A Military Way Of Life

I have lived in San Diego for over 30 years, so it’s easy to forget that this is such a military town. It is a way of life here, something that too often is taken for granted.

I have been around the military and military families most of my adult life. Living in San Diego, most of us have friends and business associates who are, or were, in the military. I think all branches of the service are represented here, but mostly Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. Once when we were attending a Century 21 event in Coronado and were staying at the Hotel Del Coronado, we were awakened about 4:00 am to Navy Seals storming the beach as part of their training. We got up and had our coffee on the balcony while watching them. It was awesome!

I had the privilege of attending a client’s Retirement Ceremony from the Navy on Friday. She has served as a Navy Nurse for 22 years. A remarkable woman, I don’t think I have ever seen her without a smile.  She is an optimist, a lover of animals, and has a great laugh. When she moved to San Diego, it was with the goal of finding a home that would enable her to reach her ultimate goal of expanding her dog rescue organization. We found the perfect place in Dehesa Valley.

While I have seen it before, the Passing the Flag – Old Glory Ceremony, always makes me cry. It is so moving. And, this week, it reminded me how honored I am to be able to work with so many clients and friends who serve in the military, whether active duty or retired. Why I am so glad I can help them with buying or selling a home, and help to ensure their move is as stress free as possible. That we find a place where their families will be happy and secure while they are deployed…perhaps a home they can return to at retirement…an investment in their future.

If you have never seen the ceremony, take a few minutes to watch. I think you will be proud of our military men and women, too!

What To Do With Too Many Limes?

You may know from some of my posts that I love to garden and love to cook. We have a wonderful lime tree that was supposed to be a “dwarf” tree. Well, it didn’t turn out that way and we have hundreds of limes on the tree! We give them away by the dozens, but can’t keep up with the limes. IMG_8906

Inspiration sometimes comes in strange moments. This morning while I was enjoying a cup of coffee I decided there had to be something to be done with some of these limes. So, I found a great recipe for Lime-Ginger Marmalade. It was really easy to make and I had a great time making it – and it tastes really good!  It has been years since I have made jam or anything like that. I had forgotten how getting lost in the moment of doing something you love is so good for the soul.

Gardening and cooking are such creative outlets. I love the planning, planting, caring for and harvesting a garden, whether it is flowers or vegetables. Cooking for a family has so many dimensions. The planning, shopping, looking for what is in season, what’s on sale, making what your family likes and trying out new things. Cooking together, setting the table, giving thanks, having great conversation, that’s what I remember about meals in our home.

I guess some of the creativity carries over into my real estate business. Challenges almost always seem to arise and thinking creatively about how to best resolve the challenges, and do what’s best for the clients, is a necessity. Whether it is a loan gone bad, something major found in a home inspection, clients who have life altering things happen to them while in escrow…I could go on and on. Thinking creatively to make it all come together is fun and very rewarding. Guess that’s why, for me, being a Realtor ranks right up their with gardening, cooking, and making a happy home!

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Cultivating a Garden, Isn’t It What Life’s All About?

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We have been planting and harvesting gardens, in some size or another, for almost 25 years. We usually planted pumpkins along with tomatoes, peppers, corn, zucchini, you get the picture. When our daughter was growing up, we wanted to have home-grown pumpkins to carve into jack-o-lanterns for Halloween. Most years, we were lucky if we had one or two pumpkins out of the crop, and they never got really big.  We harvested them and used them for decorations during the fall holidays. They served a purpose, but we were always a little disappointed. We could buy really big pumpkins, better for carving, at the grocery store.

This year, we have the most amazing pumpkin patch ever. It has expanded into garden space never intended for the pumpkin patch. But, we are so amazed at what’s happening, we are just letting it go and see what happens. I knew we had a few little pumpkins growing. But when I peeked under the leaves this weekend, I was astonished by what I saw. Pumpkins, lots of pumpkins. And they are going to be big!

In a way, the pumpkin patch reminds me of my business. I sell homes in San Diego, and have been for over 20 years. While I never “farmed” (as they call it in the real estate business) an area, I did try to cultivate relationships with the people I worked with, all over San Diego. Why? Well, I really do like and care about the families I work with. I have always believed that the best business is referral business, word of mouth, people recommending your services. You work hard to provide great service and really care about clients. You take care of their needs; you care about their families, their problems, their triumphs. You help them over rough patches and celebrate the good times with them. You answer questions and give advice.  And, one day, you realize you have this wonderful group of people who want to help you, too! And, 20+ years later, I am amazed and grateful how my business has grown. Kind of like our pumpkin patch!

