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Monday, December 11, 2017

My first YouTube video

I just posted my first YouTube video at

The topic is the same as my last written post here - Before you start looking  - for first-time buyers.

I will be posting a lot more videos for first-time buyers and will keep you posted here. So, check out my first effort. It's a little rough around the edges, but I'll get better at it over time. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

First-time Buyers - Before you start looking

This is the first in a series of posts that will try to provide some advice and guidance to first-time
buyers or those who may not have purchased a home in a while and need to better understand the real estate process as it works today.

There is a temptation to just jump in and start looking at homes, once you have decided that you want to become a homeowner; however there are a number of things that you should accomplish before you start searching for home to visit.

I get it that you can search for a house on-line by yourself. Great! Go for it; however, buying your first house involves a lot more than just finding something that you like on line. Navigating through the real estate process to get to closing on that house is an involved process that is not all that easy.

Here are some tips to help you get the right start, before you start searching for houses.

1. Make a list
Write down the things that are “must haves” and the things that are “would be nice to have”. 
Prioritize the list, share it with your Realtor® and keep it with you as you search. If you make changes, share those with your Realtor, too.

2. Find a good Realtor®
The real estate process is not rocket science, but it is something that you probably don’t know enough about. You need a guide, a Realtor to help you through the process.

To understand why having your own real estate agent is important, read this article -

3. Get pre-approved
Find a good mortgage person and get your mortgage pre-approval lined up. This will help you “get real” about what you can afford and will prepare you, so that you can make an offer when you do find the right house. Your Realtor can probably recommend 2-3 good mortgage agents to call.

More helpful hints and tips about the real estate process in future posts.

For a more in-depth post about things to do before you start looking see the article that I posted to one of my web site -

Norm Werner is a Realtor® working for Real Estate One in Milford, Michigan. Norms helps people buy and sell houses in Southeastern Michigan, in Oakland, Livingston and Macomb Counties You can contact Norm about finding a new home or about getting a Market Analysis for your current home by texting  or calling him at 248-763-2497 or click here to go to his web site and fill out a Help Form for buyers and sellers.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Winterizing your Air Conditioner

I guess that it took snow flakes flying in the wind this weekend to get me to think about posting this
guest post on how to winterize you air conditioners(s). The post is from Bob Wells, a retired HVAC pro. read more about Bob at the end of the post. I wan to thank him for sending me this.

The deep freeze is near, and you’re probably running through your checklist to make sure you’ve got a supply of salt, a snow shovel or two and everything else in place for winter. One question I often get asked by homeowners is how to get their air conditioner unit ready for Winter. There’s not really much involved, but it’s good to be aware of the do’s and don’ts.

The main thrust of this article is going to be on central air units since more and more homes have these. I’ll touch a bit on portable and window units at the end, though.

What to Do Before the Snow and Ice Hit 

There are several steps to take once the cool weather starts and the onset of the cold begins.

First, clean your unit thoroughly while the temperatures are still mild. Get rid of any grass clippings, twigs and leaves on or around it - be sure to check underneath too, if it’s raised even a tiny bit off the ground. Wipe off any bird droppings, dirt and whatever else may have accumulated. Take the garden house and spray through the unit as well. To be thorough, do it from all sides. Then allow it to dry out.

Once the unit’s had a chance to dry, you can turn it off. We know how volatile the weather can be and that there’s likely to be that one warm day that would kick the air conditioning back on. But that would push water back through which could then freeze as soon as the temperature drops back down again.

You’ll also want to cover the pipes with pipe insulation.  This foam is already shaped for the pipe; you just have to cut it to the right length. This kind of insulation is available at practically any hardware store, and the store should be able to recommend the right diameter for the pipes on your model of air conditioner. Helpful hint: it’s easiest to get the right fit if you cover the corners and “T”’s first.

When Should You Use An Air Conditioner Cover

There are a lot of air conditioner covers on the market. At the same time, there’s not a lot of agreement on whether you should use them. My own recommendation is to not use them for the whole winter. Instead, just toss them all when needed. Let’s look at some reasons.

Air conditioner units are built to withstand the elements. They’re constructed as sturdy, outdoor equipment. So they don’t need a lot in the way of extra protection.

Covering them can also trap moisture inside. That can lead to mold and mildew on the inside of your unit. Definitely not ideal when it has a chance to grow for four or five months protected from the frigid temperatures.

That bit of shelter from the elements can also be attractive to mice, rats and other small animals, who may find your air conditioner now makes a great place to stay relatively warm. You may end up with a nest and even a new, unexpected family of rodents.

None of that is to say you should never use an air conditioner cover. If a bad storm is predicted, a cover can be a great way to provide protection for your unit. Even if it’s just high winds, it helps keep out leaves and dirt, as long as it’s a high-quality cover that fastens down securely.

After a snow or ice storm, clean off the cover (or the unit itself), including brushing out the vents. Also, shovel around the base to create a little distance. Try to be alert to any drifting that might occur in the coming downs and keep the unit unblocked.

Once you remove the cover, make sure you leave it somewhere so that it can be spread out and allowed to dry as well.

By following this advice, you’ll have a unit that has the protection it needs and is kept in great shape from season to season.

What About Window Units? 

Not everyone has central air, of course. Or there may be a part of your house where a window unit or portable air conditioner just works better. Let’s look at those cases.

A portable unit vents through the window. This is the easiest to stow since there’s no heavy equipment to remove. Just remove the hose and the vent from the window. Be sure to drain the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Clean it up and store it.

