From our Home to Yours

August 1st, 2012
Blueberry Crumb Crust Muffins
Blueberry muffins are a regular addition to our breakfast menu in the summer here in our house. Every year we drag the kids to the u-pick blueberry farm a few miles away and harvest pound after pound of sweet-delicious blueberries. One of the first things I do when we get home is prepare a few cups for a batch of blueberry muffins. Below is the current variation on the recipe passed down through my family for blueberry muffins.

Blueberry Muffin Batter

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh (or frozen) blueberries

Crumb Crust

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease muffin tin or line with muffin liners.

Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a bowl and whisk together. In a measuring cup add vegetable oil & egg. Mix together, then pour in milk until the mixture creates a cup. Pour the oil/egg/milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Mix well. If the batter is too thick, add milk in small amounts until the batter is smooth and just thin enough to mix in the blueberries without resistance.

The batter shouldn’t be runny, but should be thin enough to spread out in the tins when you spoon it in. Fill the tins fairly high to get a nice muffin shape.

In small mixing bowl cut the butter into small, easy-to-work-with pieces. Then add the brown sugar, sugar, and flour. Using a fork, mix the ingredients together until they are blended together into small crumb like pieces. Sprinkle the crumbs on top of the poured batter.

Bake for 20-24 minutes, or until the crumb crust is golden brown. Once they have cooled slightly after removing from the oven, move to a drying rack to keep the bottom of the muffins from being too moist.

Making Home Affordable Program

March 14th, 2012
MHA Assists Homeowners Lower Monthly Payments

The Making Home Affordable (MHA) program was implemented to assist homeowners in avoiding foreclosure, to stabilize the country’s housing market, and to improve the nation’s economy. Regardless of how you arrived in your current financial situation, the MHA program can help you get real answers and assistance.

Depending on your situation, there are programs in-place to assist qualified homeowners in lowering their payments.

  • If you are not unemployed, but are having a hard time making the monthly payments, you may qualify for the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP).
  • Another situation could be if your current home is worth less than you owe, MHA offers Principal Reduction Alternative (PRA) to qualifying homeowners.
  • For those with second mortgages, the Second Lien Modification Program (2MP) offers assistance with homeowners whose first mortgage is already modified under HAMP.

Another place to look is directly with FHA, USDA, and Veteran’s Affairs. Each have their own programs designed to assist homeowners whose financing is backed by their department.

  • FHA offers the FHA Home Affordable Modification Program (FHA-HAMP), created to assist borrowers whose mortgages are backed by FHA.
  • Veteran’s Affairs Home Affordable Modification Program (VA-HAMP) provides assistance to Veterans through a program designed specifically for Veteran’s Affairs.
  • The USDA has a Special Loan Servicing Department in place to assist homeowners that may be having difficulties meeting the monthly on a USDA backed loan.

These are not the only situations that may be eligible for relief under MHA. For additional details please visit the Making Home Affordable website.

Understanding Short Sales

February 17th, 2012

What is it?

A short sale is a transaction where the lender agrees to accept less than the mortgage amount owed by the current homeowner. The loss is then either absorbed by the bank, or recovered through arrangements with the seller to repay after the sale.

Due to all the different banks involved in short sales, with little consistency between their rules, and a rapidly evolving market, short sales were truly the “Wild West of Real Estate”. To provide some form of structure, the Federal Government introduced The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) , part of the Making Home Affordable (MHA) program in 2009. HAMP was designed to help financially struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure by modifying their existing loans to a level that would be affordable long term.

From that was born the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) Program. This alternative scooped up those borrowers (sellers) who couldn’t qualify for HAMP. HAFA was also designed to standardize the short sale process and establish foundational guidelines for lenders and borrowers.

Incentives offered through HAFA encourage those involved to consider short sales where applicable, rather than moving forward with costly foreclosures.

The Basics

In order to consider a short sale, a lender will normally require disclosure of two years of IRS tax returns and a hardship letter explaining the situation. Some lenders, such as Wells Fargo, will provide a short sale “pre-approval” letter to sellers in order to expedite the process.

