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Archive for the ‘Real Estate 101’ Category

If you sell real estate, you do not have to disclose the fact that you have other-worldly residents that go with.  Living and working in Gettysburg, people often ask me about this…either because they do want to buy a haunted house or they really don’t.  They are dismayed to learn sellers don’t have to give buyers this information.  What sellers are required to disclose is if something so infamous happened in the house that it would be common knowledge in the community…think of the Manson murders or the Amityville Horror.  In the latter case, do you know the new owners changed those upper windows in the home so curiosity seekers would be less likely to identify the house?

Anyway, on at least one occasion, I did sell a haunted house.  This one was a large pre-Civil War home with five fireplaces, deep window sills, original woodwork and floors, and a gorgeous open, turned staircase  in the center hall.  The buyers were a nice couple  from the south…rebels, you could say.  The day of settlement, they were unable to meet me in time to do a final walk-through of the house.  They asked if I would do it for them and we would meet afterward at the settlement office.  This was a little unusual, but I agreed.  It was a beautiful, warm sunny day, and it was the first time I had been in the house alone and with all the furnishings removed.

I checked out the basement, then the downstairs, appliances, sinks, toilet, doors, windows, etc.  Everything was perfect.  I started up the wide staircase.  Halfway to the landing between floors, I stepped on a particular riser and was hit with almost a wall of body odor – it was that strong.  I’m in a very clean, empty house, and I’m alone.  Whatever was on that step with me reeked.  I said out loud, “Oh (expletive), this is not good.  This is not good at all!”  I took one more step up…no smell.  I stepped back down…overwhelming body odor.  Stepped down another…nothing.  Up…body odor.  You see the problem?  I was tasked with having to inspect the second floor, so I hurried on and sniffed my way through all the second story rooms.  I swear I smelled flowers in the front room, but it could have been my now highly stimulated imagination.  Coming down the stairs, I smelled nothing, and I debated whether I should mention this to the buyers.  Knowing them, I didn’t think it would make a difference, except for the fact they might think I was insane.

Two days after settlement, I had a voice mail message…all cheery and excited…”Hi Kathy, we have a ghost.  Call me back.”  I said, “Oh (another expletive).”

Yes, indeed, they did have a ghost, and he turned out to be a sinister fellow.   The dogs were terrified of him.  The buyer’s husband was freaked out of his mind when the guy touched him in bed.  His wife, often there alone when her husband was traveling on business, was tormented by this entity.  He spoke to her, touched her, called to the dogs, pretended to be her husband and threatened her in various ways.   They couldn’t get rid of him and he became bolder and bolder.  They did some research and contacted the prior owners and the woman who owned the house years before those folks.  The older woman said she had experiences with this fellow.  The couple who sold my people the house had two teenage daughters.  They told my buyers they never had a problem except their daughters, when they were young, always told their parents that a lumberjack would come and watch them sleep.  I could only think “Oh, dear Lord, did these little girls think this person was a lumberjack because he had an axe?”  For the love of God, didn’t these parents think this was something to concern themselves with?

Well, I decided to take matters into my own hands.  One night before bed  I prayed fervently that this entity would leave the house and never bother my friends again.  He came to me!  I woke up in the middle of the night and had experienced a visit from this nasty person.  It was so real.  I was terrified and remembered every detail about him and how he was reaching out and threatening me in my own bed.  He apparently thought it was worth his time to travel almost thirty miles to basically scare me into butting out of his business.

I’m ashamed to say I was actually afraid to pray about him again for a few days.  I went to see my buyer.  I described this entity in detail to her.  When I finished, she said, “Kathy, that’s the guy.”  She had never told me anything about his physical appearance, but I had described him from his visit to me.  He was young, maybe twenties, very wiry but strong and muscular.  He had curly dirty blonde hair.  He wore tan woolen pants, suspenders and a checked gingham shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbow and boots.  (I suspected the girls thought him a lumberjack because of his clothing.)  I decided to tempt fate and prayed again for him to leave.  He didn’t return to threaten me, but he didn’t leave their house either.  I wondered if he might have been a union soldier and objected to southerners living in the house.  Who knows?  It was the only explanation I could think of which would cause him to be so much viler than he had been with previous owners.

My friends were finally given holy water, which they sprinkled in every room of the house.  That’s when he seemed to depart.

They resold the house.  The new buyers knew about this “thing” and I hope he has not returned.

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Some people waste money by neglecting to do one simple thing:  Get multiple quotes.  Duh, this sounds ridiculously simple, doesn’t it?  I don’t know why people don’t do it, but, as a Realtor, I see it all the time.  Sometimes they don’t believe there is any discernible difference between service people.  If you are someone who shares this opinion, please know it is the furthest thing from the truth.