A window unit should be removed if it all possible. These air conditioners allow a great deal of cold air to pass through the unit itself as well as through the accordion panels on the sides.
Remember that these are heavy and awkward pieces of equipment. It’s not a one-person job. Be sure to have at least one other person around who can help with removing the units.

Store the unit on a flat surface. It’s not a good idea to store it on its end because all the refrigerant inside will run to the wrong section. To keep it clean, you can toss an old bedspread over it.

If you absolutely cannot remove your window unit, be sure to invest in good insulation for it. There are a variety of brands available that can be used on the inside or outside of the unit. Using both can be great, although sometimes it’s impractical to use the outside cover - like when the unit’s in a 2nd- or 3rd-floor window.

In this case, you can leave the cover on all winter, since it serves as insulation, not just protection for your unit.


Your air conditioning unit definitely should be part of your preparation for the cold weather. Cleaning it up and making sure it’s ready to face the bitter Michigan winter is important, but fortunately it’s not complicated. Take the time now while the weather’s still mild to start the process and help extend your unit’s life!

This is a guest post by Bob Wells, a retired HVAC tech who now dedicates himself to sharing knowledge on his website HVAC Training 101. Bob worked over 30 years in the field, 23 of which he ran his own contracting business. He’s dedicated to keeping up with the latest developments in the field and helping others to learn the trade better and advance their own careers.

Bob is on Twitter with the handle @hvactraining101 and you can also find him on Facebook.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Open House today at 730 MIlford Glen

Hey everybody; I'll be holding 730 Milford Glen open today - Sunday, November 12, from 1 PM until 3 PM.

Come visit this nice 3 bedroom 2.1 baths home just blocks from downtown Milford. It's an easy walk from this home to the shops and restaurants of Milford. The hoe features a rare (in the Village) first floor master suite with huge walk-in closet and a master bath with separate shower and tub , plus dual sink vanity.

For a preview watch this video -

I'll have fresh cookies there, too.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Open House on October 22

I'm holding 730 Milford Glen open on Sunday, October 22, from 1 - 4 PM. Come out and see this wonderful 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath Cape Cod in the heart of the Village of Milford. This home features a very had to find first floor master suite, with huge walk-in closet and bib master bath with separate tun and shower and dual vanity sinks. The open floor plan on the entry level is sure to please. The kitchen features an island and granite tops. I'll have fresh cookies for visitors, so come on out.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

What are stigmas in real estate?

The word stigma is defined at its most generic level as a mark of shame or disgrace. In the real estate industry there is the concept that a property can become stigmatized; that is that a stigma of some sort becomes associated with it which impacts its value in a negative way. The association of a stigma with a property may be caused by some very real circumstance or physical attribute; or, it may be some totally imagined cause (such as the house being haunted).

Many stigmas in real estate are caused by the association of the property with some event, perhaps a death in the house. Deaths in the house are the most usual the source of the rumors of the house being haunted. If the deaths were judged to have been murders the stigma associated with the property can become even stronger, especially if the person who was killed was well-known or even famous. People who are superstitious tend to avoid homes with death stigmas associated with them, even if those deaths are only rumored or urban legends.

Haunted house stigmas may add to the appeal for some, but mostly they just scare off superstitious
would-be buyers. Anything that reduced the pool of potential buyers is having a negative impact on the value of the property.  Since there is no way to prove or disprove this stigma, it is one of the harder one’s to argue against. People either believe or don’t believe in the concepts of ghosts and haunting.

Some stigmas are caused by very real circumstances. Homes located next to power substations or gas pipelines and substations carry with them the stigma of fears about dangers from explosions or lightning strikes. While there have been very few cases of such things happening, they have happened often enough, and with enough media coverage, to keep the stigma alive. Being next to railroad tracks is another very real, location-based stigma. Those stigmas do have a negative impact on the values of the real estate properties that are located around them.  Not everyone is frightened off by those stigmas, but enough people are dissuaded to impact the values negatively.

Stigmas may be caused by the actions of the sellers of properties. Sellers who hold out too long at a price above the market may find that they’ve created an imagined stigma in the minds of potential buyers of “what’s wrong with that house that it won’t sell?” That same thing can happen if the price of a property is suddenly dropped by a large amount. Would be buyer may associate such a reduction  The same thing happens if the property is taken off the market and listed as Pending and then comes back on the market. If the deal fell through because the buyer couldn't get his mortgage through no fault of the property, the seller should make sure that his/her agent clearly states the reason for the failure of the sale in the re-listing of the property. If it was some fault with the property that caused the buyer to bolt, the seller needs to fix the issue and have his agent clearly explain things to new buyer agents.
as an indication that there is a problem with the property – a stigma.

Most stigmas do not stand up well to logical analysis of the situation; but, then, logic does not always carry the day when it comes to people and why they would buy or not buy something. The power and gas industries go to great lengths to insure the safety of their installations and there is little evidence that would support the fears of catastrophic events taking place because of them.  However, there is no denying that they can’t be completely hidden and that just the fact that, in most cases, their industrial appearances detract from the look of the surrounding area may impact the value of those surrounding properties. They cause a stigma on the surrounding properties.

What should you do if your house is associated with a stigma? You can try to provide as much information as possible to disprove or at least mitigate the stigma; or, you can just accept the fact that
the stigma, fairly or unfairly, will have an impact on your property’s value and move on. The stigma will probably reduce the pool of potential buyers by some amount, but that does not mean that no one will buy it. If it is an imagined stigma, like the property being haunted, the pool of remaining buyers will probably be non-believers in such things anyway and the value impact may be small or none at all. If it is a stigma associated with something physical, such as being next to a gas pipeline right of way, pumping station or control station; or, next to a power distribution substation, there is little that you can do. If those things were there when you got there, try to remember why you ignored them and bought anyway. You may have some success working with the company involved to use landscaping to hide the facility as best as they can.