If the bank does not “pre-approve” the short sale, the required documentation, along with an executed sales contract, would all be submitted in one big packet for review. (*Regardless one thing is certain: Having all the paperwork completed correctly, the first time, makes things move much more smoothly.)

Pre-approval or not, the time to get from start to finish with a short sale can take anywhere from 2 - 4 months.

This extended time frame from contract to close creates additional risks to the success of the transaction. Pre-approvals may expire, interest rates change, or other pit-falls can appear to cause further delays or threaten the execution of the contract.

Ultimately, when considering a short sale, everyone involved needs to be educated on the process. The greater the understanding of the short sale process, the higher the probability of reaching settlement with the least amount of delay.

READ MORE:

The Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP)

Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives (HAFA) Program

HUD 203(k) Home Rehabilitation Loan

January 13th, 2012

HUD backs financing to rehabilitate homes

What is it?

The Home Rehab loan is is a loan, made from an approved lender, on a qualified property, to be sold, and rehabilitated after closing, with funds insured by HUD. Designed to stimulate positive growth and demonstrate the cooperation of lenders in lending to buyers looking in low income communities, this has the potential to be a great option in the right situation.

How it works

According to HUD’s website:

“Most mortgage financing plans provide only permanent financing. That is, the lender will not usually close the loan and release the mortgage proceeds unless the condition and value of the property provide adequate loan security. When rehabilitation is involved, this means that a lender typically requires the improvements to be finished before a long-term mortgage is made.”

“When a homebuyer wants to purchase a house in need of repair or modernization, the homebuyer usually has to obtain financing first to purchase the dwelling; additional financing to do the rehabilitation construction; and a permanent mortgage when the work is completed to pay off the interim loans with a permanent mortgage. Often the interim financing (the acquisition and construction loans) involves relatively high interest rates and short amortization periods. The Section 203(k) program was designed to address this situation. The borrower can get just one mortgage loan, at a long-term fixed (or adjustable) rate, to finance both the acquisition and the rehabilitation of the property. To provide funds for the rehabilitation, the mortgage amount is based on the projected value of the property with the work completed, taking into account the cost of the work. To minimize the risk to the mortgage lender, the mortgage loan (the maximum allowable amount) is eligible for endorsement by HUD as soon as the mortgage proceeds are disbursed and a rehabilitation escrow account is established. At this point the lender has a fully-insured mortgage loan.”

Which means that when your mortgage closes, the funds will be placed in an account that you can draw upon to complete the repairs. The repairs have to be completed in accordance with all federal, state, and local building codes and have the appropriate permits to be applicable.

What to expect

First off, a buyer will need to determine if the property in question is eligible. If it is, it needs to be compliant with the acceptable use policy. From there, an assessment will need to be made to determine which improvements are eligible or approved.

Once that is completed….

The lender will need to have 2 appraisal reports. One for the As-Is amount and another representing the after-improved value.

HUD will also need detailed architectural exhibits regarding the planned improvements. The report needs to include a detailed plan and cost description. Both of which can be provided by a licensed inspector or you can complete them yourself. (If hiring an inspector, HUD has established a fee guideline based upon the estimated cost of repair.)

At closing, the repair funds are placed into an “Rehabilitation Escrow Account”. Once there, funds will can be drawn to complete the necessary repairs. An inspector will verify the repairs have been completed according to building code with the necessary permits before the funds are released completely.

Is it right for you?

This has the potential to be a great option for people looking for homes that may need some work. For instance, if a potential property does not qualify for FHA due to needed repair, a 203(k) may be a viable option if the home qualifies. However, as with any sale, be prepared to jump through a few hoops to get to the closing table. Lastly, after speaking with a lender, I would expect slightly higher interest rates than you would experience with a conventional or FHA loan on a 203(k) Rehab a Home loan.

If you have any questions regarding a 203(k) Rehab Loan for homes for sale in Birmingham, drop us a line. We would be glad to answer your question to the best of our abilities!

Know your real estate competition

December 16th, 2011

Maximizing every opportunity to sell your home

The Birmingham real estate market is highly competitive. If you want to be successful selling your home, you need to present it in it’s best possible condition. Your home may be, or have the potential to be, the most beautiful home in town. However, an extended stay on the market awaits those sellers that do not properly relay to buyers what a great opportunity it is to purchase their home.

