Real Estate Information

Chapel Hill NC and Beyond

Masha Halpern


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Should You Use A Real Estate Attorney?


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


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


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.

Hard Water Facts And Benefits Of Soft Water


Most homes have hard water problems without necessarily knowing about it. Hard water is probably the most common water problem found in the home, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey in the U.S. about 85 percent of the homes have hard water. The best way you can tell if you have hard water is if you find it  difficult to get soap to form a lather. you have to use alot of soap into the water to clean your dishes or if your dishwasher is just not getting the dishes clean.

What Causes Hard Water?

When water moves through the soil small amounts of minerals are broken up and are held in the solution. The minerals that hold the most are magnesium and calcium and the how hard the water is depends on how much of these minerals is in the water.

Why Is Hard Water Bad?

While hard water is not considered to be unhealthy for people to drink,  people who have it are more prone to rashes and skin problems because it changes the skin's pH and soap remains on the skin, clogging pores.

Appliances that use water, such as dishwashers or washing machines are much less efficient when you are using hard water in the operation of them. This can translate to higher energy bills. If the hard water is heated it brings about a scale of magnesium and calcium which comes in the form of limestone deposits. These deposits can lead to less efficient water using appliances and sometimes can lead to the breakdown of them as well. If you suspect you have hard water, contact a professional  in your area who will do the proper testing and recommend your best treatment options.

 What Are The Advantages Of Soft Water?

• You will use less soap by using soft water, both in the shower and in the kitchen.
• You'll have less unsightly spots on dishes, and glassware and your knives and forks.
• Your heating bill will also be lowered because heating hard water in the water heater, causes hardness scale which plugs plumbing pipes and vessels and builds up on the inside of water heaters.
• Your plumbing will last longer. Hard water can cause a build up of scale from mineral deposits. Over time, pipes can clog, water flow can diminish, and water pressure can be reduced. This doesn't happen with soft water. Soft water is low in mineral content and therefore doesn't leave deposits in the pipes.
• Your skin and hair will look and feel better after bathing or showering. Scum from hard water clogs skin pores and coats hair.
• Clothes are softer, cleaner, brighter, and last longer
• Your food and beverages will taste better using soft water and ice cubes will sparkle more. 

How To Solve A Hard Water Problem

Some solutions to correct hard water is either to filter the water by distillation or reverse osmosis to remove the calcium and magnesium, or to the most common solution is to use a water softener. Because the cost of filtration would be extremely expensive to use for all the water in a house,  a water softener is usually a less costly solution.
The idea behind a water softener is simple. The calcium and magnesium ions in the water are replaced with sodium ions. Since sodium does not precipitate out in pipes or react badly with soap, both of the problems of hard water are eliminated.

Hard water waste can cost hundreds of dollars each year as it impacts laundry operations, your  water heater, efficiency, household cleaning, and the life expectancy of water-using appliances and plumbing. While hard water is not an emergency, the costs do adds up.  Click here to read more about hard water and how it affects you.


How To Prepare Your Home For A Power Outage


You never know when a power outage may strike your home. A power outage is inconvenient, whether it lasts a second or an hour, but you can minimize the problems and safety hazards of a power outage by following these simple suggestions to protect your family and 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 are one of the most common emergencies that occur. They can be caused by storms, accidents in which power lines are knocked down, circuit overloads, etc. Power failures can last for an extended period of time or for a brief moment, but no matter the length of time, they cause a disruption in everyday life. Take the time to prepare for a power outage and to gain the knowledge needed to respond safely and effectively during the emergency. A few simple preparations can greatly reduce the inconveniences caused by a power outage.

Tax Breaks for Homeowners


Homeownership comes with a lot of advantages, especially when it comes to tax time. You can deduct many home-related expenses. These tax breaks are available for any type of home -- mobile home, single-family residence, townhouse or condominium. Make sure you’re not missing out on important home-related tax deductions. Consult your tax advisor to find out which deductions apply to you, but here are some common deductions that may be beneficial to you.