Stigmas don’t totally destroy property values, but they usually do have a negative impact of some magnitude. 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Interesting Infographic on roofs

I get stuff sent to me all the time from various companies askingthat I feature it on a blog. Most of it I just delete, but this infographic has some pretty good information about a specific type of roof, so I decided to pass it on.

The infographic was supplied by Country Towne.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

4th of July Parade Seeks Sponsors and Participants

The Milford Historical Society is seeking both sponsors and participants for the 2017 Huron Valley Independence Day Parade (the 4th of July Parade) in downtown Milford. Norm Werner, co-chairman of the 4th of July Parade Committee said, “We want to do things to improve the parade and those things generally cost money. Just to do a flyover with a few planes can cost up to $1,000. Other things that could be added also come at a cost, also. We are seeking contributions from local businesses to help off-set those costs.”

The Independence Day Parade is organized and run by the Milford Historical Society, which is a 501c3 Non-Profit located in Milford. The Milford Historical Society runs the Milford Historical Museum in Milford and hosts several events during the year, including the Granny’s Attic Sale and the Milford Home tour, in addition to the parade.

Werner also said, “We are also looking for more participants this year and encourage local business and organizations to get into the parade lineup. Groups may march in the parade or have a vehicle or a float, or do all three. It’s a great way to promote your business or organization and to say thank you to the community for their support. We especially would like to get boy and girl scout troops back into the parade, as well as Brownies and Cub Scouts. Any bands or group from bands would also be great to have.” This year Kensington Metropark will have their team of Clydesdales pulling their big wagon in the parade.

The parade is held on the 4th of July, which hits on a Tuesday this year. The parade lineup starts at 10 AM and the parade steps off at 11 AM. The parade will line up again this year on N. Main/N. Milford Road north of Commerce and on Union and Hickory Streets. Once you have registered to be in the parade you will be assigned a parade slot and be given a map to your lineup location. “We hope to have more participation by military and patriotic groups this year”, Werner said. “We also need volunteers to help run the parader and act as street guards and to direct the parade participants.”

For information about the parade and to download a Parade Participant application and parade rules, visit the web site Companies or organizations wishing to help sponsor the parade will also find a Parade Sponsor form at that web site or they may call Norm Werner at 248-763-2497 or Rich Harrison at 248-935-5556. People who wish to volunteer to help with the parade should contact Norm.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Factors to Consider When Utilizing a Power of Attorney in a Real Estate Transaction from the Title Insurer’s Standpoint

( Ed. - This is a guest article that was written by Renee Cooper, a local attorney who works as legal counsel for Title Connect, LLC, which is a local title company. In the article, Renee discusses the use of a Power of Attorney from the perspective of the title company. Power of Attorney documents are used often in real estate transactions when one or more of the parties involved cannot be at the closing and desired to have someone else sign for them. It is also used in cases where the selling party is no longer physically or mentally capable of handling their own affairs.)

Factors to Consider When Utilizing a Power of Attorney in a Real Estate Transaction from the Title Insurer’s Standpoint

Commercial Counsel
Title Connect, LLC

The definition of a Power of Attorney (“POA”) is when a natural person (the Principal) provides written authorization to another person (the Attorney-in-Fact) to act as his/her agent for a certain limited action specified a written document. Although a POA is certainly not uncommon in the context of a real estate
transaction, you may wonder what the title insurance company assesses when a POA is presented.

The Michigan Title Standards provide the following limited guidance regarding a POA:
Michigan Title Standard 3.17:

“An interest in real property may be conveyed or encumbered by an instrument executed pursuant to a power of attorney only if the power of attorney specifically authorizes the attorney in fact to convey or encumber the interest on behalf of the principal.”

In addition to reviewing the Power of Attorney document, here is a list of some factors to consider when determining if a POA may be utilized in a real estate transaction:

1. What is the reason for the POA? The purchase and sale of real property is a significant event in most people’s lives. Determining that a POA is absolutely necessary is a good starting point in the underwriting process.

2. What is the relationship between the Principal and the Attorney-in-Fact? This piece of information is important in the review of the POA and allows the title company to approve the POA or in some situations, request additional documentation or information. In general, a POA being used to convey title to the POA is generally not acceptable to title companies.

3. When was the POA executed? Although the Michigan Title Standards do not require the POA be executed within a certain timeframe, most title insurance
companies will require the POA be executed within one year of the transaction.

4. Is the Principal’s signature valid? One of the most common issues with Powers of Attorney is forgery. As such, the title company may request a copy of the
Principal’s driver’s license or passport. Additional documentation may be required.

5. What is the difference between a general POA and Durable POA? A general/limited POA is only for the purpose specified in the POA document and terminates when the principal dies or becomes incapacitated. Michigan has adopted MCL 700.5504, which allows the use of a durable POA. A Durable POA confers authority to the attorney in fact and remains notwithstanding the principal's subsequent disability or incapacity.

6. What is Military Power of Attorney? As long as the Principal is in active military service at the time the transaction closes, you may permit use of a Military POA. This type of POA is exempt from individual state law requirements and should be reviewed by an attorney or underwriting counsel.