For me, this starts with knowing your competition. Knowing your competition is crucial to your success. As a home seller, you need to understand where your house fits into the market for your area. If there is another house for sale in your neighborhood, investigate. Find out the asking price, condition, days on the market, and so forth to determine how your house matches up. Somethings you just can’t compete against. However, knowing your competition will give you the information needed to formulate a plan for the presentation of your home.

Presenting a home for sale

If am the seller, I am going to get ready. I am going to clean, inspect, then repair-or-replace anything and everything I may have neglected or put-off. Give the house a good ol’ top-to-bottom, front-to-back, inside-out and everywhere in between cleaning. Birmingham foreclosures, more often than not, are going to be in some stage of disrepair. I am going to take advantage of that by showing my home is move-in-ready. I want potential buyers to realize that my home is of greater value because it is already in great condition.

First, I’m heading to the yard. You never get a second chance for a first impression and it all starts at the curb. An over-grown, unkempt, disorganized yard is an additional hurdle that can be easily avoided. I have found that most buyers will almost always consider the amount of yardwork needed to make a home move-in ready when determining an offer. Therefore I am going to give the yard a good mowing and remove any debris.

Then I am going to go over the exterior of house. I want to reduce the chance of any negative impressions formulating while a buyer approches the front door. I am going to look for anything that needs to be repaired or replaced on the outside of the home. Then pressure wash. Remember, I am focused on that first impression. I want the buyer “feeling good” by the time they open the front door.

Staging and renovations of the interior of the house are beyond the scope of this article. (That being said, I am going to consider any repairs, changes, or upgrades that will generate a positive return on the investment.) What I am going to do though, is address the ambiance of the home. Most foreclosures in Birmingham I’ve shown are hot in the summer and cold in the winter. I am simply going to make buyers more comfortable when they enter the home. I’m also going to arrange the furniture in a way that allows for easy movement through rooms.

Once I am comfortable with the interior, I will be show-ready. I may have some repairs or needed upgrades, but I am presentable, inviting, competitive, and most importantly, ready for a serious offer.

Selling your home in the competitive Birmingham real estate market is more complicated than just leaving on the HVAC and cleaning, but I tell you what… A little heat, just enough to take the edge off, on a cold day’s showing a presentable house can go a long way to getting a deal on the table.

Wishing you a safe Christmas season

December 8th, 2011

Christmas Safety

Before we get the Christmas decorations out of storgage and head out with ladders, extension cords, and lights to decorate; I thought it might be good idea to freshen-up on basic safety before installing the outdoor Christmas lights.

Have a plan for decorating

Christmas decorating is a free-style expression of joy around my house… However, being free-style when running power cords and electricity is just a bad idea.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

For Starters:

  • Determine how to best use the external outlets without overloading the system.
  • Learn which outlets are tied to which breaker.

Be prepared for surprises. For example, I didn’t realize the GFI outlet in the garage was using was tied to the interior / exterior outlets nearest our front door. When the GFI popped, it took me a minute to realize what had happened.

Check the lights:

I can’t stress this enough.  Check them BEFORE you install them.  There is nothing worse than trying to fix a burned out strand once it has been installed.

  • Look for any obvious reasons why the lights won’t work
  • Try replacing the fuse

Hopefully, you’ll avoid having to check all the bulbs individually.

Learn how to use a ladder

If you will be decorating the trim, or the roof, and need to use a ladder, be sure to learn how to use a ladder first.

  • Be sure to place the ladder on solid ground
  • Never lean too far to one side when standing on a ladder

Most importantly, if you are going to use a ladder, be sure that someone is there to hold the ladder in order to stabilize it while you are on it.

Have fun

Decorating for the Holidays should be a fun time. Don’t let broken lights, power-outages, busted inflatables, and cold-wet weather get the best of you.