A True Hero

imagesIndependence Day has always been one of my favorite holidays.  Why?   I guess because it’s about getting together with family and friends for picnics and barbecues, everyone bringing something to share, lazy summer days and warm nights. And, of course, fireworks.

Working with military families, helping them sell or buy homes, is a natural part of my business since I live in San Diego, a very military town. I am proud to call the many military families I have helped “my clients” and love helping them. They hold a special place in my heart.

When my husband was raising the flag on the flag pole in our yard the morning of July 4th this year he had the opportunity to talk with one of our neighbors. When he told me about the conversation, it struck a chord with me. And, later in the day when our neighbor stopped by, I learned what makes a true hero.

Ron is in his 80’s now. He has been married to his best friend and soul mate for about 60 years. Ron is a quiet man, pretty private. He is an old school kind of guy, always polite, never would tell an off colored joke in front of a “lady”.  I have been “Miss Terri” to him since we have known him, about 18 years I guess.

Ron doesn’t share too much about himself. It comes out in spurts, over years. I knew Ron was an orphan, but did not know much else about his childhood. Turns out his birth certificate reads “Infant Male Unknown Last Name”.  Ron didn’t have a name growing up. He was in orphanages and foster homes pretty much his entire childhood. No one ever gave him a name, not a real name. He was called things, but never by his name.

He was in and out of foster homes until he finally stayed in one place. He had a foster-brother, son of his foster parents, and he liked this brother.  When he moved to San Diego  and wanted to join the Navy, he found out he had to have a name on a birth certificate. His brother’s name was Donald, so he took Ronald as his name, along with the brother’s last name. Imagine being 18 years old and finally having a name.

Ron served four years in the Navy during the Korean “Conflict” (never was called a war). He was even in shark infested waters for 16 hours once.  He has never wanted to call attention to himself and talk about his time in the Navy. Talking about it yesterday brought tears to his eyes.  That’s a tale for another day.

So why is Ron a hero to me? This man overcame a childhood that no one should have to endure. He served his country with honor. He married a wonderful woman and they have a great marriage, are devoted to one another. He owned a successful business and raised a family.  He doesn’t seek recognition of any kind, nor does he want it. He is just an everyday kind of guy. The kind who make this country great.  He is my hero.

Want To Make More Money When You Sell Your Home?

ImageSo, you have been pleasantly surprised by the increase in prices and you have decided to take the plunge and put your home on the market. You have watched the TV home improvement shows and know you should “get your home ready” or “stage” it, but what does that mean?

I can’t stress the value of “curb appeal” enough. When potential buyers arrive at your home and walk to the front door, are they making a list repairs that need to be completed? Or, are they drawn to the freshly painted and welcoming front door? The new door mat? The colorful flowers in the pot? It makes a big difference.

I recommend you stand across the street from your home and pretend you are a buyer…what do you see? Let your emotional ties to the home go and be honest.  Is the front door dusty and in need of paint? Can you see the trash cans? Are the walks clean?

Most homes show better with less furniture.  You have decided to move, so start packing! Rent a storage unit for furniture that blocks paths through your home and put them in storage. Do you need all the books on the book shelves – probably not, pack them. What about out of season clothes or toys your kids don’t play with anymore?

Now is the time to de-clutter – if you haven’t used it in a month, does it really need to be out on a counter? If not, donate it or pack it away!

You must de-personalize! Pack up those personal photographs. You want potential buyers to say “I can see myself living here” not wondering what kind of people live here now, looking at your family photos to see if they know you!

Your house needs to shine! Wash windows inside and out. Re-caulk tubs and showers if needed. Polish faucets and mirrors. Replace worn rugs. Hang up fresh towels. Keep the beds made!

Now is the time to make minor repairs. Even better is to have a home inspection that you can provide the buyer with a list of the items you have or will take care of.

Taking a couple of weeks to prepare your home for sale can be worth literally thousands of dollars…REALLY.  I would be happy to share more details for how to prepare your home for sale, just let me know how I can help you!

HOW TO PRICE YOUR HOME TO SELL: Obtaining the best price when selling your home while preparing for appraisal issues

You have decided to sell your home and have set an appointment to meet with your Realtor.  There are many things to discuss during the listing consultation, but one of the most relevant today is pricing.

You may think that is obvious.  After all, you will be looking at the comparable sales as a guide to determine the price you set for your home. But in today’s market, it’s even more important. Why? In most areas of San Diego County, we are experiencing an extremely low inventory of homes for sale – one to two months in many areas. This means that there has been a change in the market and not all appraisers are responding to that.

Appraisal issues are usually fueled by the difference between the price that buyers are willing to pay in today’s competitive market and the appraisals that are based on comparable sales that are two to three months ago. This is especially an issue for first time home buyers who are already competing with investors offering cash, over asking price, with no appraisal contingencies.

