Harry’s Media Coverage Archive

Home Happenings
By Harry Cassidy

When the News Herald needed an expert in the field of buying or selling a home to help their readers make the right decision regarding their most important investment, they came to an expert: Harry Cassidy.

Harry Cassidy has consistently been honored for his success in Downriver real estate: The Association of Million Dollar Producers recognized Harry as producing the highest volume of sales in 1999, $19.3 million, in the history of the association. The group then recognized Harry for setting the top sales and top volume records for homes sold in 1999, 163 units. Following his successes in 1998 and 1999, Harry repeated his streak in the years since then as the Downriver’s top selling real estate agent. The links above are many of the articles Harry has written to help you, the consumer, make the right choices. Don’t buy or sell another home without reading them!

Go Getter
Agent racks up record sales, emphasizes service
By Gary Gosselin

ALLEN PARK – If someone were to describe a “Type-A” personality, real estate agent Harry Cassidy would probably be a textbook case.

Not only is Cassidy, 30, likely to be named the Association of Million Dollar Producers Top Unit Producer for 1999 with 163 homes sold, but he’s also expected to take first place in DRAR’s Million-Dollar Club with $19.3 million in total sales.

The AMDP is a subsidiary organization for the Downriver Association of Realtors.

All this from the office where he works, Real Estate Unlimited, in Allen Park, not necessarily known for its high-dollar homes.

Along with a keen eye for customer service, Cassidy attributes much of his success to luck – the kind of luck that comes from working 70 to 80 hours a week.

In 1998, Cassidy was the AMDP Top Unit Producer with 128 units sold, and has been one of the top producers in the DRAR since his first full year in the business.

Before that, when he first started, Cassidy managed to sell $1 million of real estate in just 14 weeks.

“At least 80 percent of my business comes from referrals, hopefully it’ll stay that way”, Cassidy said. “I’ve always been goal-oriented. I set a goal to sell $1 million in my first 90 days, and that’s unheard of, but I did it”, and he earned Rookie of the year for it, too.

Cassidy is no stranger to a good work ethic, and started working at 17, while attending GMI engineering and management school in Flint.

By 18, he was production planner at the job, and by 19 he became co-owner in a Hallmark store.

He also worked part-time sales with an air and water purifier company, and by 23 was named national marketing director, working in Mexico.

While in Mexico, at 25, he started a medical supply company, but decided to return to Michigan to try real estate in his native Allen Park.

After a seven-day course, Cassidy passed the licensing test, and began at Real Estate Unlimited September 15, 1995.

Cassidy hired his first assistant in 1997, another in 1998 and his third in 1999. The three part-time (non-sales) assistants help him manage the voluminous piles of paperwork associated with selling so many homes.

He’s known for personal, hand-written letters of thanks to customers and associates, always returns calls quickly, he said, and deals with customers in a candid, straightforward way.

“I’m not a rocket scientist, I just do a lot of the simple things real well”, he said. “And I truly enjoy working with buyers (and sellers).”

Cassidy said he is up front about what a customer’s house is worth, and does his homework before pegging a price on a home. That homework, he said, includes looking at other, comparable homes on the market and then going over every point with the seller.

Often, sellers will try to sell their home for too much, and it will languish on the market until they lower the price.

“People get frustrated when they can’t sell”, Cassidy said. “I treat my clients with the respect I would my co-workers or friends. I do the research, and I talk to them.”

One confirmation of Cassidy’s customer service agenda could be found at the Star Taylor theater. On one Saturday, he footed the bill for his past and current customers to see a Walt Disney movie.

About 130 people showed up for the event, and Cassidy was just there to greet, not sell, and also to treat his three nephews to a matinee.

Click Here to Check Out Harry’s Customer Appreciation Day

Other facets of his relationship with clients and the community is a monthly email newsletter, his informative website, his participation in Toys for Tots during the holiday season, various local sports teams’ sponsorships, and donating to charities and local Downriver churches.

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New Arrivals Provide an Honest Assessment
By Harry Cassidy

It’s not very often that you get an honest chance to see yourself through someone else’s eyes.

Friends, for example, usually hold back on being critical, for fear of hurting your feelings.

And enemies… well, you can usually discount what someone says when they don’t like you.