Real Estate Perspective

Christmas lights are great additions to the home during the holidays. If you are trying to sell, a little bit of holiday joy will make your home inviting. However, you need to be careful, over-indugence with the decorations could turn-off potential buyers. So if your house is on the market, before you go putting those last 5000 lights up and plug in the leg-lamp, you may just want to ask a REALTOR for their professional opinion.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays.

Cold Weather Readiness

November 30th, 2011

Be prepared for cold weather

In Alabama we don’t really have the severe cold temperatures of the north. However, don’t let that fool you. Every so often, a bitter cold streak rolls through town and leaves behind a wake of broken pipes and flooded basements. With all the severe weather we’ve had recently, I decided to see what I needed to do this winter to be ready.

The Winterizing Process

One of the first places to look for information on cold weather preparedness is www.ready.gov/winter. A FEMA website dedicated to helping people be ready in the event of a cold weather emergency. Below are some of the pointers and tips they provide on their website:

Before The Cold Season:

  • Build an emergency kit: Basic household items you and your family would need… water, food, matches.. etc.
  • Gather firewood or an alternate source of heat in the event of a power failure.
  • Pack adequate clothing and blankets in an easy to access location.
  • Have a plan for family pets and / or farm animals.

Winterize your home:

  • Check insulation levels and condition.  Caulk windows and seal drafts.  Consider installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic.
  • Repair any roof leaks.
  • Insulate any exposed water pipes.
  • Clear away tree branches that could fall on the house.
  • Get your furnace and chimney inspected.
  • Buy a fire extiguisher and store it in your home where it is easily reached in the event of a fire.

Carbon Monoxide
Carbon monoxide levels can become lethal when trapped in the home. Therefore, never use a generator, propane heater, or any other coal or gas burning device inside the home for heating. When using one of the above outdoors, be sure not to place near a door or window that would allow carbon monoxide to enter the home.

FEMA recommends installing a carbon monoxide monitor in your home. Also that if it ever sounds the alarm, to move to a location with access to fresh air.

Get Educated
Learn the terms of your local weather forecast.  Check with NOAA.gov or your local weather station (ABC 33/40 here) for more details about weather advisories in order to plan accordingly.  Knowing what to expect is half the battle.

Fringe Benefits

Winterizing is not only going to make my home more comfortable and safe, it’s going to save money on utilities.  Which is a win-win in these parts.

As a REALTOR®, I will say that winterizing your home will make your house show better.  Especially if it is vacant.  It will allow you to keep your property warm and inviting on a cold day without breaking the bank on monthly utilities.   Even if you are living in the home, doing the steps to winterize will bring better offers.

Silver Lakes

August 17th, 2010

Silver Lakes

Located off South Shades Crest, Silver Lakes is an extremely popular subdivision. Featuring large well constructed homes on good sized parcels of land, it is not surprising to find out that these homes are still as popular today as they were when the neighborhood first opened!

Recently, there has been a strong resurgence for this particular area. I can’t put my finger as to why, but I am more than happy to be showing homes in Silver Lakes to people looking in the Bessemer / Helena / Hoover area!

As a Birmingham REALTOR, you never know what you are going to see when you walk into a home for the first time with a client. I think this is one of the reasons I enjoy showing homes in Silver Lakes (and other similar neighborhoods). When I am showing a home in this neighborhood, I can be fairly confident that the home had been well built, is full of amenities, and is a pleasure to view.

Silver Lakes Homes for Sale

Although most if not all of the new construction has been purchased, there is a healthy number of resale opportunities for home buyers looking in Silver Lakes. Which is fantastic because Silver Lakes is really a great location for a home. Not only is a great location, but these homes are nice. They are spacious, well built, family homes, with just enough yard to provide room to stretch out, but not too much to mow!

Interior amenities abound in these homes as well. It is not uncommon to find granite counters, tile and wood floors, tiled showers, finished basements, etcetera throughout the neighborhood homes. One feature I have noticed on a few homes was the sense of privacy obtained, while still living in a large neighborhood community.

Silver Lakes is a Great Neighborhood

Silver Lakes offers residents many extras that really make this neighborhood attractive. Some of those extras include walking trails, private lakes, children’s playground, and picnic area. Silver Lakes is just a hop-skip-and-jump from just about everywhere. Restaurants, malls, entertainment, parks, are all just a moments drive. A fact some visitors may not realize is that there are two different entry points to Silver Lakes. (I’ve secretly been told the “back way” is a great way to avoid some of the heavier traffic on South Shades Crest in the morning!)