Deducting Loan Points Paid on a Purchase or Refinance
The points you pay on a loan for a home purchase are tax-deductible for the year you made the purchase. You can deduct the points you paid as well as those a seller paid on your behalf if you meet the following criteria:

  •   The loan is secured by your primary residence
  •   The loan was used to buy, improve or build the home
  •   Paying points is a common practice in your geographic area
  •   The points are calculated as a percentage of the loan principal
  •   The points are clearly outlined on the settlement statement; and 
      the amount of cash you put into the purchase of your home (down payment,   closing  costs  etc.) is at least equal to the amount you were charged for the points you paid on the loan.

Deducting Real Estate Taxes
Real estate taxes are deductible in the year paid. They are generally reported on Form 1098, Mortgage Interest Statement, the annual statement from the financial institution holding your mortgage, or on your county real estate tax assessment statement. You should also deduct any prorated taxes collected from you at closing. These amounts are not always included on Form 1098, but may be itemized on your real estate closing statement.

Casualty or Theft Loss
If your home is damaged from a sudden, unexpected event such as a fire, a storm, vandalism, or theft, the loss that is not covered by insurance is deductible subject to a $100 reduction and a 10% of adjusted gross income limitation. A deductible casualty or theft loss reduces the cost basis of your home by the amount claimed as a deduction. The deductible loss is calculated using Form 4684, Casualties and Thefts, and carried to Schedule A as an itemized deduction.

Going Green Means Tax Benefits
Homeowners who make their homes more efficient with energy-conscious purchases may be eligible for tax benefits. A recent tax law change provides a tax credit to improve the energy efficiency of existing homes. The law provides a 10 percent credit for buying qualified energy efficiency improvements. To qualify, a component must meet or exceed the criteria established by the 2000 International Energy Conservation Code (including supplements) and must be installed in the taxpayer’s main home in the United States.

The following items are eligible:
• Insulation systems that reduce heat loss/gain
• Exterior windows (including skylights)
• Exterior doors
• Metal roofs (meeting applicable Energy Star requirements)

In addition, the law provides a credit for costs relating to residential energy property expenses. To qualify as residential energy property, the property must meet certification requirements prescribed by the Secretary of the Treasury and must be installed in the taxpayer’s main home in the United States. The maximum credit for all taxable years is $500 – no more than $200 of the credit can be attributable to expenses for windows. Read more from the IRS on how you may be eligible to receive this tax break.

Everyone has a different situation and you may actually qualify for other deductions you were not aware of, so always check with your tax professional. For information on taxes and being a homeowner, visit the IRS where you can learn more about Tax Information for Homeowners.

Answers For The First Time Home Buyer


Buying your first house is likely to be the greatest financial commitment you will ever make. While buying your first home is an exciting experience, it can also seem overwhelming and can leave you asking lots of questions.  There are many things to consider, from budgeting to choosing the house, and getting financing you want to make sure you have all the information you need to make smart decisions. Here are a few easy steps to get started!  

How Much Can You Afford?
Before you can start actually looking for a home, you need to set some basics, such as how much can you actually afford. There are two major factors that you need to consider, how much you can borrow and how much of a monthly payment you can realistically afford.  Keep in mind you will most likely be pre-qualified for an amount that may be unaffordable to your budget. As a general rule of thumb, your annual mortgage payment, taxes and homeowner's insurance shouldn't exceed 28% of your gross income.  Use this home buying worksheet to help you figure the costs.
In addition, you will also need to determine your closing costs, which can add up to 3% to 5% of your total home's value. This closing cost estimator will help to give you a better understanding of the costs.

Do Your Homework-Start Your Search Online
Almost 80% of all home searches today begin on the Internet. With just a few clicks of the mouse, yours can search through hundreds of online listings, view virtual tours, and sort through dozens of photographs and aerial shots of neighborhoods and homes.   With detailed knowledge about neighborhoods, school districts or any other factors that are important to you, you can narrow your search to find your perfect home even before you step foot outside!

How Long Will The Home Meet Your Needs?
When you do find some homes that you are seriously considering, ask yourselves these questions. What features do you require in a home to satisfy your lifestyle now? Five years from now? Depending on how long you plan to stay in your home, you'll need to ensure that the home has what you'll need. For example, if you are a young couple with no children just starting out and you found a two-bedroom home that you love, it may be perfect now. However, if you start a family, you will quickly outgrow the space. Best advice is to consider a home with room to grow. Could the basement be turned into a den and extra bedrooms? Could the attic be turned into a master suite? Having an idea of what you'll need will help you find a home that will satisfy you for years to come.