Sellers are often dealing with multiple offers in today’s market, giving them the opportunity to obtain the best price for their home, but also to negotiate the best terms. They may have the option to select between investors or first time home buyers; cash buyers, buyers obtaining conventional, FHA or VA financing.  Whether or not your Realtor thinks there may be an appraisal issue is an important discussion to have.

Your listing agent must take the lead when it is appraisal time. I recommend meeting the appraiser at the property and bringing information about the market. If there are multiple offers on the property, that is vital information to convey. The listing agent should be knowledgeable about the comparable sales – were the extenuating circumstances that brought a low price (death on the property, condition, school districts, distress sale).

Sometimes, the issue is an appraiser coming from out of the area. It’s impossible for an appraiser coming from Orange or Riverside Counties to have knowledge about the individual communities in San Diego. Yet, we still see out of area appraisers completing appraisals in San Diego. This was brought about by the initiation of appraisal management companies (AMC’s) that most lenders are now using. These AMC’s often keep half of the appraisal fee charged (the fees used to go directly to the appraisers), and many appraisers are saying they can’t afford to work for half of the fee. So, you may be getting the cheapest and fastest appraiser.  You may not be getting the best appraiser, one who knows your local market.

My advice, price your home based on the most current market data and keep in mind that there may well be appraisal issues in today’s market. Be ready for that possibility and have a plan to deal with the situation if it does happen.  An experienced listing agent can help you every step along the way.

FINDING THE RIGHT REALTOR: What It Takes To Buy A Home In San Diego Today

When I started working with my clients James & Sharon in June, they were really excited about buying their first home. They thought it would take about a week or two to find a home, write an offer, and have it accepted.  But, the rapidly declining inventory of homes for sale in San Diego County, especially in the under $275,000 price range, quickly shattered that illusion!

After viewing many homes, finding out that there were already multiple offers over the asking price, having three offers rejected because other buyers bid over what my clients could afford, we finally had an offer accepted and have since closed escrow. But, it’s not easy!

You are going to need an experienced agent…this is even more important in a competitive market. You need an agent who knows the local market, the other agents in the market, and the market trends. You need a veteran with a good reputation. Why? If there are multiple offers on a property, having an agent with a great reputation may give the listing agent the push they need to recommend the seller take your offer over others. The listing agent and sellers need to know that your agent is a pro who closes transactions.

In the lower price ranges, expect to pay the asking price or more!  With multiple offers now the norm, there really is no point in coming in low, you only diminish your chances of having your offer accepted, or even countered.

Write a biography about you and your family (or have your agent do it). Do you have kids? Where do you work? What do you love about the home? Send it, along with a picture of your family, with the offer. For my clients James & Sharon, it meant they had the edge over the competition. The sellers connected with their family and wanted them to have the home.

Example: I have a home listed for sale, under $275,000, a traditional sale. We had multiple offers. While I advised the seller to counter with all the buyers, they chose to work with only one family. Why?  Because the seller thought her parents would have loved these buyers being the ones to buy the home. They made an emotional connection.

True, in the case of bank owned or investor owned properties, this might not help. But with more and more traditional sales coming on the market, it can mean the difference between you being the lucky buyer selected or not!

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW BEFORE YOU BUY A HOME IN SAN DIEGO

So you think you are ready to take the plunge and buy a home in San Diego. What’s the first step? Well, buying a home is a big step, especially if it’s your first home purchase. After all, it is the largest purchase most people make. It requires thought, preparation, planning, sometimes sacrifice, and the LAST step in the process is looking for a home!

  • Unless you are a veteran or active duty military eligible for a VA loan, you will need a down payment, somewhere between 3.5% and 20% of the purchase price. With some loan programs, you can obtain a “gift” of the funds from a family member. You will also need normal closing costs, 3% of the purchase price is average, but it can be more or less. You can request that a seller pay some or all of the closing costs. If you are asking the seller to pay the closing costs, you don’t have as much negotiating power when it comes to the price. In today’s market, you can expect to pay the asking price OR MORE if you are asking for closing costs.
  • Now is the time to meet with your lender and become pre-approved for a loan. Yes, BEFORE you go house hunting! The lender will need tax returns for the last two years, your most recent pay stubs, copies of your bank statements, information about all your current debt and more. Start collecting the information so it’s easily obtainable when you need it.
  • The lender who is loaning you the money to purchase a home will require that you have some money in “reserve” for an emergency. Even if you have family members willing to “gift” you the down payment and closing costs, you need to have some money saved. Once you are a home owner, you will be responsible for repairs and maintenance on your home. Plumbing leaks, dishwashers break, windows are broken. And, if you are like most people, you will want to make the home your own with paint, maybe carpet or flooring, new furniture or appliances. Now is the time to start the discipline of saving your money! It may mean fewer lattes, fewer dinners out, or skipping a vacation. It will be worth it!
  • Do not buy anything on credit now. It will affect the purchase price of the home you can buy. Wait until AFTER you have closed escrow to buy the new car, furniture, washer and dryer. Do not co-sign a loan for anyone else.
  •  Make a wish list and include everything you want in a home…the area, the size, number of bedrooms, bathrooms, garage, pool or no pool, fixer upper or not, etc. Next, divide the list into “Must Haves” and “It Would Be Nice If It Hads”. Realize that you won’t find everything on either list in any home. Be realistic.
  • Your real estate agent will meet with you and discuss what you want in a home and advise you on what you can and can’t expect to find in your price range in the area you desire. A good agent will take the information and find the homes that meet your requirements. They won’t show you homes that don’t. Why would you want to see them anyway?

