Monday, March 31, 2014

Have you ever wondered "How did they do that?" - By Alberta Byrnes

Have you ever looked at a waterfront home and wondered “How did they do that? “Or” If I had known I would have done that myself”. Then you get angry, because you did not know and the opportunity was lost. If this is the case you may want to start to look at waterfront property in a different light. There are many instances that can turn a worn out cabin on the lake into a beautiful lakefront home. 

When the state enacted shoreland zoning, they also limited your ability to expand a home or camp within that zone. Any property within 100 feet of the shoreline setback requirement could not expand more that 30 percent in floor area and volume, whichever was less.

A little later the Shoreland Zoning Act was amended to allow individual towns to further limit those expansions set by the state as long as the town incorporated those limitations into their local ordinances.

Then along comes 2013 when the legislature again amended the shoreland zoning laws. The new standards allow larger expansions and higher building heights depending on how far back you are from the high water mark. Some of the expansion sizes increased in range from 800 to 1,500 square feet of the footprint. The height allowances increased in range from 15 to 25 feet.

So now you must be ready to go out and improve and expand, right? Well hold on a moment. There are a few more things you need to take into consideration. You will not be able to make your home more nonconforming. Examples of this would be moving or expanding the structure closer to the waterfront. Another thing to keep in mind is that you may be asked to move the entire structure back from the water to the most practical extent. It makes you wonder “what is the most practical extent?” Is that to the back property line or is it right in front of the 10 ton boulder in my back yard? The new law appears to reward property owners for moving their homes further back from the high water line with larger expansions.

Right now individual towns can choose to adopt those rules today, wait until the Shoreland Zoning Unit at MDEP reviews/changes the guidelines or do nothing and keep the old standards. Ultimately the first step in your expansion project will be a visit to your local town hall to meet with the code enforcement officer. Hopefully they are or will be following the new expansion rules.

Alberta Byrnes is a Realtor Broker at Better Homes & Gardens The Masiello Group as well as a Certified Maine Assessor and sits on the Standish Planning Board.

Monday, March 24, 2014

First impression is key to selling your home - By Dan McGowan

As anyone in the real estate industry will tell you, it's important to make your home look its best when it comes time to show it. That first impression is everything. Curb appeal is important because it sets the tone for what the buyer is going to see inside.
There are a lot of simple, fairly inexpensive things you can do to make a good first impression and attract offers as quickly as possible.

Some things you can do to ensure your home's exterior lands favorable first impressions include:
  • Stay on top of your lawn mowing and maintenance and tidy up your front landscaping.
  • Plop a new, colorful welcome mat in front of the door.
  • Embellish your door area with a nice, big potted plant to the side of the front door.
  • Slap a fresh coat of paint on your door.
  • Move all the toys, bicycles, and scooters away from the front of the house.
  • If you have pets, make sure there are no droppings or mine fields in the yard. The last thing you want is a potential buyer stepping in one of those.
  • Clean all your windows until they're sparkling.
  • Remove all clutter around the house. Take a load to the dump if you have to.
  • Place a seasonal wreath or arrangement on your door.
  • Repair any loose shingles—the last thing a potential buyer wants to worry about is the roof.
Once the exterior wows your potential buyers, you'll need to continue to make an impact on them when they make their way inside. You can almost think of it as preparing for a formal dinner party. For starters, you can:
  • Remove all the clutter - make sure kitchen and bathroom countertops are as clear as possible, try to keep toys organized in closets and shelves, temporarily remove any excess knickknacks or family photos if you tend to have a lot.
  • Hang fresh clean towels in the bathrooms.
  • Touch up your paint if your walls have a few rough spots. You probably already have the extra paint sitting in your garage.
  • Vacuum your floor each morning. You may also want to think about getting your carpets clean before potential buyers view your house.
  • Make sure all your faucets are drip-free.
  • Replace any nonfunctioning bulbs in your light fixtures and vanities.
  • Thoroughly clean all your appliances, including the inside of your oven and microwave.
  • Place a beautiful centerpiece in the center of your dining room table.
  • Eliminate odors as much as possible—place potpourri in the bathrooms, use air freshener and deodorizer, especially if you have indoor pets or there's a smoker in the house.
  • Let the light in—open all your blinds and curtains. If your house's natural light leaves some rooms dark during certain portions of the day, turn on the lights if you know your house may be shown that day. If you have any decorative or track lighting, be sure it is on.
  • If you have too much furniture, place some of it in storage. You want the house to look roomier.
Basically, just use common sense. Get out on your curb and look at your home through their eyes.  Stand back and try to imagine that it’s you looking at your property and make adjustments to make your home inviting.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Assessment vs. Appraisal vs. Comparative market Analysis - by Lisa DiBiase

Many people confuse the difference between assessments, appraisals and comparative market analysis's.