What To Look For In First Time Home Loans
Because there are several different mortgage programs available for as a first time home buyer, it can be confusing and difficult to decide what is best for your when faced with many different loan types. Use this list  to help you narrow down the choices to what is best.

In addition, here are a couple of tips and guidelines:
1. Flexibility - Make sure you get a program that offers a monthly payment you can really afford. Be honest with your mortgage broker if your payment seems out of reach. You may be able to obtain a three or five year ARM mortgage with a lower interest rate and lower payments or an interest only loan to get you into your home without giant mortgage payments.
2. Down payment assistance. If you are unable to pay a down payment there are programs available to help you.  Down Payment Assistance Programs  are loan programs designed to assist first-time home buyers with the required down payment and closing costs.
3. Long Term Goal - Are you planning on staying in this home forever, for three years, for five years? Communicate your goals to your lender because in situations like these they may have several mortgage options from which you can choose

Purchasing your first home does take research and work, but buying a home is the American dream and you can fulfill your dreams. While it can be exciting to look at different types of homes, don't be tempted into excess when first time home buying. Don’t purchase a home that is really more than you can afford and you need to be strong and stay within your budget. For more information on all the aspects involved in purchasing a home from start to finish, click here.

Conserving Water In Your Home


According to water conservationists, the average U.S. household consumes 125-150 gallons of water every day. That is about 40% more than needed. The first step in understanding how to conserve water in your home is to know where water is used. Find out how much water your family actually uses with this water budget calculator.  Below are some are a number of easy things you can do to help conserve water and reduce your water bill.

  • Ensure that everything is in working order. It is important to regularly inspect your plumbing. A dripping faucet with just a small leak can waste up to 20 gallons of water per day; larger leaks can waste hundreds of gallons.  Many times the problem is an old washer, but replacing it is easy and inexpensive. In addition, check for toilet tank leaks by adding food coloring to the tank. If the toilet is leaking, color will appear within 30 minutes. Check the toilet for worn out, corroded or bent parts. Most replacement parts are inexpensive, readily available and easily installed. (Flush as soon as test is done, since food coloring may stain tank.)
  • Reduce your water use. Many of us use more water than we should simply because we don’t think about it. Running the water while brushing your teeth is a common waste of water. By turning off the water while brushing your teeth can save a family 5 to 10 gallons per day. Make sure that the dishwasher or washing machine has a full load before starting. By making these small changes, you can save a lot of water-up to 1000 gallons a month! Do whatever you can to minimize the amount of water you expend.
  • Upgrade to water saving fixtures. Replacing fixtures doesn’t have to be expensive, and even if you do decide to spend a little more on an upgraded faucet, the money you save will more than pay for the expense. Because such a huge percentage of the water you use is used in the bathroom, that's where water conservation efforts should focus. You can install a few simple, inexpensive devices in the bathroom that can save a lot of water with no change in your lifestyle or your present habits. Many hardware and plumbing supply stores stock these items. Check out these ideas below:
  • Water saving showerheads. Three billion gallons of water flow through showerheads every day in this country--half of it unnecessarily. Most showerheads use twice the water needed for a typical shower. By installing a low-flow showerhead, you can reduce the amount of water used up to 50%. Keep in mind low flow doesn’t mean you loose any pressure, because these showerheads increase the velocity so the shower feels the same.
  • Water efficient toilets. A low- flow toilet uses half the water that a normal one does in flushing. Older toilets use five gallons per flush; newer ones often reduce this to 1.6 gallons per flush. When you multiply that by uses per day, per week, it adds up!
  • Install faucet aerators. You can save around 25 to 40 percent on the hot and cold water running out of each faucet you aerate. Aerators restrict the flow of water, compressing it into a higher-pressure discharge than regular faucets. They also introduce air bubbles into the water, making it feel like there is a larger water flow. They reduce water flow by about 50 percent or more.

There are many other ideas that easy to implement, for more information on what you can do inside your home to save water visit  Keep in mind just because the fixtures save water does not mean they are not stylish; you will be surprised how beautiful and functional they are. Visit your local home improvement store for some ideas today!

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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