Silver Lakes is a neighborhood that should be on anyone’s list of neighborhoods looking the Helena/Bessemer/Hoover areas. In fact, give us a call @ 205-475-5437 and we will be glad to give you a tour!

View Homes for Sale in Silver Lakes

Birmingham Farmers Markets

July 6th, 2010

Birmingham Farmers Markets

Birmingham has a burgeoning and bustling farmer’s market scene! You’d be surprise to find out that there is a farmer’s market just about every day of the week in at least one section of town! Monday - Montevallo, Tuesday - Calera, Friday - Leeds, Saturday - Hoover. Regadless of what part of town you live, one thing is certain, you will find some great fresh produce, friendly people, and healthy dose of community spirit!

The one thing I have noticed is that each market shares common ground in incredible produce and community spirt, yet each market has it’s own personality! For example, the farmers market in Mt. Laurel features fresh vegetables, but also features artisans and craftsman selling their creations too. Another thing I really like about the farmers market is the ability to speak directly with the person growing the crops for sale! There is such a wealth of information there for an amateur like myself, I feel like I am back in school, in a good way, each time!

Calera Farmers Market

The Calera Farmers Market is one of our family favorites! The location is absolutely fantastic! Located next to the Calera Library, there is ample parking with easy access to the market. There is always a great selection of fresh vegetables from the local farmers. We have purchased cucumbers, tomatoes, corn, and squash from the various booths and each vegetable has been incredible. The organizers have a booth set-up as well offering free cold drinks, and sometimes tomato sandwiches. Calera’s farmers market also has live music, face painting, and other activities and entertainment. Yet, the one thing that really stands out is the giant playground. That is what really makes this location stand out! When your kids ask to go to the farmers market, it makes you really appreciate this location that much more!

Valleydale Farmers Market

Saturday mornings this summer means Valleydale Farmers Market! Each week, I rouse the wife and kids from their slumber and drag them to the Valleydale Farmers Market. Just kidding, they actually enjoy going to the market too! The Valleydale market does not have the playground for the kids, but what they do have is incredible fruits and vegetables! We have been to this market more often than the others around town. There is a great selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, all grown locally by Alabama farmers. One farm in particular has been a favorite of ours, The A&P Farms from Gallant Alabama. They have a great selection of produce including heirloom tomatoes, blackberries, squash, zucchini, onions, and recently the most delicious watermelon I have tasted this summer!

Honorable Mention!

There are other markets that we have visited this summer and would like to mention those as well.

Helena Farmers Market

The Helena Farmers Market is located in Old Town Helena by the amphitheater. It is a great location next to Buck Creek. This market is open on Saturdays throughout the summer.

Leeds Farmers Market

The Leeds Farmers Market is also a nice market with some great produce. This market is open on Fridays and is located downtown on 6th Street.

Montevallo Farmers Market

Monday is the Montevallo Farmers Market. Located behind McDonalds off Main Street, this market features many of the same farmers that make-up the Calera Farmers Market on Tuesday. Although this location is not my favorite, the market has great produce and a friendly atmosphere.

I highly recommend visiting one of Birmingham’s Farmers Markets. Not only will you get some great fresh locally grown produce, you’ll find yourself having a great time too!

Helena Alabama

July 5th, 2010

Helena Alabama

Helena is conisitently ranked as one of the top cities in which to live in Alabama, and the United States! Tucked into the Southwest corner of the Birmingham area, Helena is a fantastic small town loaded with charm, character, and some fantastic homes too! Probably the thing I like best about Helena are the community activities and numerous playgrounds and parks.

Helena

Officially incorporated in 1917, Helena has a wonderful History. Although known by a few different names, the final name was derived from Helena Station, named by a train engineer in honor of his sweetheart Helen Lee, during the reconstruction following the civil war. Interesting enough, the original mayor of Helena in 1917 was the grandfather of current mayor Sonny Penhale.