7. What should be included in the POA? The POA should be executed by a notary public and recorded with the deed or mortgage document. In addition, the POA should include a description of the property being transferred or encumbered.

In conclusion, the use of a POA does raise additional issues that the title company will need to review. However, by providing notice as soon as possible of the intent to use a POA will help assure that your transaction will not be unnecessarily delayed.

Title Connect, LLC is a full service title insurance agency with headquarters located in Farmington Hills, Michigan. Title Connect also has offices in Bay City, Brighton, Clinton Township, Detroit, Taylor and Florida.

(ED. - As a Realtor, I often see the use of a POA in cases of elderly home owners who have given the POA to one of their children to allow them to handle their affairs. The other common thing that I run into with a POA is a spouse who has been given the POA, so that he/she can sign for the other party when the missing spouse is out of state, or even out of country on business or for a job. It is important to have the POA reviewed and approved by the title company well ahead of the closing, in case there needs to be corrections or clarifications made. In some rare cases, even a durable power of attorney may be challenged by other heirs, especially in cases of estranged children who may object to how the estate is being handled. Very few things are as straightforward as you might think that they would be.)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Is your house FireSmart?

I get a daily news feed from Realty Times and there is always something interesting to read in those short articles. Recently I got an article about what the author with the intriguing headline – Why Some Homes Survive Wildfires - And Others Don't. 

The article written by Jim Adair for a Canadian audience was about so-called called FireSmart house design – the things that one can do to make one’s home more likely to survive a wildfire incident. To read Jim’s article on the  Realty Times web site click here -

Admittedly, here in my little Village in Southeastern Michigan, we don’t get many wildfires; however, I have plenty of neighbors with “cabins up North”, whose get-away homes are nestled in the middle of woods that could be susceptible to an occasional wildfire. Certainly we have seen wildfires out west and down south over the past year. I also see from time to time local news stories of fires that start in one house and quickly spread to others nearby. The design principals that are discussed in the article would help prevent that, too.

The article referenced a booklet that was created to illustrate the design features that either help or hurt your house in the face or a wildfire. You can download that booklet for here -

Much of the advice in the article is what might be thought of as common sense; however, like other things in life we oft forget to apply common sense to our daily lives until someone points it out. Some of the advice is about home design features that can aid or thwart a fire trying to find a way to ignite the combustible materials in your home. Some of these pieces of advice are “Why didn’t I think of that” little gems and some are “I knew that, but I didn’t do it” items.

When the conflagration occurs, you don’t want to be standing there with a pathetic little garden house trying to save your house from a neighborhood fire when you could have done things to help it protect itself. In the case of a real wild fire, I don’t recommend the garden hose strategy anyway. So, whether your home is sitting in the middle of a forest or in the middle of an urban neighborhood, read the article and think about the things that you might be able to do with your home to make it FireSmart.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Real Estate Market Report for May 2017

The real estate market in Southeast Michigan remains very "tight", with record low inventory driving market prices up. The graphic below provides a quick summary:

In this very "tight", low-inventory market is is more important than ever to seek the good real estate advice of a Realtor. It is definitely a "seller's market"; but, that does not mean that sellers can be successful with outrageous prices or that buyers must engage in bidding wars on every house. Both buyers and sellers risk making serious mistakes without the guidance and help of a good Realtor.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Other topics that you may have Questions about.

Understanding the Real Estate Process from A – Z – A Buyer’s Guide to Real Estate – Part 15

This is the fifteenth and final post of a series of posts for buyers (especially first-time buyers) in an FAQ format that I hope will help would be buyers better understand the real estate process that they are about to go through. This is a follow-on series to the posts for real estate sellers.

FAQ -  What are some other topics that you may have Questions about?
This post is mostly links to interesting articles and posts on other sites about the topics that weren’t covered in the first 14 posts. The real estate process is never the same twice and not all of these topics would come up in a typical purchase; but they do come up.

Where can I get help with my down payment? There is a State Government program available in Michigan (there are probably similar programs in other states) under MSHDA (Michigan State Housing and Development Authority). This response is from their site.

Is there any way to buy a house these days for zero down? - There are at least two programs available in Michigan in which you might qualify for a zero-down loan the USDA Rural Development Program and under your VA Benefits. There are special VA programs for disabled vets.

PMI – What is it and do I have to have it? From Under FHA, VA and USDA this would be called MIP and here’s an article on MIP and how to cancel it. PMI (nee MIP) is a fact of life for most home buyers who cannot afford a 20% down payment. PMI is basically an insurance policy for the lender, in case you default early in the loan period. PMI adds no value for you, so the faster that you can get it off the loan the better.

Land Contracts – What are they – good article by Elizabeth Winetraub. Land contracts offer an alternative for buying an house when your credit score won’t justify a mortgage, even though you may have steady employment and can otherwise afford the monthly payments.

Rent-to-Own – What’s that all about – from the How stuff Works site. Rent to is another way to buy a house if you can’t afford a down payment right now. It isn’t real popular with sellers, but you may find some who just want to get out from under their monthly mortgage payments who will consider this approach.  

Tips for Unmarried Couples Buying a Home – it’s not the same and it’s not playing house. This is a somewhat touchy subject, as are all things that mix love and money. Make sure that you protect your interests if you try to buy a house with anyone that you are not married to at the time.
Housing for LGBT People: What You Need to Know About Property Ownership and DiscriminationWhile generally covered in existing anti-discrimination laws, there are grey areas in the laws that can lead to sticky situations.
Guide to Buying a Home of Your Own for People with Disabilities – Good advice on what to look for and what to avoid  in houses for those with disabilities.
Advice for Military Service Members about Home Buying from Veterans United – Good advice and tips on the programs for veterans who are trying to buy a house.
Fair Housing Act – The HUD site that explains what your rights are under the Fair Housing Act

Home Warranties - Do I need One? – From Angies’ List – are they worthwhile?

