Mortgages and Veterans

I recently attended an all-day seminar at the San Antonio Board of Realtors called Welcome Heroes Home.  I learned a lot about the challenges faced by our military heroes, especially those who have sustained life-altering injuries and how those injuries affect not only themselves but their families as well.  These brave young men and women have unique challenges to face and now, unique needs when it comes to housing.  It was an informative, enlightening, and inspiring day of learning from these heroes and the people who work with, love, and support them.  Would that we all could face what they do with as much courage and can-do attitude!

Because of their injuries and the alterations required, these veterans have some special needs in housing.  Some need ramps, wide halls, lower counters, and other universal design items for easier wheelchair access.  Some who have sustained severe burns need extra air conditioning units.  Some veterans may be able to modify their existing homes; others may need to build new.  Some are relocating to new areas to be close to medical facilities.  There are many new challenges for these heroes and their families, and there is help available for them.

If you are a veteran, or know one, please click on the link below.  It’s a link to another blog site that gives some information about some of the mortgage options available to veterans, wounded or not.  There are resources out there for you.  One thing I learned in that seminar is that many veterans don’t know about all these resources.  Again, if you’re a veteran or if you know someone who is, please know there are people who want to help.   Contact me if you’re in or around San Antonio and I’ll point you in the right direction.

Thank you for your service!

Mortgages and Veterans.                                            

Home Safe Home

Surveys have shown that one of the primary reasons most folks have for wanting to own a home is for safety and security.  It feels wonderful to come home to your own home and know that you have a place for all your “stuff” and a place for your family to feel secure and that everything is there as you left it.  But what if you come home and find that someone has been there?  Not a good feeling at all!!  That happened to me and my family a number of years ago and I can still remember the uncomfortable feeling of  having strangers invade my private space.   So what steps can you take to prevent this from happening?   My personal opinion is that if someone is determined to break in, they will, but there are definitely some things we can do to make it more difficult and give them a reason to look elsewhere for a target!  If someone is going to steal from me, then at least they’re going to have to work for it!  Here are some ideas to get you started:

The yard:   Privacy fencing so that what you have outside is not on display to everyone!  Gates should have a lock.   Check with your homeowners association or city codes regarding fences around the front of your property.

Landscaping and lighting:  Install exterior lighting, possibly with motion detectors, to deter burglars.  Also consider interior lights–put a few on timers, especially when you’re going to be away, to give the appearance that someone is inside.  Keep bushes and landscaping trimmed below windows so you’re not providing a convenient hiding spot or blocking views from the street.

Garages:  Garages often hold a treasure trove for burglars, not the least of which is your car!  But other items like tools, bicycles, sports equipment may also be great targets for a burglar.  Consider installing a garage door opener to help deter  a thief.  Also secure the entrance from the garage into your home.

Entrances:  And speaking of entrances into your home, be sure all have dead bolts and secure locks!   A peephole in the front door is also a good idea.  If you use a double-locking deadbolt, which is definitely more secure that a single bolt type, be sure to keep a key nearby each door for safety–in case of a fire or other emergency, you don’t want to lock yourself in!  But don’t keep the key in the lock!   Keep your windows locked when closed, and especially when you’re away!  And keep your windows covered to prevent people from looking in to see what you have.

Alarm Systems:  This is perhaps the best deterrent to burglary, especially if your system is monitored.   Consider having glass breakage added as a trigger to the alarm, particularly if you have exterior french doors that can easily be broken.   Having your system monitored comes with a cost, but it may be worth it if something happens that prevents you from summoning help.  Knowing it’s on the way would make a burglar think twice.  And if you have a family member with health concerns, having a monitored system that can send help definitely gives peace of mind.   A bonus–you may be able to get a discount on your homeowners insurance with a monitored alarm system!

These are a few ideas, you probably can find more ways to secure your home.   The peace of mind is worth it!