Towns and cities charge a tax on residential homes. An assessment is the value placed on a property by the town or city for the purpose of determining the property tax due. The calculation of the tax is derived from a percentage multiplied by an assessed value of a piece of property. An entire town will be assessed during a 4 to12 month period with values determined by a team of qualified assistants after viewing properties and interviewing owners. 

Assessments are used strictly for levying taxes and do not actually reflect the real estate market condition. Every municipality calculates assessed value using different formulas. They usually include land area, interior living area, and exterior amenities such as garages. 

The combined assessed value of all the town properties is then used to calculate what the tax rate will be. Each year the town may re-evaluate the tax rate to obtain the monies needed to run the town based on that combined assessed value. So tax rates may change from year to year but assessments usually do not. Only when assessed values become so outdated as to cause tremendous inequities between properties will a town reassess.

An appraisal is an estimation of a home’s market value by a licensed professional using specialized methodologies. Appraisals are done most commonly when a property is to be purchased using a loan or refinanced, but may also be requested for a variety of other reasons. An appraisal report is done to determine value. The appraiser will use currently listed and sold properties of similar properties making adjustments for differences between the subject property and the comparables. They will usually combine this "market approach" with a second method such as "cost approach" (determining the cost to rebuild) and/or "income approach" (used on properties that produce income) to determine Value. Lenders obtain the services of appraisers to determine the value of a home as opposed to the sale price. Appraisers always review at least three other houses that recently sold within the same city. Since a town or city’s real estate market can change constantly within a time frame, comparing relevant sales is vital to a valid appraisal. There is a big difference between obtaining an appraisal for a purchase versus refinance. One of the biggest differences is a purchase has loan-to-value percentages that factor in the loan approval process which means the appraisal amount typically has to match the purchase price. Where as in refinance appraisals, the borrower has typically paid the loan over for a period of time and the principle balance has been paid down where there is more equity available which helps the loan to value ratios.

Comparative Market Analysis (CMA)
A CMA is an estimate of your property's value done by your real estate broker to establish a listing or offer price when you decide that you want to sell or buy a home or property. This service is usually offered free of charge and without obligation. A CMA should only be used as a reference for deciding at what price you should list or buy your home for. Much like an appraisal, your broker will create a CMA by utilizing recent sales data and using their knowledge of the local market. This helps the broker determine what price they think a buyer would be willing to pay for the subject property. They will compare your property with similar properties that are currently listed and recently sold. A comparable property is one that is of the same type (single-family, multi-family, commercial, etc.), is in similar condition inside and out, and has the same or close to the same number of units and land/living area size. They also look at the length of time the property has been on the market to help determine value. 

Assessed value and appraised value will usually not be exactly the same on a property as the appraised value takes a snapshot in time and will be impacted by market activity. The difference between a comparative market analysis (CMA) and a real estate appraisal report is that one is done by your real estate broker and one is done by a licensed real estate appraiser.

As I have said before, please call a local realtor for all your real estate needs no matter how big or small. We are trained professionals here to make your life easier. It's best to surround yourself with the right team of professionals that can continuously give you the right advice for all your circumstances.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Are foreclosures still a bargain? - By Rick Yost

After the real estate crash in 2007, those with cash scooped up some real bargains in foreclosure. There was a glut of foreclosures and very few buyers in the market. Lenders sold houses at huge discounts to get rid of them. With the economy coming back and prices actually rising on homes in 2014, those huge discounts are hard to find. The good old days may be gone. It’s becoming more and more a seller’s market. Inventories are tight and lenders know it. Lenders are negotiating harder and lowering price less in this current environment. Foreclosed homes can still be good investments, buyers just have to be more diligent.