Wells and Septics – I’ve never had that before, what should I know about them? – a good read on the topic from the Barrington Area Council of Governments

Where can I find a map of the lake that the home I’m considering buying is on? – In Michigan the DNR maintains these maps of inland lakes

A Real Estate Glossary – this is a Web site that seems to have a relatively complete glossary of real estate and mortgage terminology

Home Buying Articles and Advice – the same Web site as the for the glossary above has a good collection of articles on home buying to read

Home remodeling – How much is too much? – from Yahoo’s Finance section

Divorce and Real Estate – a link to – It is not easy or straightforward sometimes to get out from under the obligations that live on after a divorce. There is lots of good advice at this site.

Who owns the fence - an interesting article on the issue of shared fences

Mineral rights- what are they? How do I know if I own the mineral rights to my property?

Water Damage and Mold - a link to a great informational site dealing with those two issues.

What should I know about asbestos? Asbestos was used somewhere in some way in most homes built before the 1960’s. Most of the time is was used as an insulator, in the heating systems or is materials used as wall and attic insulation. It was also used to make floor tiles and siding for homes. Asbestos is a leading cause of cancer and you may end up running in to it in a home modernization project. Here is sa good site to do some research on before you try tackling asbestos -

Thanks for taking the time to read through this series of posts. It is somewhat presumptuous of me to say that I’ve covered the real estate process from A to Z; so, if f you have questions that were not covered here, please email me and ask your questions. I’ll try to answer and you’ll be helping not only yourself, but others who probably are hitting the same things that you are.

Monday, May 22, 2017

We closed and I have the keys. Anything else that I should know?

Understanding the Real Estate Process from A – Z – A Buyer’s Guide to Real Estate – Part 14

This is the fourteenth post of a series in an FAQ format that I hope will help would be buyers better understand the real estate process that they are about to go through. There is a follow-on series to the posts for real estate sellers.

FAQ -  We closed and I have the keys. Anything else that I should know?
Congratulations! Enjoy your new home. The closer at the closing should have given you a packet with copies of all of the closing docs and mortgage papers in it. Make sure you find a safe place to sort those documents. You should receive a copy of the deed from the County in about a month. Put that with your closing packet.  

In Michigan the closer would have put the Homestead Exemption form on top of your packet, so that you can take that to the Township and claim your homestead exemption. That has the impact of lowering your taxes on the property about 30% lower than they would be without it, so get over to the Township and get that in ASAP.

For most closings you would now be pretty much home free. We’ll just look at a few things to be aware of and a danger or two.

If you were provided with a Home Warranty as part of the deal, it’s a good idea to call the company
and just make sure that they have your contact information correctly recorded in their database. Also put the warranty brochure or other paperwork that you received somewhere safe and somewhere that you can remember if you need to call in a problem. Remember that you must call the warranty company first if there is a problem. They will not reimburse you after you’ve called your own plumber in to fix something.

Make sure to contact the various utilities to check that they have done any final readings that were requested and transitioned the accounts into your name. If you are on city water and sewer you may have to wait until the next billing cycle before the bill can be pro-rated between you and the seller. Check with the city water department on how they will do that. If the bill comes to the house, contact the title company that represented the seller and get them a copy of the bill. They are responsible for paying the pro-rated portion that the seller owes. You may have to send it through your agent and the listing agent to get it to the right place.

You may wish to consider having the door locks re-keyed. Even if the seller gave you all of the keys that they had to the place there could be others out there in the hands of relatives or neighbors. It’s just good practice to change the locks when you change ownership.

What about if I find something unexpected wrong with the house now?

Well, at this point it’s your house. You had your chances at the inspections and final walk-through to uncover those things. It is possible that the old owner was unaware of the problem, so don’t
immediately assume that this was some defect that they hid from you. Hopefully it is covered under the home warranty. If not, it is your problem now as the new owners. If it is an issue concerning a cloud on the title (a long lost relative suddenly showing up and claiming a right to the property) call the title company. It is their responsibility to protect you against that type of claim.

It can get a little hairy if it involves an unrecorded lien (or tax) against the property. You can make the case that the title company should have found that lien and they will fight back that it was not recorded anywhere and their title commit clearly states that they are insuring you against recorded issues. If it turns out to be a tax issue the title company probably should have caught that and you should press your case with them.

It is possible that the old owners did hide some material facts from you; things like the fact that they finished the basement themselves without pulling permits (lots of homeowners do that) or that the deck that they built out back actually encroaches 5 feet into the rear neighbor’s yard. Those “facts” should have been disclosed on the Seller’s Disclosure, so maybe you think that was a fraudulent document; however, we have just stepped across the line from real estate into legal matters, so I will invite you to find a good lawyer to handle your questions on what to do about that.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series of FAQ posts about the real estate process from the buyer’s perspective. I have one more post for buyers to cover some topics that may not have fit into any of the other posts. Most of that post will be links to background reading that might help answer questions for first-time buyers or buyers moving into strange new situations, like moving from the city to the country. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What if everything didn’t go well and I need to cancel the deal?

Understanding the Real Estate Process from A – Z – A Buyer’s Guide to Real Estate – Part 13

This is the thirteenth post of a series in an FAQ format that I hope will help would be buyers better understand the real estate process that they are about to go through. There is a follow-on series to the posts for real estate sellers.