 

San Antonio Housing Forecast, 2012

I attended the San Antonio Board of Realtors’ annual Housing Forecast on Jan. 5 to hear what may be in store for us in the coming year.  We heard from County Judge Nelson Wolff and Mayor Julian Castro.  Both had lots of positive things to say about San Antonio and what’s happening in and around the city.  Mayor Castro called this the Decade of Downtown.  Lots of development happening in the downtown and surrounding areas, in residential and commercial.  San Antonio has a growing young urban population who want to live near the urban center of town and want to be able to work and play nearby.

We also heard from the current and immediate past Presidents of the Greater San Antonio Builders’ Association.  Both shared that they expect housing starts to tick upward in 2012, although not to the levels we saw in years past.  Builders are seeing a lot of activity in the higher-end price ranges and in areas farther out, since many of the neighborhoods closer in to 1604 are built out and fewer lots are available.   Their development costs to bring new lots online have increased also and some of those increases are being passed along in the price of houses.  They said that they were finding it a little easier to obtain financing for spec houses than they’ve seen in the last few years.

San Antonio’s number of sales and median price has seen a slight increase in 2011 and we expect that to continue into 2012.

There is one part of the residential market that has seen dramatic increases and those increases are expected to continue through 2012 and likely beyond–the rental market.  There are several reasons for that increase.  Mortgage lending requirements continue to be strict and are making it difficult for first-time buyers to qualify for the loan they need to purchase a home.  Uncertainty in the job market may also be keeping some folks from making the commitment to buy a home.  For these reasons and other personal considerations, many are choosing to rent for now.  So what does that mean?  It’s a great time to invest in rental housing!  If you are looking for a place to invest that provides tax advantages and where your money can grow and the value of your investment will appreciate, and the cost of acquisition (mortgage rates) is at historic lows, this is the time to buy!

Our other speaker, economist Dr. Jim Gaines from the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M, shared some stats with us and confirmed that Texas is the #1 state for job growth.  He also showed us some numbers and graphics that demonstrated the growth of urban areas in the state–the triangle that includes Dallas/Ft.Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio.  That’s where the population is going and that’s where the growth is.  Texas has changed over the last 10-20 years from a rural state into a young urban state.  We have a large percentage of immigrant population, primarily Hispanic, who bring their own vibrancy to our cities.

One thing we hear about in the media is the looming “shadow inventory” of foreclosed homes that are poised to hit the market.  We are expecting some of that here and when those homes do come on the market, they will put downward pressure on home prices and home values in the neighborhoods they’re in.   Thankfully, we don’t have the volume to deal with that other areas do, and we hope those homes will sell quickly when they do enter the market, but sellers will have to deal with the effects for awhile.

Dr. Gaines did also point out that for all the job growth and other positive indicators in Texas and San Antonio, we are not immune to the national and international economic trends.  He also stated that many economic factors are going nowhere until after the Presidential elections.  Everyone is waiting to see what’s going to happen before they make major moves to expand, hire, move, etc.  So, expect 2012 to be mostly more of the same from 2011, with slight increases.  Texas and SanAntonio have been fortunate to not have experienced the high highs followed by the low lows that other areas of the country have seen.  We are slow and steady and we are doing fine!

Here’s to a great 2012!

 

San Antonio Real Estate Update

Well, it seems I’ve broken the first rule of blogging–being consistent with posting!  April’s been a crazy month, but it’s over now so back to business!  Did you watch the royal wedding?  I thought it was beautiful and memorable, but I’ve seen/heard enough already!

How about an update on what’s happening in the San Antonio real estate market?  It’s good news!  These figures come from the San Antonio Board of Realtors and are compiled from our Multiple Listing Service reports.  The latest figures available are from March–April will be out soon. As of the end of the 1st quarter of 2011, we’ve seen sales of 3,575 homes.  This is a slight decrease from the same period of 2010, but the decrease is due mostly to the fact that during this same period last year, buyers were taking advantage of the tax credit, which is no longer available.  Sales from this first quarter exceeded the same period in 2009, so that’s good news!

More good news–our average price for a single-family home is up 4% to $180,443.  Median price of a home is also up 4% to $148,000.  This reflects what has proven to be one of the strengths of the San Antonio market–slow and steady appreciation without all the high highs followed by the low lows experienced in other areas. We continue to buck the national trend which is seeing a decrease in home prices in many areas.