But every once in awhile the opportunity comes along to get a refreshing assessment, from a completely impartial third party. That’s the case this month, thanks to a young couple who just moved into Brownstown.

Pat and Jennifer, parents with two very young children, arrived in Brownstown in the middle of May, by way of our nation’s capital. More specifically, they moved here from a suburb located about halfway between Baltimore and Washington.

What brought them here was Pat’s then-pending employment with GM at the renovated RenCen downtown, after nine years in the Navy Not surprisingly, they didn’t know much about the metro Detroit area, although Jennifer’s parents are from nearby Toledo.

So, arriving on the scene, and armed with “advice” from his prospective co-workers and their real estate agent, off they went house hunting.

In Plymouth and Northville.

“Everything we’d heard was about how ‘hot’ that area was,” Jennifer said. “The houses were supposed to be great, the neighborhoods were great.

“Everything was great..”

At the same time, they were also hearing the traditional, from our point of view, derogatory remarks about the Downriver area. “You know, factories and stuff.

“As it turned out, though, most people we talked to just didn’t know much about the Downriver area,” Jennifer said. “Only what they’d heard from someone else.”

The young couple then drove through the Plymouth area with their real estate agent, looking at house after house that ultimately didn’t quite live up to expectations.

“Sure, living in downtown Plymouth would have been nice, but who can afford to live there?” Jennifer said.

“We were flabbergasted: every house we looked at was small, older and expensive.

“It was nothing to get excited about,” she said. So then they moved on to new construction: “After renting all these years, we really hoped we could find something brand new, but, again, we were very surprised.

“The homes weren’t all that special, but were they expensive! “And my husband’s commute to work would have been at least 45 minutes.”

Very quickly, the pair turned their eyes south, Downriver. “We didn’t know much about the area at first, but when we finally found this house (in Brownstown), we wondered why we had wasted two months.

“It turned out that we were getting far more for our money, a nicer home than those we’d seen before, and it only takes Pat 20 to 25 minutes to get to work.”

Before they made a bid on their home, Jennifer called the president of the local homeowners association to learn more about the area: about the pond in their backyard, the shopping, schools and the length of the commute downtown.

Since then, they’ve learned quite a few things that have them even more convinced of having made the right choice.

“We found that great shopping isn’t too far away, but isn’t right next door.

“We went into, what is it, Flat Rock?, and found this wonderful park on the river.

“Then there’s the Erie Metro Park right down the road.” In short, she said, “we realized that we can get anywhere from here with the expressway nearby, including my folks place near Toledo. “They’re only 40 minutes away.”

When asked about her impression of the Downriver area after their search for a new home, Jennifer was quick to suggest something many of us have suspected for generations.

“The Downriver area has this reputation as a place you wouldn’t want to live, although I think that’s changing, yet when you get here you realize what a wonderful secret it is.

“I love it here.”

It’s nice to get an honest appraisal, isn’t it?

Jennifer and Pat, welcome to the Downriver area!

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A Home Buyer’s Guide
By Harry Cassidy

Although the stock market continues to be one of the most-talked about venues for investing, the most important investment made by many Americans remains their own home.

In fact, for many people, the great “American Dream” of home ownership is actually a major part of their investment strategy: Buy a newly built home, hold it for several years and hope it goes up in value.

For others, however, ownership alone is the dream; having a house that reflects their character, personality, lifestyle and aspirations. Not surprisingly, then, decisions concerning your home are inevitably some of the most emotional moments in your life – superseded only by the birth of a child or death of a loved one.

As a result, with emotions so strong, it’s important that you take care to protect this most important investment. And here’s a brief look at only some of the issues you may face as you fulfill your own “American Dream.”

1. Add on or Move?

For those who’ve lived in the same house for more than 10 years, one of the questions that inevitably arise is whether to somehow improve your existing home or find a house that better meets your needs. For example, maybe you have a growing family: Do you add a new bedroom to accommodate a new child? Or do you seek out that home with the extra bedroom and an extra bath already in place?

The obvious answer to that question lies in cost: The cost of a home improvement vs. the cost of a new home. But that’s not the whole question. It’s possible, for example, that a home improvement project could give you what you want for less money in the short run, but it might actually adversely affect the value of your home down the road. Costing you money. (Will that oversized dormer over your garage really look all that appealing to a prospective buyer five or 10 years from now?)