When I say get multiple quotes, I mean a minimum of three.  Four or five is even better if you have the time.  I could quote you anecdotal evidence all day long, but I will just mention a few…  I had sellers who were required to replace a septic last year.  Two bids were both over $17,000.  The third was $11,000, and the contractor, though smaller, had a stellar reputation.  Guess who they used?  $6,000 will buy you a lot of trinkets or even a pretty fabulous vacation (at least by my standards).  A few years ago, I had another seller who needed to put in a radon mitigation system (and the house already had the piping for it).  The buyer’s agent gave me a quote from his guy (who I used to use) for $1,250.  I had long ago switched to someone who did the same installations for $650.  I had the occasion to ask the first fellow why his bid was so high, the highest for this job I had ever seen.  He told me he was extremely busy and he didn’t care if he got the job or not so he priced it accordingly…gravy if he got it, no skin off his busy nose if he didn’t.  Don’t be shocked.  This happens more often than you realize.

If you think everyone is hungry for work in this economy and will work for any price, think again.  I just got a price to take down one large dead tree in my front yard.  The bid was almost $1,600 (pricey for a little rural community like mine).  I called another guy who told me $800, and for a total outlay of $1,200 he would take three other smaller trees with it…four trees for less than one from first guy.

Another important point, hire the right person for the job.  Allow me to explain.  If I have a client who needs to have property corners marked, we hire a surveyor, not an engineer.  If I have a small drywall job or windows with broken seals, I hire a handyman(woman/person), not a building contractor.  The handy(people) in your community can easily and professionally handle a wide variety of jobs and home improvement projects – decks, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, window and door repairs, etc.    Call the contractor when you want to add on a room or build a new house.  To repeat myself, don’t fire a cannon at a fly.  You only need a fly swatter, and you’ll save so much money.  And, don’t be afraid to ask these guys for quotes or their hourly rate.

Note:  If you want to lay tile or hardwood floor or install new counter-tops, you are probably better off using the supplier’s installer because this is all they do and if the job isn’t perfect, you have recourse against the company they work for.  Lowe’s and Home Depot, for example are going to want you to be happy, not just with the product, but with the final result.

P.S.  If you don’t know good handy(people) in your community you might consider calling a Realtor.  Providing they are not recommending their brother-in-law who needs a job, they can give you names and contact information for folks for almost any job you’ve got.  They shouldn’t mind as, if they have half a brain, they will appreciate the opportunity to make contact with a homeowner who might, in turn, recommend them to friends who are buying or selling.

P.P.S. – Ask all these guys if they will DISCOUNT FOR CASH.  My father does this all the time.  It used to embarrass my step-mom, but he has saved a ton of money over the years.  He almost always gets a discount.  Of course, that means you actually have to have cash.

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If you don’t know this already, it isn’t all about the rate.  There are other important considerations.  For instance, all lenders charge ancillary fees associated with your loan and they can vary tremendously.  The fees of a reputable lender can be as low as $1,000 and I once saw one bank charge in excess of $6,000 in fees.  Even the attorney handling settlement remarked on the usurious amount and asked the buyers if they had investigated this.  Strangely, they were okay with it.  The point is, don’t be surprised when you get your HUD-1 (the settlement sheet) just before closing and discover the lender has thrown everything but the kitchen sink on it.  When you first become pre-qualified or pre-approved for a mortgage, the lender is required to provide you with an estimate of closing costs, including their fees.  Request it.  Many buyers don’t and it isn’t always voluntarily provided at the outset.  Your Realtor will also provide you with an estimate, but we usually don’t have all the lender’s fees available to us and your Realtor should tell you this.

Also important is finding out the requirements of your new loan.  I just acquired buyers for one of my listings because the house they had originally written on had more than ten acres, and they found out far along in the buying process, their approved loan banned the financing of properties with an excess of ten acres.  My listing has five acres so they are fine now.  This is a bit unusual, but can happen.  There are, I swear, hundreds of different types of loans.  I may be exaggerating a little, but it is difficult for you or even your Realtor to know all conditions of every single one…and they can vary from lender to lender.  You need to ask questions, but even this is not always foolproof.  Usually you find out you have a problem a week or two before settlement when the lender’s underwriter begins going over the entire transaction with a fine tooth comb.  Underwriting is the last step in the process and the most important to you.   If you weren’t dealing with a super experienced loan officer at the outset, they may not even be aware that an underwriter is going to stop you in your tracks.

An important word on REVERSE MORTGAGES:

I spent a full day in a financing class recently for required continuing education.  You would think that would be boring, but it actually wasn’t – mostly a credit to the instructor.  I was prepared to down copious amounts of caffeine to keep myself awake.  The class was made worthwhile when we discussed how a senior can actually utilize a reverse mortgage.  It was an epiphany, and I faulted myself for not thinking of it on my own.

If you are 62 or older, you are eligible for a reverse mortgage on your current home.  Now you may not be ready for the rest home yet, but would like to relocate.  Maybe you’d like to be closer to your kids and grandkids or maybe you want to move away from them (had that happen once).  Anyway, to avoid the risk of losing a house you’ve fallen in love with because your current one hasn’t sold yet, you can take out a reverse mortgage, buy the new home and then, at your leisure, proceed with finding a buyer for the old house.  This is probably going to be preferrable to taking out a home equity loan.  You need to find a loan officer that specializes in reverse mortgages, and there are more and more of them around.  However, as with anything, ask for their credentials and how many reverse mortgages they’ve handled.

Happy House Hunting!

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