We currently have 8 months of inventory.  6 months is considered a balanced market, so we’re still in a buyer’s market, but not in the extreme.

Interest rates continue to stay low so this is still a wonderful time to consider becoming a homeowner.  Prospective buyers still have to qualify and lenders have tightened their qualifications, but if you have good credit, there are lenders out there who will work with you to help you get into a home.  Contact me–I’m happy to direct you to someone who can help you line up financing.

We’re moving into our busy spring and summer season, so if you’ve been thinking about selling, this is the time to get serious about it.  Please contact me for an analysis of your home and how to get it ready for the market.  Buyers are waiting for you!

We’re so lucky to live in the beautiful city of San Antonio!  If you’re not here, you should be!  If you are, lucky you!  Hope you have a wonderful May!

Sue

 

Downsizing–What to do with all my stuff?

In an earlier post, I talked about downsizing your life and your home.  One of the biggest challenges in doing that is trying to fit what we have into a smaller space.  Well, here’s an easy solution to that dilemma–don’t!!

We all have too much “stuff”! One of the best things about downsizing is the freedom that comes with the separation from all that “stuff”!  But that freedom also can give some people “separation anxiety”.  It can be hard to sort through years of things you’ve accumulated and decide what to take, what not to.  We all have things that we cling to that remind us of times gone by and trigger memories we cherish.  Take those memories with you, but instead of the stuff, how about a picture?  Spread it out, snap away, and create a collage that you can enjoy any time, share with others, and revisit those happy memories.  Pictures and digital scrapbooks don’t require so much storage space!

The holidays are approaching and this is a great time to start cleaning out closets, drawers, and cabinets.  Many things you’re not using can be donated to groups who can put them to good use.  Or, if you need some extra holiday cash, how about a garage/yard sale?  While the weather’s still nice, put it out there and let someone else do some shopping–they get something useful, you get it out of your house!

If you’re like me, you have things you’ve saved that your kids made or that they may want “someday”.  Well, it’s “someday”, so let ’em have it!  When I went through that process, I found that lots of the stuff I was saving for them was of absolutely no interest to them!  So why was I taking up closet space storing it??  Out it went!  Other things they took to share with their own families or to save in their own closets!  Either way, it cleared out my space!

The big stuff, like furniture?  This is where it got tricky for me, especially with things like a formal dining room, formal living, etc.  My new home had one living space, not 2 or 3.  What to keep, and what to let go?  I had to get really real with that decision and accept the fact that most likely, I’m not going to need that formal dining room.  For the 2-3 days a year we have a big holiday meal, we can make do with smaller arrangements.  The extra bedroom furniture?  Same thing.  Formal living room?  Not any more!

So what to do with all that extra furniture?  Some of it went home with kids who had their own places.  Some of it got sold to friends and to friends of friends, and some through an ad on Craigslist.  Some of it was donated and picked up by a couple of groups I contacted.   I took pictures of my rooms before everything left so I could remember my favorites, and since then, I really don’t miss them at all!  I know most of it found good homes with people who needed it, wanted it, and were as happy to have it as I was to let it go!  Win/Win for everyone!

What if you have kids who really want some of your furniture but don’t have their own places yet?  There are storage places in every neighborhood.  If you really must, rent one for a few months to keep those things, but limit yourself to a unit that holds only those things that have a future home.

The bottom line?  The things I kept are the things that mean the most to me.  The furniture gets used and enjoyed on a daily basis.  There’s a place for everything, rooms are not overcrowded, and I have less to dust!  With a few exceptions, everything in my kitchen gets used on a regular basis.  I probably still have more dishes than I really need, but they come in handy now and then.  Pots and pans–I don’t have all the big things I used to have because I don’t need them, don’t use them, and don’t want to take up space storing them.  I have what I need to make what I like and what my family enjoys when they visit.  Same with kitchen gadgets and doo dads!