FAQ -  What if everything didn’t go well and I need to cancel the deal?

Every so often a deal will go south. That is usually due to things like the buyer not being able to get the mortgage that he/she thought that they were pre-approved to get or perhaps because there was a defect found in the home inspection that the parties could not agree upon a resolution for or that the buyer just couldn’t live with (the presence of asbestos, radon or mold often cause this problem).
In cases where there is no way to move forward with the deal you will need to document the end of the deal. There is a document that we use locally called a Mutual Release of Purchase Agreement and there are probably variations of that document in every state. The Mutual Release basically states that the obligations contained in the Purchase Agreement are declared to be null and void and it specifies how the dispersal of the Buyer’s Earnest Money Deposit (EMD) is to be handled – usually just given back to the Buyer.

Occasionally there might be a disagreement between the Seller and the Buyer that cannot be amiably
resolved. The Seller may balk at signing off on the Mutual Release of Purchase Agreement or perhaps the Buyer wished to move ahead but the Seller no longer wishes to sell the house to the Buyer. There are usually provisions in the Purchase Agreement to deal with impasses like these and it usually involves either arbitration or perhaps even the need to take the dispute to court.

If the failure of the Buyer to perform on the contract is due to his inability to get a mortgage or is the direct result of his dissatisfaction with the inspection results or the results of the title search, the Buyer is on pretty firm legal grounds to declare the contract to be void and get the Earnest Money Deposit back in total. If there are issues resulting from the inspection that the seller refuses to fix, it is usual that he may also declare the contract to be void. 

It is a somewhat gray area if the Buyer does one of the stupid things that I warned against in an earlier post and his approval for the mortgage is impacted. A seller could make the case that the Buyer had met the requirement for financing that is in the PA and might balk at letting the Buyer out of the contract AND giving him his EMD back. I have also seen one case of Buyer’s remorse right before closing that resulted in the contract being voided and the Seller keeping the EMD deposit. The Buyer was out several thousand dollars in that case.
If the Seller just gets seller’s remorse and decides not to sell, there is little that the Buyer can do except take the Seller to court and ask the court to force the Seller to honor the contract. A reasonable amount of court cases have been tried and have resulted in the precedent that the courts are reluctant to force an owner to sell. Of course, the Buyer would get their EMD back, but they would still be out several hundred dollars to the mortgage company for the sunk-money expenses of the loan application and the appraisal, as well as the home inspection. There is little recourse for the Buyer to recoup those expenses, other than an attempt through the small claims court. The Buyer should consult his attorney for guidance on that.

As the Buyer, at this point you will need to start over with a new search for another property. You will be a wiser Buyer this time.

Monday, May 15, 2017

I got through the inspection and appraisal OK; what do I do now?

 Understanding the Real Estate Process from A – Z – A Buyer’s Guide to Real Estate – Part 12

This is the twelfth post of a series in an FAQ format that I hope will help would be buyers better understand the real estate process that they are about to go through. There is a follow-on series to the posts for real estate sellers.

FAQ  –  I got through the inspection and appraisal OK; what do I do now?

Probably more important than what you can be doing while awaiting the closing date is what you SHOULD NOT BE DOING, which is making big credit purchases, like new furniture or a new car or any other big hits to your credit cards and your credit worthiness. A big part of what the mortgage
company underwriter looks at when evaluating your credit worthiness is your debt to income ratio. Your income is unlikely to change dramatically in the few weeks until closing, but your debt could, if you go out and start buying new furniture for your new home on credit.

I’m sure that your mortgage person already told you that, but it is worth reinforcing. I had a young man as a client who made an accepted offer on what was to be his first home. After getting through the inspection process (and having the homeowner make some repairs) and the appraisal, he felt so good about moving into his first house that he decided that his older car wouldn’t look right in his new driveway, so he bought a new car to go with his new house. That purchase showed up nm his credit report, which the underwriter checked before giving the “clear to close”, and he no longer qualified for the mortgage, due to his increased debt. The deal fell apart. He was devastated and the seller was very angry, as you can imagine.

So, the message is to cool your jets on all of your plans for the new house. Don’t run out and start buying things for it, not even the paint that you are planning to use to change the colors inside. Don’t do anything that changes your debit to income ratio. The mortgage company underwriter will pull your credit report one last time just before issuing the “clear to close” on the mortgage and you will be required to sign an affidavit at closing that states that everything that you put on the mortgage application is substantially the same as when you filled it out.

I actually had a client once who got laid off from his job the week of the closing on his new-build house. He had not yet sold his current house that I had listed at the time. He wanted to go through with the closing, but I informed him of the affidavit and the consequences of lying about his employment situation and he pulled out of the deal, even though he lost a substantial amount of money from the down payment that he had already made. He would have had to commit fraud, has he lied and signed that affidavit.  He was off work for 6 months and ended up glad that he did not try to go through with that deal.

There are many things that you will need to be dong while you await the closing date. One thing that your mortgage company will insist upon is lining up insurance for the place. The mortgage company usually requires that you provide proof of a pre-paid, one-year homeowners insurance policy on the place. You should also reach out to the utility companies and set up accounts for your gas, power and water/sewer (if you aren’t on a well and septic). If you are an existing customer of those same companies you won’t have to establish a complete new account; however, first-time home buyers will have to set up accounts. When you get to the closing date you will want to inform the utilities that you are “transitioning in” to the property. The Seller should have also informed them that he is transitioning out and should have ask for final readings, so that his final bill can be calculated. 