Buyers typically acquire foreclosed properties in one of two manners, foreclosure auction or REO. An auction is just what it sounds like. Buyers bid on the property and the high bidder gets the home. An REO is a foreclosed property that the lender has already taken back, thus REO or Real Estate Owned.

Buying at auction is not for beginners. You typically have to bring a cash deposit to the auction to even bid. This number can vary from $2,500 for a parcel of land or a mobile home to $25,000 for an upscale home. The winning bidder is usually required to increase his deposit to 10 percent of the final purchase price that was determined at the auction within one day and then has 30 days to close. Pretty tough standards, but it gets worse. You usually cannot do any inspections on the home, and some you cannot even go inside. You must personally investigate to see if there are any liens, mortgages, taxes on the property that are due or if there are any code violations. If there are any tenants, it is your responsibility to evict them. This type of foreclosure purchase is wrought with peril. Great bargains can be found, but so can money pits. In most recent auctions, the winning bidder has been the lender themselves. The lender will bid at the auction in the attempt to push the price up to the amount that is owed on it. If an acceptable price is not reached, the lender takes the property back.

The second way to buy a foreclosed home is from the lender after it has taken the property back. The lender may take it back at the auction, they may have taken in back thru an uncontested foreclosure, or the borrower may have surrendered the deed in lieu of foreclosure. No matter how the lender acquired the property, it is now theirs to sell. At this point, most banks list the property with a real estate broker. At this point, it becomes much more like buying a house from an individual. You can do property inspections, put contingencies in your offer, and have more time to get a mortgage in place. 

The lenders have recently been much less willing to adjust their asking price on homes that they have taken back. The lenders are very aware of the market. They know inventory is shrinking and that prices have risen. They are much less willing to lose a large amount of money on a house they have taken back under these market conditions.

So are there foreclosure bargains out there? Yes there are still some out there, but there are fewer and they are harder to find. As always, use a qualified real estate professional to help you find foreclosures and identify bargains. Happy hunting.

Rick is a realtor, real estate author of the book “Help, I’m underwater”, and long-time Windham resident. You can reach Rick with all of your real estate questions and needs at

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Real Estate - List your waterfront home now for maximum exposure - By Dan McGowan

If you’re thinking about selling your waterfront property, it’s a good time to start planning on getting your home ready for sale. Even though Old Man Winter still has his grips on us, springtime is just around the corner. If your waiting until the ice goes away, don’t. It could be April when the ice is finally gone. Potential buyers of waterfront property are looking now and starting to make decisions on where they want to live. 

Since the invention of the Internet, buyers are now looking for property sooner with the help of online sites such as Zillow, Trulia, etc. They’re searching at night after dark. They’re driving around their desired neighborhoods, viewing available homes on a mobile phone, in the safety of their warm vehicle. The way buyers search for homes has changed, and their location, the time of year, and the weather have far less effect on their ability to view homes than it used to.

If you wait until April or May to list your home and you price it right, it could take a month or two to get it under contract, then another 30 to 45 days to close if all goes well. That could take the closing into July or August. Buyers are looking now to close before the summer season to enjoy the waterfront amenities of what they just bought. Your agent can list your home now and take pictures, and when spring rolls around your agent can come back and take pictures when all is in bloom. You should start planning on retrieving all your permits for work completed on the shorefront for availability to potential buyers. 

Get your docks ready and freshly painted. Replace worn or broken boards. Many waterfront listings neglect this. You need to set your waterfront property apart from the rest. Open all curtains that face the water and clean the windows and screens. Remove anything that blocks the view. You want buyers to be wowed when seeing the lake from the house. As soon as you can, get down to the water and clean up what has washed up. Set your lawn furniture out and make it inviting. If you have a boathouse, clean the inside and make it roomier. Entryways should be clear of clutter and decks/porches should be shoveled.

In the winter, with the leaves off the trees, you might also have a nice view that isn't as apparent in the spring and summer months. It's a great time to sell waterfront property. You can see the views better this time of year.

Selling your house in the winter doesn’t need to be a hassle. By listing your home now, you have a better chance of selling it sooner and a better chance of getting the price you want!

Dan McGowan is an associate broker with Coldwell Banker Team Real Estate in Windham.