My book shelves have books on them that I enjoy and that have meaning to me. My drawers, cabinets, and closets are filled–not stuffed–with things I use and have a need for, not with stuff packed away in boxes that hasn’t seen the light of day in years and years!  Well, okay, I do have a few boxes of that stuff, but way fewer than I used to have!

When my kids were young, we always cleaned out closets, drawers, and toy chests before the holidays to make room for what they hoped Santa would be bringing.  Go ahead and try that now–make someone else’s holiday happier and open yourself up to having less to keep up with!

Good luck!  Have fun remembering and have more fun setting up your new lifestyle!  Less is more, in so many ways!

Wishing you the best,
Sue

Is it time to downsize your life?

I’m a boomer–some say a boomer-in-denial–and proud of it!  As a demographic group, we have been a force to be reckoned with our whole lives, and will continue to be for probably another 30-40 years.  The oldest boomers will begin to turn 65 in 2011!    Millions more of us will hit that milestone every year through 2029!  We’re going to be around for awhile and Gen X, Gen Y, Millenials, and those who come after will have to deal with us and our challenges as we age.

One thing that we will all have to deal with is our housing.  There are a myriad of issues surrounding that, but I want to focus on one that many of us are ready to really think about–downsizing.  And by downsizing, I mean our lives and our lifestyles.

The recent economic downturn has hit many boomers hard where it hurts the most–in our pocketbooks!  Many have seen their retirement savings dramatically reduced or wiped out.  Most of us who own homes have seen the value of our homes take a dive–how badly depends a great deal on your local market.  Many of us are finding ourselves with empty nests–I count myself in that category!  Some have health concerns which cannot be ignored.  What to do??

One thing to consider is downsizing. When my last chick left the nest for college, I found myself in a big house all by myself with 3 kitties for company!  I had 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, a formal living, and formal dining room that were just really functioning as spaces to put furniture in.  They were not in use on a daily basis.  My activities were mostly confined to the family/TV room, breakfast room, laundry room, kitchen, and master bedroom/bath.  But I was paying to heat, air condition, and maintain all that extra space, as well as a big yard and landscaping that got little to no use.  The solution?  Sell this big house and find something smaller!

I did that, and bought a smaller house in the same general area of town.  I’ve loved my smaller lifestyle!  It’s just so much easier!  Do I miss my old house?  Sometimes.  During the holidays when I have 1 or more family members visiting, those extra bedrooms and bathrooms would sure be handy.  But not enough to pay all year long for 2-3 nights of convenience!   When I was debating whether to sell my formal dining room furniture, my son provided the reality check I needed!  “Really, Mom, why do you want to keep something we only use once or twice a year??”   Good point!  I took a picture of it and sold it!  Now, when I miss it, I just look up the picture and enjoy fond memories.

So, how about you or someone you love?  Is it time to start the downsizing process?   Here are just a few of the decisions you will have to consider.

1. Rent or buy? So many things factor into that decision!  Your budget, your lifestyle, your health.  Do you have pets you love?  Many rental properties do not allow pets or restrict their number and/or breed and/or size.  How about your budget?  Renting may save you money on taxes, maintenance, insurance–you’ll need to take a good look at your numbers to determine that.  How’s your health?  Are you able to live independently and take care of things on your own or do you need assistance?  Will you be able to take care of cleaning and other maintenance on your own and will your budget allow you to hire work out if necessary?  How about your hobbies and interests?  Do you like to travel?  Renting may allow you to just pack and go when you want to.    There are other things to consider, but these will be major factors.

2. Less space I think this is one of the biggest concerns many people have about downsizing–what to do with all my stuff? There are lots of ways to reduce your accumulations–I’ll do a post on that in the next few days!  But the basic premise is this–stuff is stuff!  It can be replaced, and you don’t need everything you’ve ever owned!  I bet most all of us could get rid of at least half of what we own and never miss it!   So think about what you have in your current home–do you use it all the time or just once in awhile?  Or do you just keep it around to remind you of somethng you did or someplace you went 20,30,40 years ago???  Take a picture of it and get rid of it!  Too much “stuff” can be a burden, and besides, it’s expensive to move it and store it!