Your mortgage rep should have already gone over the various things that you will be paying for in the closing costs. Remember that, in Michigan at least, you will be picking up the property taxes from the closing date forward. In most of Michigan, property taxes are paid in advance, so the Seller will be reimbursed for any un-used portion of his last property tax bill and that will be shifted to you. You will also be paying for a title insurance policy that protects your mortgage company, in case of a ownership dispute later. The Seller actually pays for the title policy that protects you. The mortgage company will also establish an escrow account to collect for the next tax bills and you will have to pay into that to bring it up to date. Of course there are various mortgage company fees and costs that
will show up on your Purchasers Closing Statement (what used to be called the HUD Statement).

By law you should receive that Closing Statement three days ahead of the closing date.  Look it over carefully and make sure that you understand what all of the fees and charges are that you have to pay for and have your mortgage person explain them to you, if necessary. You will receive the other closing documents at that time too, so look them over for any errors, like having your name wrong or having the wrong property listed (it happens).

Sometime within the last 24-48 hours before the closing, you will have the opportunity to do a “final walk-through” of the property. This is to give you a last opportunity to make sure that the property is substantially the same as it was when you made the offer. Sellers have been known to make honest (or otherwise) mistakes and remove things from the house that were supposed to stay – most often things like light fixtures or window treatments. If you see that something has been removed or if you notice damage that you can’t live with, you have the right to require the Seller to replace the items or make the repairs or you can still walk away from the deal. Most Seller will not let the deal fall apart because of some issues like those and most of these things can be resolved. If there is a large change in the sale price, due to a seller concession for something the closing may be delayed while new paperwork is prepared and the three-day review clock is reset.

If the PA specifies some amount of post-closing occupancy for the Seller you won’t be getting the keys at closing, so you’ll have to wait some more. You’ll probably do another walk-through the day before the occupancy ends or the day that the keys are turned over, so that you can assess any damage that the Seller (now a renter in the home) might have caused. You should have had some provision in the PA for a post-closing occupancy damage deposit, from which you’ll need to negotiate with the Seller to cover those damages. This can be a sticky situation, so don’t get to nit-picky about really minor stuff.

So, the bottom line is not to do anything stupid financially that would jeopardize the deal and to do the things necessary to be ready to move in after closing.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The appraisal came in too low. What do I do?

 Understanding the Real Estate Process from A – Z – A Buyer’s Guide to Real Estate – Part 12

This is the twelfth post of a series in an FAQ format that I hope will help would be buyers better understand the real estate process that they are about to go through. There is a follow-on series to the posts for real estate sellers.

FAQ  –  The appraisal came in too low. What do I do?
Once again, don’t panic. There are several reasons that the appraisal may have come back lower than
the selling price. One is obvious – the place is overpriced and the value is just not there to support the sale price.  A second is that the appraiser might not have done a good job of assessing the house’s value. He or she may not be familiar with the area and have picked the wrong “comps” to compare the house to (which happens sometimes when out of area appraisers are assigned the appraisal). In general, experienced and competent appraisers will be able to do a good job of rendering an opinion of value, even if they are a bit out of their normal territory.

So, what do you do now? Your mortgage company is not going to write a mortgage on the place if it is significantly below the value of the price that you have agreed to pay. The ball is back in your court. You can throw the ball over to the Seller by letting him know that the appraisal came in low and asking him to reduce his price to match the appraised value; or, you can decide to make up the difference yourself, if you are confident that the values are rising and will eventually reach or surpass the sale price; or, you can try to reach some compromise with the Seller. Quite often the last choice is the one that works.

If the seller refuses to budge off the price that he agreed to you really only have two choices – kick in the extra money on the deal above what the mortgage company will finance in order to reach the sale price; or, walk away from the deal. Many times Buyers are reluctant to take that final option to walk away because they have real money already sunk in the deal, as well as emotional momentum to go ahead with it. The Buyer at this point has probably spent close to (or more than) $1,000 on the home inspection and the mortgage costs (the appraisal fee and any other application fees). That is sunk money that they will not get back. If they walk away at this point they will get their Earnest Money Deposit back.

Many times the Buyers are pretty well tapped out at this point, because of the expenses that they have already incurred and the closing costs that are yet to come. That may force them to seek some additional financial help, maybe from mom and dad, or to work with their mortgage person to try a different mortgage approach – perhaps with a different mortgage product that will free up some cash to be used to pay down the appraisal difference. 

Most of the time the Sellers are willing to work with the Buyers to adjust the price. Perhaps they priced too high to test the market and realize that the appraisal price is actually a good number for their home. It may take them a little while, because they have to give up on the euphoria of having gotten such a good price for their house. They will come to realize that they appraisal price probably does represent the “market value” and that the Buyer that they have in hand is better than going back on the market to try to find someone else who might be willing and able to pay above  the market price.

The best course of action is to listen to the advice of your Realtor® and let them do their negotiating
job on your behalf. Both of the Realtors involved have probably been through this before and know how to navigate these tricky waters. Either, or both, of the Realtors may advise trying to get a second appraisal is they agree that the appraiser did a lousy job.  There will probably be some negotiation about who pays for that second appraisal and your will need the agreement of the mortgage company underwriter to accept the results.

At some point, you will reach a sale price that reflects the market value and one that the mortgage company can support. If that is still below what you and the Seller can agree upon, it is time for some soul searching. In a market like the one that we are in right now, with low inventory and high prices, it may well be that you will have to accept starting over on your search and perhaps resetting your priorities and criteria. The only alternative is to find a way to finance the added cost above the
appraisal value, if this is truly the house of your dreams.

