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Saturday, January 5, 2008

Beating the Winter Blahs...

January tends to be one of the more depressing months in any year, according to studies done by various health groups. People become depressed when they come down from the emotional high of the Christmas and New Year holiday seasons. The weather doesn't help, especially in the northern states, where we may go days or weeks without seeing the sun in the dead of winter. I remember, back when I used to travel on business a lot, that returning on flights to the Detroit area always seemed to involve descending through a thick layer of cloud cover as we landed at Metro Airport. I'd think at the time that I had just seen the last of the sun for a while. Grey days are the norm in winter in Michigan. There are various good advice articles on how to get enough "artificial sunlight" to maintain your health during the darker winter months.

The other issue that can get a bit depressing involves the lack of things to do or to look forward to as the year progresses through January to March. There is, of course, the over-hyped Super Bowl at the end of January and, in Michigan, we have pretty good basketball at both the college and pro levels locally; as well as an excellent hockey team. You can also watch the start of the new golf season on TV, but sometimes that just makes matters worse, when you realize how long it will be before you can get out on a local course. I'll leave the winter home crafts project suggestions up to Martha Stewart. If you want to read some of the tons of physiological advice pieces that are available on this issue, just Google "Winter Blahs" and take a look at the hundreds of entries.

As a Realtor, I can tell you that nothing lifts the spirits like buying a new home, so let's explore that option for beating the winter blahs.

We are still in a "Buyers' Market" in Michigan, which means it's a great time to be buying. Mortgage rates have remained low, for those with good credit; and the choices on the market have never been better. So, if you've been thinking about downsizing for retirement or getting out of that apartment and finding a house, now is a great time. If you got that big promotion and things look good for the future, now is the time to buy that move-up house. If you've got some spare money that you need to invest, now may be the time to look into real estate as an investment for your future. In the past, real estate consistently outperformed the stock market in terms of steady growth in value. That has not been the case for the last 2-3 years, with falling real estate values; however, all of the experts agree that we are in a temporary "adjustment" period and that real estate will once again become a reliable, appreciating investment soon. Timing the "bottom of the market" is impossible, but most experts agree that we are either there, or you can see it from here, in Michigan anyway. The rest of the country is still catching up (down?) with us, so the press is busy covering that "breaking story."

For the truly adventurous there are all of the foreclosures on the market. Homes that last sold for $300,000 are available right now for under $200,000 in many areas. This is an investment opportunity that must be approached with great caution, since there are lots of potential pitfalls. Get a good Realtor and then get a good home inspector to make sure that you're not buying a money-pit house. You'll also need a great deal of patience and perseverance to get through the process of buying a foreclosed home (see yesterday's post). If you're gong out to look at foreclosed houses, you might want to equip yourself as if you were going spelunking - dress warmly and carry good flashlights. Most foreclosed houses have been winterized and many have no power or gas, so they are cold and dark, especially the basements. Make sure that you hit the bathroom before setting out, since the plumbing isn't likely to be working in foreclosed houses.

One of the more fun aspects of house hunting, especially as you hit the empty houses that are so prevalent these days, is to try to imagine who the last owners were, what they did, and how they lived in the place. That also applies to houses that were involved in a divorce and now have only one of the parties living there - you can tell those places within minutes of entering. You can speculate on what happened to break up the happy family that you'll still see smiling at you from family photos and imagine some of the good times that they may have had in the house. Of course you can also play the game of "Where would the office be?" or "Where will the pool table or the exercise equipment go in this house?" or "How would this house flow if we gave a party?" Those are frequent topics that come up while house hunting and they provide lots to speculate about and discuss in each house.

So, call me if you're looking in Southeastern Michigan and we'll go out on a grand house hunting adventure together. I'll bring bottled water and maybe a snack and certainly a flashlight or two. We'll guess about the prior occupants, mentally position the pool table, and find you a new home. Let's beat the winter blahs together!

P.S. - Notice the new header? That's one of my little winter projects to beat the blahs. I'm tackling some changes to some of my Web sites next. There's nothing like new features becoming available to keep a workaholic geek busy for the winter.

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