3. What about my current home? Should you sell it, give it to your kids, keep it and use it for a rental property?  There’s no right answer, of course.  It all depends on your particular situation, but whatever you think about doing, seek professional advice from your financial advisor, your attorney, your family, and a real estate professional so you are fully aware of the pros and cons of your options.

There are other things to consider and your ultimate decision will depend so much on the details of your particular situation.  This is definitely NOT a one-size-fits-all decision!   But it is a decision we will all have to make eventually, and by starting to think about these different factors now, you will feel less overwhelmed when the time comes to finally take action.

I hope you’ll find your decision as rewarding and empowering as I have!  As a matter of fact, I’ve started to think about whether it’s time to do it again!  Good luck, and contact me if I can help!

All the best!

Sue

Getting ready for cooler weather

The extreme summer heat is over in San Antonio for this year!  Our days are still warm at this point, but much less so than in August or September!  Fall, or at least the south Texas version of it, is here.  This is the time when homeowners should look ahead to the colder weather that’s coming and get ready.  Although San Antonio and south Texas don’t usually have the extended extreme cold that other areas have, we do have the occasional hard freeze and we definitely have wet winter weather and frequent cold snaps.  We can, and frequently do, start the day in the 30’s or 40’s, warm up into the 60’s or 70’s, then drop back down as the sun goes down.  If you leave the house in the morning and don’t get back until early evening, it can be a challenge deciding what to wear or how to dress your kids for school!  Layers, people, layers!!

Fall is a really good time to take a good look at your yard and help it get ready also!  2009 was a tough year for yards.  We had 59 days of 100+ temperatures in the summer, almost no rain, and then a winter that was unseasonably cold with some really hard freezes.  My yard definitely took a big hit!  I lost some plants, and my grass has had a bit of a struggle this year.  Thankfully, we’ve had lots of rain which really helped, but I still have holes in my landscaping that need to be filled, and I know I’m not alone!

Good news!  Fall, right now, is the best time of year to fill those holes, and set out some shrubs and other plants.  They’ll have the winter season to set roots and get themselves established so that when spring time and warmer weather returns, they’ll be ready for growth and you’ll have a great looking landscape in no time!

So head to your favorite nursery and find some plants for your beds.  Think xeriscape–the native plants and grasses for the area that are drought tolerant and require less watering during the summer.  Conserving water is always a concern in this area but you can still have a lovely yard and landscape.  Go to a nursery where folks know their plants and probably do a lot of their own growing.  They can be a wealth of information for you on what grows well in this area, sun/shade requirements for different plants, etc.  SAWS also has a long list of water-saving plants on their website.  Visit www.saws.org and check out their suggestions

And if you want wildflowers like bluebonnets in your yard for spring, now’s the time to plant them.  Once you get wildflowers growing in your yard, they take care of themselves, returning year after year.

While you’re at it, consider checking the inside/outside of your home as well.  Be sure weatherstripping is in place, check windows and doors for leaks.  Change your filters, have your furnace serviced.  And if you have a fireplace, be sure the damper works, the cap is in place, and check for any cracks in the brick–you don’t want heat from a fire getting behind that barrier and into places it doesn’t belong!  Can you say fire hazard??

If a major project is possible, consider replacing older windows with newer Energy Star models.  Install a programmable thermostat.  CPS Energy has several programs in place that may offer rebates for installtion of energy-saving appliances, water heaters, furnaces, etc.  Check their website at www.cpsenergy.com .

Don’t forget your car!  If you’re not able to park your car in an enclosed garage, check your antifreeze and fluids and be sure your car is ready for cold weather too!  And if you do a lot of driving, consider keeping some emergency supplies in the car just in case.  You never know when a blanket, flashlight with good batteries, some bottled water, energy bars, a first aid kit might come in handy!

The planning and precautions you take now will pay dividends later!  Enjoy the fall and be ready for the cooler weather that’s coming.  I’m so ready to change out my closet and wear some long sleeves!  After a couple of months of that, I’ll be longing for spring, but right now cool days and nights sound so good!  Bring ’em on!!

Best,

Sue