Instead, your home might be perfect the way it is for a couple just starting out; adding new features will only drive up the price – and limit the number of potential buyers down the road. Instead, you might want to consider looking for a home that better suits your needs today – and tomorrow.

2. Rent or Buy?

At first blush, the answer to this eternal question is simple: Buy. Buy a home and let your monthly payments create equity and assets, rather than income for a landlord. For some people, of course, renting is the best option: Their lives are mobile, maybe their jobs keep them on the road. In these instances, a low-maintenance apartment is more valuable that a high-maintenance house.

But as new home-buying options continue to emerge – attached and detached condominiums, for example – there’s no longer a need to worry about such things: Association fees take care of lawn maintenance and exterior repairs.

You’re a homeowner without the hassles of cutting the grass, weeding the garden or shoveling the sidewalk – the challenges of homeownership that others may find enjoyable. Regardless of the kind of ownership, then, the key remains: ownership, if at all possible.

As I wrote in the section before, a home is often the single most important investment a person can make – quite literally.

A house and its surrounding property remain the last tax break for the middle class, the ultimate collateral for consumer credit and the clearest reflection of your personality and standing in the community. In monetary terms, we’re talking hundreds of dollars a month going into someone else’s pocket – or into your own estate.

3. The Role of an Agent

Yes, there are methods out there that help a homeowner put their own house on the market without any assistance from a trained and licensed real estate agent. Likewise, you can certainly go shopping for a new home on your own – driving up and down streets, running up and down classified ads. But a quality real estate agent can make the process far more pleasurable – for both the buyer and the seller.

How? By understanding the market, knowing what’s available within specific price ranges and being trained to place values on existing real estate. If you’re selling a home, for example, an agent can give you a “buyer’s” point of view, highlighting areas that might need to be addressed in order to make your home more marketable.

At the same time, he or she – using regional and community industry figures at their fingertips – can place an accurate selling price on your home: not too high, not too low. In short, the agent will go to bat for you to get the best possible deal. Finally, the agent can act on your behalf to protect your interests when a seller arrives with his or her own agent.

On the buying side of the equation, the same rules apply: Your agent will know what a good purchase price would be for a specific home in a specific community. He or she will also know what to look for in a home: what features add value, what features are high maintenance, what features best fit your needs. In short, the agent will go to bat for you to get the best possible deal. In either instance – as buyer or seller – make sure you have an advocate of your own: don’t go up against a real estate agent by yourself. You don’t have the experience.

4. Mortgages

When it comes to mortgages, it’s a competitive world out there. Yet it may seem like there’s very little wiggle room when it comes to borrowing rates: nearly all lending institutions are within a fraction of a percentage point. But that fraction can add up to thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars over the life of a mortgage. So shop around. And not for just the best rate – but the best combination of rate, duration and “points” (the fee you pay up front).

For example, some of the lowest rates are ARM (adjustable rate mortgages). But these rates are for short duration and can fluctuate wildly as market conditions change.

The traditional 30-year mortgage is alive and well – and usually has the highest rate. But it’s fixed, so you know what it’s going to be in five years and 20 years. In the middle, there are 15-year rates, with the benefit of lower percentages, but higher monthly payments. The bottom line is that you can easily compare all these rates anytime you want by visiting a local lender and getting some estimates based on a home price you have in mind.

Oh, and don’t forget FHA and VA loans: These are loans guaranteed by the government for those who can’t meet down payment requirements of conventional loans or who have served in the military.

And one last thing: Before you go shopping for a home, get pre-approved. Pre-approval by a lending institution will save you a lot of time, questions and problems down the road. (You’ll get a letter from the bank or mortgage company that you can take to a builder to begin the construction process, for example.)

There are too many other issues involved in the home selling and buying process to cover them all here, but this should get you started. Happy homeownership!

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Home Inspection: A Smart Investment Indeed
By Harry Cassidy

Your home’s basement provides the literal foundation for what’s built above ground level, but it also acts as a staging area for important heating, cooling, electrical and plumbing operations – and as a storage area for many of our precious possessions.

