for keeping children out of the pool and harms way.  You can view some of these options that are actually endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Pool Barriers

One pool cover called Katchakid has actually gotten the ALA (American Lifeguard Association’s endorsement.  A Katchakid is a custom net system which covers the pool in a net which is too small for a child to stick a head through, but still allows you to chlorinate the pool as needed without the other issues a full pool cover would cause.  The net is made of a rough UV resistant product that is uncomfortable for little children to walk or crawl on.  Thusly, a child is prevented from crawling on or getting into the pool.

Eventhough these pool safety products are useful, keep in mind that there is nothing on the market is more vital to your family’s safety than your vigilance.  Supervision is key around the pool and while children are playing outside. 

Independence Day In Chapel Hill

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For many people the 4th of July is the highlight of the summer. Backyard barbecues, parades, and of course fireworks! Chapel Hill has much to offer in fun for everyone. Take a look at what different events your family can enjoy together on this  holiday!

 

 Old Fashioned July 4th  at the Horace Williams House

Enjoy their famous celebration of America's birthday. Free ice cream, children's games, picnicking, and demonstrations of by historic fire equipment by members of the Chapel Hill Fire Department. Enjoy a free concert by the Village Band. At the Horace Williams House Grounds from  1 - 3 p.m.

Town of Chapel Hill Celebration

The town’s fireworks show will be held at UNC's Kenan Memorial Stadium.  Lots of fun, live music and a spectacular fireworks display at the end of the evening.

Family Fourth Of July Celebration

Join the parade with marchers in appropriate holiday costume starts 11am at Weaver Street Market lawn and ends at Town Commons, plus family activities, music, face painting, balloon sculptures, games, food and demonstration by the fire department. 9:30-1:00pm cost is free!

Enjoy all the different events the Chapel Hill area has to offer!  Have a a wonderful and safe holiday.


Summer Vacation In Your Own Backyard

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With record-high gas prices at the pump, it is forcing people to stay closer to home instead of driving or flying long distances for their summer vacation.  However, that does not have to mean any shortage of fun. The Chapel Hill area area is full of fun things to do with something for everyone! You can enjoy a fun and relaxing destination in your own backyard. Below are just a few of the wonderful attractions that you can enjoy-close to home!

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
250 East Franklin St
Chapel Hill, North Carolina  Phone: 919-962-1236

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, one of the largest planetariums in the United States, is located on the north end of the campus of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Morehead Center Building and grounds, complete with a 68-foot, domed Star Theater and Zeiss Model VI Star Projector, scientific exhibits and classrooms, 24-inch Cassegrain reflecting telescope and observation decks, Visitors' Center, art galleries, rose gardens and the massive sundial were built for students of all ages with all interests
 
Ackland Art Museum
101 S Columbia St
Chapel Hill, North Carolina  Phone: 919-966-5736

The Museum's collection consists of more than 15,000 works of art, featuring North Carolina's premier collections of Asian art and works of art on paper (drawings, prints, and photographs), plus significant collections of European masterworks, twentieth-century and contemporary art, African art, and North Carolina pottery. The Ackland organizes more than a dozen special exhibitions a year.
 
Kidzu Children's Museum

105 E. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514

919-933-1455

Kidzu Children's Museum is a hands-on museum in the heart of downtown Chapel Hill where children 0-8 years old and the adults in their lives can safely discover, pretend, and play to their heart’s content. 

North Carolina Botanical Garden
Old Mason Farm Rd,
UNC Campus, Totten Center
Chapel Hill, NC 27599  Phone: 919-962-0522

The NC Botanical Garden showcases plants in artful, authentic displays. Roam the water gardens, inhabited by water lilies, goldfish, tadpoles and koi, to the Mountain Habitat Garden, filled with bluebell, blood root, mountain laurel, rhododendron, and azalea. A fairy garden with hands-on activities such as digging with play shovels, tic tac toe and hopscotch appeals to children.

Summer goes quick, so get out and enjoy what the Chapel Hill area has to offer and save money at the same time!

Bridge Loans

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You may have never heard of a bridge loan before and that is probably because the housing market has been doing well for so long that most people haven't needed them as homes sold within days of being listed. Homeowners did not have to worry about paying for their new homes before they'd sold the old ones.  But in recent times, the housing market slowdown has given the bridge loan a boost in popularity.

What is a Bridge Loan?

Bridge loans are temporary loans to cover the difference between the sales price of a new home and a home buyer's new mortgage if the old home hasn’t sold. The bridge loan is secured to the buyer's existing home. The loan is  then used as a down payment on the new home, helping the homeowner to bridge the gap between buying and selling a home.

There are two types of bridge loans. The first pays off the mortgage on your current home and makes a down payment on the new one. This means that you pay the mortgage only on the new property, agreeing to repay the bridge loan when the old home sells.

The second type of bridge loan is more risky, allowing you to borrow against the equity of the current home to use for your down payment. The scary part is that while you're paying off a bridge loan, you're still responsible for the mortgage payments on both homes.


Pros and Cons:

The Pros
• You can immediately put your house on the market.
• Bridge loans often have a grace period, without payments, for a few months.
• If the buyer has made a contingency offer  to buy and the seller issues a Notice to Perform, forcing the buyers hand,  the buyer can move forward still move forward with the purchase without the contingency.
• It allows you to get your new home without the stress of waiting on the sale of your old one.

 The Cons
• Bridge loans cost more than home equity loans.
• Buyers will be qualified by the lender to own two homes and many buyers cannot qualify for this.
• You will essentially have two mortgage payments PLUS interest.   Not the best situation for the long term.

Although there are cons that need to be considered with this type of loan as well as other short-term mortgage financing, they may be necessary when home buyers land in tight spot. Do your research and check with your mortgage consultant to explore the options that work best for your situation.

When you decide to retire that doesn’t mean your brain has to retire too! In fact your brain needs more stimulation than ever. The good thing about retirement is that finally, you have the time to supply the required intellectual input. Keep in mind that the location that you decide to pick to retire can be key to that process. Most retirees want to continue learning and there are several communities that boast thriving intellectual centers where cultural activities keep residents (and their brains) as busy and interested as they want to be.

According to the U.S. News and World Report, they consulted their list of more than 1,000 Best Places to Retire and came up with 10 retirement destinations that attract highly educated folks.  Chapel Hill, N.C. was on that list of the most brainiest places to retire. Residents might spend their evenings paddling out in kayaks to watch the stars with an astronomy educator from the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

One of the factors for Chapel Hill  being selected for this list is the vast cultural attractions throughout the area. Chapel Hill offers a multitude of activities for residents and tourists. The University Of North Carolina at Chapel Hill provides the ability to look at one of the finest universities for higher education in the United States that also has three art museums. The North Carolina Botanical Garden is the largest natural botanical garden in the southeast. In addition, the area offers many Museums,Planetariums and Centers for Performing Arts.

Other cities across our nation that made the brainiest places to retire list:

• Ann Arbor, Mich.
• Berkeley, Calif.
• Boulder, Colo.
• Brookline, Mass.
• Chapel Hill, N.C.
• Hoboken, N.J.
• Lake Oswego, Ore.
• Reston, Va.
• Upper St. Clair, Pa.
• West Lafayette, Ind.

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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