Life is full of compromises and this is a big one. You risk being “house poor” for some time or having to kick in the money that you had held back for updates or repairs, in order to move ahead. Just be darn sure that this is a place that you will want to stay in for at least 7-10 years, because it will take you that long to recoup the extra cost in appreciation. If you are young and working in an industry in which promotions may mean moves, this is probably not a wise course for you. If you are in a stable position where advancement won’t require moving, then you will probably be OK over time. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

We have an accepted offer that everybody has signed. What comes next?

 Understanding the Real Estate Process from A – Z – A Buyer’s Guide to Real Estate – Part 11

This is the eleventh post of a series in an FAQ format that I hope will help would be buyers better understand the real estate process that they are about to go through. There is a follow-on series to the posts for real estate sellers.

FAQ – OK, we have an accepted offer that everybody has signed. What comes next?
Congratulations! Now your work begins. First make sure that you have thoroughly read through the contract and made a list of the various deadlines that are specified in it. There are usually two or three that have to happen within the first 7-10 days – The home inspection, applying for the mortgage and determining whether flood insurance is required are typical tasks that must be completed in that time frame.  

One of the most important and critical things that you need to do is to hire a good home inspector and
get that inspection done. Your Realtor® may be able to give you a list of 4-5 home inspectors that he/she may have worked with in the past. IF not, just Google home inspectors for your area. Look for an inspector who belongs to one of the national associations of home inspectors. While that’s not a guarantee that he/she is a really good home inspector, it does means that they have been qualified to some extent for their home inspection knowledge and skills.

Find out what dates and times the home inspector has available and coordinate that with your schedule. Once you have settled upon a date and time, have your Realtor make the home inspection appointment. T Your Realtor is expected to be there too, so it has to fit into their schedule, too. While it is not required that you be there during the home inspection it is strongly advised that you are. You will find out a tremendous amount about the place that you ae about to start living in, such as how to change the furnace filter, where the water shut off is, how old the major mechanicals are – furnace and water heater – and perhaps how soon it appears that they will need to be replaced. You will also be told about and shown (where it’s safe for you to see it) any defects or issues that the home inspector finds that will need to be repaired. You aren’t expected to go up on the roof or up in the attic space with the inspector, but you could if you are able.

A good home inspector will be taking pictures as he/she goes to help document what they have found. If they find health hazards, like gas leaks, they may also tag those things (usually with red tags) in the areas of the defect, to help identify for the home owner where a repair needs to be made. Some home inspectors will cycle the major appliances to make sure that they all work, but some don’t do that. Ask before you hire the inspector if he will do that. Testing the appliances, even if the Sellers’ Disclosure says that they work, will reveals those burners on the stove that no longer work or the washing machine that leaks every time that it is used. That can prevent the surprise of having to make a major appliance investment right after moving in.

FAQ SupplementalMy home inspection report has lots of things that the inspector found that need attention. How do I handle that?

First off, don’t panic! All homes (even new builds) will have some things that need to be repaired or replaced and some things that the inspector may indicate will need attention soon. Go through the report thoroughly and make a list of the big things (major things) that are called out in the report. Decide which of those big things you can’t live with and need to have repaired or replaced before you would move in. Talk to your Realtor about conveying your concerns and demands to the Seller in the form of a letter or email that is labeled Unsatisfactory results from Home Inspection. You may ask the
Seller to repair or replace those items or to give you a Sellers’ Concession of some amount to cover you doing the repairs after closing. If it is a big job, like a new carpeting or a new roof; you may suggest that you get three estimates for the job and use the middle estimate to set the concession price.

If you make demands that the seller must have the repair work done prior to closing, be sure to include in your demands that the seller produce paid receipts at closing for all work and that all work be performed by qualified and licensed (if required) professionals and that any needed permits be pulled and the work inspected by the local building authority.  Remember this is your request, based upon your inspector’s opinion and the Seller may disagree, so this is a negotiated settlement of those issues. If you can’t agree with the Seller on a resolution to the issues, you may have to walk away from this deal.

What else will be happening?

The mortgage application process may involve supplying more documentation that you have previously given your mortgage person. The underwriter will want to see a couple of years’ worth of income tax returns and probably some documentation from your employer. You may have to fill out a detailed financial statement of your income and expenses, if you hadn’t already done that. Bank statements and statements from any other place where you have money will also be required. This can be an especially difficult thing for self-employed people who may not have good records of where their money came from and went over the last couple of years.  You have just moved from the mortgage reps view of “you look like a good person and seem to be OK financially” to the underwriters need to see and understand every little detail of your financial life. Don’t get offended by the requests that you get, just supply the requested documents.

You may also need to at least check the FEMA Flood Plain maps to see if the property is in a designated flood plain. Go there and put in the address of the property. Why is that important? Well, it will tell you whether you need to get flood insurance or not. Your mortgage company will probably tell you that, too; but you should check, just to make sure. You will need to arrange home owners’ insurance anyway and give proof of insurance to your mortgage person. You homeowners’ policy will protect you against internally caused water damage, like your water heater leaking or a broken pipe, but it does not cover water coming inform outside, i.e. flooding. Your homeowners’ policy doesn’t cover you for things like sewer backups either, so hopefully your sewer connection has a check valve in line to prevent backups.

We’ll talk more about other things that can happen while you wait for closing and things you will need to do as you get closer to the closing date.