The home buying process will be exciting, stressful, and sometimes tiring.  Achieving your goal of home ownership is the ultimate reward!

Is It A Good Fit: How To Choose to Realtor To Sell Your Home

ImageHaving sold homes in San Diego for over 20 years, I am still surprised how many people really have no idea how to choose a Realtor to sell their home. But then again, why would they? Selling a home isn’t something people do every day. Most families are staying in their homes for over five years before selling now, some much more than that.

It might surprise you to know that many real estate agents do not keep in touch with their past clients. Why? A variety of reasons…some were part-time agents and haven’t remained active in the business.  Some agents say they are afraid to talk to their past clients; they just don’t want to know about problems. Some agents are off to find the next sale and maintaining relationships just isn’t a priority. Unfortunately, it is true that most people do not hire the agent who represented them when they bought their home to help them sell it when the time comes!

So, how do you find a good agent? My advice is to ask your family and friends if they have an agent they would recommend. Then find out:

  • Is the agent in the business full-time?
  • Does the agent have a track record of actually selling homes?
  • Can the agent provide references?
  • Does the agent belong to the National Association of Realtors and the state and local Association of Realtors – not all licensed agents are “Realtors”.
  • Does the agent know the local market?
  • Does the agent have a marketing plan?
  • Does the agent have a professional website and presence on the internet?
  • Does the agent return calls, emails, and text messages in a timely manner?
  • Does the agent understand the legal documents they are preparing and asking their clients to sign?
  • Will the agent take the time to make sure you understand the contracts, the process, and anything that comes up in the process?
  • Is there good chemistry between you and the agent? Sometimes personalities just don’t mix, that’s okay!
  • Will the agent give you advice on how to prepare your home for sale?
  • Does the agent review the most recent comparable sales in your area to determine the asking price?

For most families, their home is their largest asset. Finding a professional and experienced Realtor to help protect that asset is an important first step in getting it sold for the best price, within your time frame, and with as little hassle as possible. Taking the time in the beginning to find a great Realtor will save you money, headaches, and will make the process much more enjoyable, maybe even fun!

Are Short Sales For You?

With so many of the homes on the market today being short saleImages, they are something every buyer needs to consider.  Before you jump in with both feet, though, there are some things to think about! 

  • This is not your normal transaction. No matter what terms you and the seller agree to, the lien holders may not agree, and you are back to square one. The lien holders may make seemingly arbitrary decisions or requirements. That is the name of the game! 
  • You will not get a great “deal” with a short sale. Yes, the price may be discounted some, and that may not be worth the wait. The will banks have an appraisal or valuation of the property….we all have access to the same information, so value isn’t a secret. You will see short sale listings priced below market value in some cases. This is to encourage buyers to write an offer so something can be submitted to the lien holders to get the ball rolling. It doesn’t mean that the lien holders will accept the price you offer, and they often do not. You can expect to pay close to market value for a short sale in most cases.
  • Short sales do require experienced agents on both sides of the transaction…it is not time to work with a novice! Especially the listing agent should be experienced with short sales or you may waste months of time.
  • If you do not have extra money for repairs, do not make offers on short sales. In most cases, they are sold in As-Is condition and neither the sellers nor the lien holders will make any repairs. There may be exceptions, but don’t go into a transaction expecting it. If you are purchasing with FHA or VA financing, the property needs to be in good condition. 
  • Short sales take a long time!  The fastest closing I have seen is about 45 days, many take several months…up to a year or more. In our area, 90 to 120 days is normal. So, if you need to be moved in a certain time frame, short sales may not be for you.
  • Remember that even though the short sale process has, in many cases, improved, not all short sales will be approved. Some will never close escrow and will go into foreclosure. 

KCM posted a great article about short sales, you can read here.