Archives: February 2010

Whatcom County Home and Garden Show coming March 5-7!

large_tara-248Looking for the best new products for your Pacific Northwest home and garden? Then be sure not to miss The 31st Annual Whatcom County Home and Garden Show — beginning this Friday and lasting through the weekend!

Put on by the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County, the show will take place at the Northwest Washington Fair and Events Center in Lynden, WA. Here are some of the main attractions:

FRIDAY, MARCH 5th, at 6 pm: Andy Wappler, speaking about green Northwest homes and lower energy use;

SATURDAY, MARCH 6th: Duel of the Design Stars — Matt Locke and Dan Vickery;

SUNDAY, MARCH 7th, at 1pm: Ciscoe Morris, star of “Gardening with Ciscoe” on KING5 news.

Hours for the Whatcom County Home and Garden Show will be Friday 10am to 9pm; Saturday 10am to 8pm, and Sunday 11am to 5pm. Admission is $7 for adults and $6 for seniors. Children under 16 are free.

Come and see what local Northwest home and garden vendors have to offer you and your family!

Photo courtesy: WCHGS website

Attn: All FOREIGN NATIONALS wanting to own property and Live In The Pacific Northwest!

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Photo Credit: Skyler Jokian

Now that the Canadian dollar is improving again, I have many foreign real estate clients asking if they can finance purchases of US homes in the Pacific Northwest. Yes, they can!

Finance Programs Available for Foreign Purchasers

Here are some of the programs from one of my favorite Mortgage Brokers, Tom Mercadante, Sr. Loan Officer with Security First Mortgage, Inc., right here in Bellingham, WA . . .

Right now Tom has programs that require a 25% down payment for Second Homes at approximately 5.75% for a 30-year fixed rate loan, and programs that require 35% down payment for Non-owner occupied homes at approximately 6% for a 30-year fixed rate loan.

Of course, full documentation of income and assets is required.

Am I eligible?

Are you eligible for these kind of loans? Ask Tom. He will pull US and Canadian credit scores, and ask you to provide:

  1. 2 years of your T-1’s and T-4’s;
  2. 2 months of assets reports (including all pages of the documents) for all financial accounts;
  3. One month of paystubs;
  4. Your most recent RSP statements; and
  5. Two forms of ID (e.g., your Passport and Driver’s License).

Note: These loans have a 1% hard pre-payment fee for payoff sooner than 3 years of lending history.

If you are NOT a Canadian, Tom will need a $100,000 down payment and 50% loan to value, whichever is more. Seller secondary financing is permitted as long as the combined loan-to-value is less than 50%.

How to contact Tom:

Tom Mercadante can be contacted at:tom

Security First Mortgage
2900 Meridian Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
(360) 734-5768 Office
(360) 483-9077 Cell
Email: tomm@sfmiloans.com

Give him a call and tell him “Susan Stecher said I should talk to you about foreign purchaser financing for buying a Pacific Northwest home!”

Are you a Pacific NW homeowner at risk of foreclosure? Get informed about Short-Sales.

Short-Sale

Photo Credit: TheTruthAbout...

This past year has been incredibly challenging for many families, not only for Pacific Northwest homeowners, but for owners throughout the United States. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “Short-Sale” often in recent months, but you may not know the guidelines or implications. Let me walk you through some of the basics.

Short-Sales Defined

In short sales, the lender agrees to let homeowners facing financial difficulties sell their home for less than the mortgage owed on the home. For those facing potential foreclosure, this is often a better alternative, though it does have consequences both for the homeowner’s credit score and their taxes. After other efforts to keep homeowners in the home have been exhausted, this is often a last effort to avoid foreclosure on their Northwest home.

Short-Sale vs. Foreclosure

A short sale, though it does seriously ding the owner’s credit, is usually far less damaging to their score. The owner can qualify for a mortgage from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac for another home within two years, which is far sooner than if the home had been foreclosed on. Short sales also help protect property values for the rest of the community by keeping the house from falling into disrepair.

Standardization for Short-Sales

With many families struggling during the after-effects of the economic downturn, there was a need for standardization in the process, and the US Treasury has now issued guidelines to streamline the process for homeowners. 75% of American mortgages are now governed by the new rules.

Under the US Treasury’s Foreclosure Alternatives Program, mortgage lenders have 10 business days to respond to a short-sale offer. Usually, a lack of timely response has been one of the reasons short-sales haven’t gone through. Paperwork and documentation are now also standardized, as are deadlines.

Benefits for Homeowners, Benefits for Lenders

Successful short-sales releases the borrower fully from their primary mortgage obligation, and the lender will not pursue a judgment against them. Homeowners can also qualify for $1,500 to offset moving expenses.