Helena could be sliced into two distinct areas. The first being the Old Town area. This section includes the post office, city hall, Buck creek, amphitheater, and the old downtown area. The second is the area that includes Publix, Winn Dixie, and neighborhoods such as Old Cahaba, Riverwoods, and Hillsboro.

Helena Homes

The old town side of Helena features some really neat older homes, and a sprinking of newer homes designed in to “fit” right into the area. Each time my family drives through this part of town, we always keep our eye on one house in-particular, waiting for that “FOR SALE” sign to appear. Unfortunately, I’m not saying which one… One section in Old Town features some really neat “row” houses, similar in design to the brownstones of the north. This little area is very inviting. Situated next to Buck Creek, these homes have front row seats to all the festivals, city activities, and events that occur at the Helena amphitheater .

Old Cahaba, Riverwoods, Hillsboro

The west side of Helena features the new developments in the area. Along with new shopping at the Crow’s Nest Shopping Center (Publix, Little Ceasar’s, Ace Hardware, Walgreens) are the new residential areas. The subdivisions include, St Charles Place, Old Cahaba, Riverwoods, and Hillsboro. Probably the largest and most ambitious development is Old Cahaba. I am always amazed about how large this development has become over the years. Now, there are new entrances and a new elementary school as well. Another nice spot in this area is the Cahaba Lilly Park. This little playground area is a great spot for kids to play, and with covered pavilions, the Cahaba Lilly park is also a great place to have a party or enjoy a snack!

Old Cahaba

As previously noted, Old Cahaba is a very large neighborhood. However, even though it is a big place, that shouldn’t discourage home shoppers from taking a look. Many of the homes are designed with the small family in mind. Most have plenty of bedrooms, storage, and decent sized yards for all those toys that seem to just grow everywhere. There are a few small lakes sprinkled throughout the development and if you keep your eyes open, you may find one of the waterfront homes in the neighborhood for sale!

Riverwoods

I have always been a fan of Riverwoods. In fact, my wife and I met with one of the builders a few times to discuss building a home in Riverwoods. However, the timing never seemed right for us. Riverwoods has some really neat homes. The styles of homes change with each section, yet the one consistency I have found in the homes is the quality of craftsmanship. Riverwoods has also expanded over the years and now offers homes bordering on the Cahaba River. If you are looking, these lots and homes are located towards the end of the main throughway.

Hillsboro

Hillsboro is one of the most recent Helena neighborhoods. Hillsboro offers some really well designed and beautiful homes. Hillsboro is reminiscent of traditional neighborhoods from years past. The homes have character and charm. It’s not uncommon to see flags and flowers in the front yards, kids playing, and neighbors chatting on the sidewalk. Don’t be surprised if someone gives a polite wave while you pass by either.

Helena Neighborhoods:

Helena is a great place to consider if you are moving to the Birmingham area. If you like a small town atmosphere but want to be close to just about everything, Helena is definitely a place you want to visit. You’ll soon discover why Helena was voted one of the best cities in which to call home in the United States. If you would like to view a home for sale in Helena, simply contact us at 205-475-5437 or 205-612-8152!

Birmingham REALTORS ®

The Birmingham Real Estate Pros team with Keller Williams Metro South was formed with the customer in mind. Our team combines the unique talents of four top REALTORS ® that compliment each other to provide the highest level of professional service available! We consistently rank in the top percentages of real estate agents in the MLS.

Buyer Specialists

Getting the information you need to make a decision regarding the purchase of a home is crucial! The Buyer Specialists with the Birmingham Pros team work exclusively for you! We take great pride in providing our clients the most current market conditions to negotiate the best deal for them! We utilize the Birmingham MLS and courthouse documents to your advantage!

Home Marketing Specialists

The Birmingham home market is a unique and fantastic market! Although sharing some of the national pitfalls seen in other areas, Birmingham remains a realtively stable market for selling or buying. Although the days on the market has increased and sorting through available homes takes a bit longer, the old maxim that "A good home, at a fair price, sells!". Working with a REALTOR® with a working knowledge of the local market can help you price, sell, locate, or purchase the home that best fits your needs!

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