Lenders, on the other hand, are able to determine a minimum acceptable offer for the property under US Treasury guidelines. Though the lender still faces a loss on the loan, the loss is usually not as bad as if the property had gone into foreclosure. Through the program, mortgage servicers receive $1,000 for every short-sale they close.

I know it can be easy to feel completely overwhelmed if you’re behind on your payments and you know foreclosure may be looming —  but don’t let yourself become paralyzed.  Usually the worst thing you can do in this situation is nothing.

There is help available! I am a Certified Short-Sale Professional, and I’ve walked other Northwest homeowners through this challenging process. If you have any questions about what a short-sale on your Pacific Northwest home could mean for you and your family, please don’t hesitate to call me!

—Susan

Moving to the Pacific Northwest with Children

kid in car
Moving, even when for joyful reasons, can be very difficult on kids- especially if they are of school age, with friends, favorite teachers, and class activities.
Making your Pacific Northwest relocation with children smooth can be essential to helping the entire family settle quickly.

Though the move may be hard for your family in general, the part most parents dread is the drive to your new home. Unless you are staying in the same city, or an area close by, you will probably end up with more than a few hours of driving to reach your new home and city. And the whole time you might have a grumpy child in the backseat.

Pacific Northwest Relocation Tips

What are parents to do? Never fear, I have a few tricks I have learned over the years as an expert Pacific Northwest real estate agent:

  • Brush up on your traditional car games. Even the alphabet game and licence plate game can be modified for younger children. Travel size board games, like battle ship, can be fantastic ways to pass the time.
  • Have a basket of entertainment at easy reach. For younger children, keep the basket full of their favorite toys, books, and snacks. Hand out one item at a time, so younger children will get some good entertainment out of each one before they get bored. For older children, perhaps take them to a books store to buy a book they would enjoy reading, let them pick out an age appropriate magazine. Highlights, Zoo Books and American Girl are great for the tween years.
  • Have snacks on hand. Even the grumpiest child will cheer up when given his favorite snacks. If the move is particularly hard on your child, perhaps splurge and get some items he or she has always wanted -like those double stuff Oreos-but you never deemed as appropriate lunch food.
  • Get the addresses of all your children’s best friends and let your children pick out their own stationary so they can write their friends about the trip to your new home. If your children are upset about losing friends, this can be a great opportunity to help them work on writing skills. There are lots of great car travel trays you can find at Walmart, Target and other such stores, that will provide a great flat surface for your children to write on. This also provides a great way for your children to realize they can still stay in touch with their friends. Even if you children are older and in the texting/twitter/facebook way of communicating with all their friends, they may still enjoy the novelty of writing a letter to pass the time.
  • If your drive will be more than 6-8 hours, it might be a good idea to invest in a portable DVD play for the car. As much as I, myself, dislike entertaining children with the TV for hours at a time, on a very long drive, a short movie or cartoon might be just the trick to help ease squirmy passengers and give you parents some downtime from entertaining.

Pacific Northwest  Relocation Specialists

Would you like to learn more tips for relocating to our area or find the Pacific Northwest area information you need? Feel free to contact me, Susan Stecher, your Pacific Northwest expert Realtor. Be sure read up on our home buying tips, they will help you have a smooth real estate journey.

You can also find all the local things to do, learn about Whatcomb County, Skagit County , or the Bellingham real estate area and search Pacific Northwest homes for sale.  Need more? Don’t worry,  I have the answers-and if I don’t, I will find them for you.

Until next time,

Susan

It’s a great time for Repeat Buyers to find their Dream Home in the Pacific Northwest!

SAL_SilverBeach05The first-time homebuyer’s credit has gotten a lot of attention in recent months, but did you know that repeat homebuyers can also get in on the savings?

When the homebuyer’s tax credit was extended, it was also expanded to include repeat homebuyers who meet certain requirements. That’s good news if you’re searching for a Pacific Northwest home that better meets your family’s needs.

In this market, the buyer is king (or queen); interest rates have fallen to historic lows, and fantastic Northwest homes are available at extremely affordable prices throughout Whatcom, Skagit, Island and San Juan Counties.

Here are the details that apply to Repeat Buyers:

Eligibility
-Existing homeowners who have been residing in their principal residence for five consecutive years out of the last eight and are purchasing a home to be their principal residence (“repeat buyer”), may be eligible for up to a $6,500 tax credit.
-All U.S. citizens who file taxes are eligible to participate in the program.

Income Limits
Homebuyers who file as single or head-of-household taxpayers can claim the full credit ($6,500 for repeat buyers) if their modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is less than $125,000.
-For married couples filing a joint return, the combined income limit is $225,000.
-Single or head-of-household taxpayers who earn between $125,000 and $145,000, and married couples who earn between $225,000 and $245,000 are eligible to receive a partial credit.
-The credit is not available for single taxpayers whose MAGI is greater than $145,000 and joint-filers with a MAGI that exceeds $245,000.

Effective Dates
-The eligibility period for the tax credit is for homes purchased after Nov. 6, 2009, and before May 1, 2010. However, home purchases subject to a binding sales contract signed by April 30, 2010, will qualify for the tax credit as long as closing occurs prior to July 1, 2010.

Types of Homes that Qualify
-All homes with a purchase price of less than $800,000 qualify, including newly-constructed or resale, and single-family detached, townhomes or condominiums, provided that the home will be used as their principal residence. Vacation home and rental property purchases do NOT qualify.

Tax Credit is Refundable
-A refundable credit means that if the amount of income taxes you owe is less than the credit amount you qualify for, the government will send you a check for the difference.

-For example:  A repeat buyer who owes $5,000 would pay nothing to the IRS and receive $1,500 back from the government. If you are due to get a $1,000 refund, you would get $7,500 ($1,000 plus the $6,500 repeat buyer tax credit).
-All qualified homebuyers can take the tax credit on their 2009 or 2010 income tax return.

If you’re looking for a dream home in the Pacific Northwest, I’m here to help! Contact me or feel free to browse my free, no-hassle Northwest MLS search.

Make sure your Washington State home inspector is licensed!

Last year in July, Washington State enacted a series of laws that protect homesellers and homebuyers by regulating home inspections, which is great news both for the home inspection industry and the Pacific Northwest homebuyers and real estate professionals they serve. These new laws (RCW 18.280 and WAC 308-408A) help ensure that those who inspect your Pacific Northwest home are truly qualified to do so, and that they uphold a certain standard of quality.

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Here’s just a few things that are required of Home Inspectors:

• Home Inspectors are now legally required to be licensed through the Washington State Department of Licensing (licenses began being issued in July 2009).

• Home Inspectors must complete 120 hours of board-approved home inspection course work prior to licensing.

• Home Inspectors must mentor with an experienced home inspector for at least 40 hours of field training.

• They must successfully pass the 4-hour Washington State Home Inspection Exam, pay $680 in licensing fees, and complete 24 hours of continuing education courses every 2 years.

• Home Inspectors cannot repair or upgrade components for compensation on any building inspected within one year of the original inspection. They also can’t disclose information pertaining to an Inspection Report without the client’s permission.

If you need help finding a qualified Home Inspector, give me a call and I’ll refer you to a qualified, licensed Home Inspector.

A new economy, a new kind of retirement

833180372_e88313c291Green spaces, not green fees for new generation of retirees

Based on current recession trends all across the U.S., it appears the era of retiring to a posh home out on a golf course are over, at least for now. Recent economic woes have hit the retired and soon-to-be-retired extremely hard — taking a toll both on their nest eggs and their idea of what buying a retirement home should look like. For active adults and seniors, bike paths and wooded trails are becoming far more important than living “on the green.”

Though many families across all demographics are choosing to downsize, relocating to a smaller house is even more popular with those 55 and older — a trend that has remained fairly steady over the years. Currently, 30-40% of those 55-and-up plan to move to a new home when they retire,which is comparable to most years.

The numbers remain the same, but priorities have changed somewhat. It used to be that the most important thing to retirees was moving to a warmer climate — now home affordability is at the top of the priority list. This means that though Florida, Arizona and California remain top retirement spots, other states are drawing retirees as well… and the green natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest is no exception.

What do retiring home buyers want?

Here’s a short list of amenities and home features that are important:

  • big bathrooms with helpful aids such as grab bars
  • entrances/porches without steps
  • washers/dryers in-unit
  • first-floor master bedrooms
  • convenient storage space
  • attached garages with garage-door openers
  • user-friendly heat & AC thermostats
  • outdoor maintenance & general home repair services

If you’re a senior or active adult looking for a beautiful Pacific Northwest home to retire in, I can help you find exactly what you’re looking for! Feel free to give me a call, visit my free Northwest MLS home search, or check out my helpful Pacific Northwest Seniors & Active Adults directory.

To stage or not to stage… Part 2

3313607586_a4b871ecd3One of the reasons Pacific Northwest home sellers should seek advice from an expert home stager when they’re getting ready to sell is that some of the principles of good home staging are a little counterintuitive.

One major thing to remember: To make your home interesting to potential buyers, it needs to look its absolute best and accentuate its best features, but the interior decor should be a little generic.

What I mean is that, while your home should look gorgeous, the decor should be indistinct enough that buyers aren’t picturing what it’s like for you to live in the home — they’re picturing themselves living in your home, as in: “Oh… here’s where I could put my couch/lamp/armoir.” Staged homes should be inviting and warm, but not necessarily personal (i.e. family photos, family artwork, clutter).

Here are a some good steps to start with to stage your home effectively:

• CLEAN.  Clean, clean, clean.  All surfaces should shine. Everything, from furniture to counters to the wall moulding, should be completely dust, dirt, and scuff-free. Take extra special care on windows and window sills.

• GET RID OF CLUTTER. Pack up magazines and books that are overflowing the magazine rack and bookshelf. Get rid of stacks of paper and old mail. Pack away family photos and family artwork, and get rid of the magnets on the fridge.

Clutter is one of the number one killers of successful home showings… don’t let it hurt your home sale!

• CONSIDER COLOR AND LIGHTING. Dark rooms look smaller, so consider a lighter, neutral paint. Open curtains and turn on lights in darker rooms.

• THINK LIKE A BUYER. View each room from the doorway. What are the room’s best features? What is the focal point? There should be only one focal point in each room, so, for example, if you have a fireplace and a TV, get rid of the TV.

• SIMPLIFY YOUR FURNITURE. Many rooms have far too much furniture, which also makes rooms look smaller and less appealing. Take all pillows off the couch, or use an odd number (3 is popular). Pack away afghans and blankets. Reduce the number of paintings on the walls or, ideally, replace them with more neutral pallettes.

Staging tips for every room in your home

• DINING ROOM. Take the leaves out of your table and only use four chairs. Set the table for a meal, and use an attractive centerpiece.

• KITCHEN. The front of your refrigerator should be bare. Store as many appliances as you can out of sight and keep counters as clear as possible. Hide the trash can, and put the dishrag and any cleaning supplies under the sink. Replace any outdated or worn handles, knobs, etc.

• BATHROOMS. Replace bar soap with liquid soap. Buy new towels and make sure they’re color coordinated. Clear out the shower except for one bottle of shampoo and one bottle of liquid soap. Replace the shower curtain if it’s not in prime condition. Grout should be spotless. Remove toilet lid covers, and leave the lid down. Pack away most personal toiletries (such as toothbrushes, hair dryers, etc.) and medications. Hide the garbage can.

• BEDROOMS. Update your bedspread. Clear off any clutter from nightstands and dressers. In your closets, pack up anything you’re not wearing this season and get rid of non-essential items stored in closets.

• YARD. Keep the lawn mowed, edges clean. Trim shrubs and trees that can impact light coming into the house. Put flowering pots or an evergreen tree on the front porch. Consider painting the house if it needs a new coat, or maybe just painting the door to add some visual interest to the front entryway. Clear out flowerbeds. Get rid of anything that’s just “hanging out” in your yard, such as garden tools, unused ground cover materials, etc.

Believe it or not, these steps are just the start! If you’re selling your WhatcomSkagitIsland or San Juan county home, I can help! For expert help with successfully staging your Pacific Northwest home, please contact me for economical, effective guidance.

To stage, or not to stage? That’s the question… Part 1

2804749074_6681114dc3The answer is an emphatic, “YES! STAGE!” Staging is an often-overlooked but vital part of the home selling process.

If you’ve never heard of home staging before, please do yourself a favor and read this two-part post… you’ll be glad you did!

Reasons to stage your Pacific Northwest home

Staging your home is an investment that puts more money in your pocket when selling your Northwest home. Good or bad, the impression your home makes directly impacts its selling price, so — the better your home shows, the more money you will make on the sale.

Homes that aren’t staged are more likely to sell for less than their asking price, but well-staged homes more often enjoy multiple offers, sometimes even a sale above the original asking price if multiple buyers show interest.

A few years ago, a study of 2,800 properties by a brokerage in California found that staged homes sold in almost half the time, and on average, they sold at 6.3% over their asking price.

Whether you decide to stage your Pacific Northwest home yourself, or hire others to do it for you, it’s important to have the advice of an expert home stager before you begin. Much of home staging is a little counterintuitive, as we’ll explain in the next post, so don’t go it alone, or you may be spending your money in the wrong places!

An Accredited Home Staging Specialist for Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and San Juan Counties, I can work with you to stage your home effectively — making your home-selling experience easier, quicker, and more profitable.

Call me today for more information, and check back in a few days for more helpful tips on staging your home!

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