Not surprisingly, then, the condition of one’s basement can often paint a clear picture of the overall condition of a home – and can play a profound role in the buying and selling of real estate. In fact, so important is the basement in determining the value of a house that the state of Michigan requires a seller’s disclosure answering the question: Has there been evidence of water?

Fortunately, a “yes” answer doesn’t automatically doom a house to a low selling price, nor should it automatically scare off a prospective buyer. For both parties, there are steps that can – and should – be taken when dealing with a home and its basement; steps that involve both proactive and reactive measures by a homeowner – and a comprehensive investigation by a buyer. Let’s start with the buyer first.

A quality home inspection can provide some exceptional peace of mind to individuals considering a specific home on the market. Home inspectors can give you the kind of once-over you’d give your own automobile before going on vacation: checking under the hood, so to speak, to see if everything is in good working order.

What makes a home inspector especially valuable to you is that he or she is by nature an independent, neutral third party. That is, they have no stake in the outcome of any sale – or non sale; by being independent, they can offer an unbiased view of the home’s structure and mechanicals – indifferent to which side (buyer or seller) might be affected by the results.

In Michigan, home inspectors are not required to be licensed, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for credentials: A good inspector will be accredited by the ASHI: The American Society of Home Inspectors. He or she should also have a list of clients satisfied with their work in the past.

In short, you should select a home inspector the same way you’d select a company installing new windows or siding: Check their references and get more than one estimate of price. And what price is fair? Well, the cost of a good home inspection – which takes two to three hours, not 20 minutes – is usually based on the square footage of the home, and can run from $175 to as much as $400 for the whole job. Keep in mind, though, that a high price isn’t a guarantee of high quality work: check references. (Yes, I’m going to repeat myself here.) Also keep in mind that once you’ve selected an inspector and he or she goes to work, things will be found wanting! They will find areas requiring improvement or repair. Why? Because that’s why you hired them – and, unless this is a newly constructed house, every home needs some kind of work. (I’d be far more concerned if they didn’t find anything wrong.)

In addition to actually checking out the home, inspectors can also be great teachers: They can educate you on the inner workings of today’s American home, explain how and why certain things work they way they do in this particular home and point out areas that might not need repair or improvement today, but will down the road. Call it preventive maintenance rather than repair. (Just like getting your car ready for that trip.)

One last word about home inspectors, though: They are not licensed electricians, plumbers or heating and cooling specialists. If they – or you – suspect there may be something going on with the wiring or the furnace, contact a licensed contractor and have them do an inspection! Again, the entire process of home inspection is to give you peace of mind – so don’t leave anything hanging out there that’s going to bother you months later.

Also, keep in mind that just because an inspector has pointed out some area of the home that needs repairing, that doesn’t make the home a questionable purchase: Take into consideration the home’s age, its price range and its overall condition – and make an appropriate decision. If it’s an older home that’s been well-maintained, but the carpeting looks a little worn – then keep that in mind: you can always replace the carpeting. If the roof is sagging, however, there might be trouble brewing that you don’t want to deal with.

And what about that basement? Let’s take a look downstairs – from the owner’s point of view: If your community’s sewage system has failed, there’s little you can do to prevent water from backing up into your basement. There are, however, steps you can take to the other type of water invasion – seepage. According to industry sources, basement seepage stems from one of two sources: roof and yard runoff or buried springs and rising water tables. But then look at the statistics. Ninety six percent of all seepage is due to runoff – yet you can control and even eliminate those sources! (Not too many of us Downriver deal with underground springs and rising water tables.) Consider these first, obvious steps:

  • 0Make sure your gutters and downspouts are clear of debris – and drain away from your foundation.
  • Make sure your landscaping slopes away from your foundation – taking water away from your home.

Of course, there are some things you can’t control – like the composition of the dirt around your home. A sand or gravel soil lets rain water drain down to the water table – far below your home. But a clay soil lets rain water build up, creating an immense amount of pressure that, if you have a crack in your basement wall, will breach the concrete foundation. As I said, there’s not much you can do about the clay soil (which most of us have), but there is something you can do to prevent seepage: fill the cracks.

Oddly enough, you may not think you have a seepage problem because the cracks you see are so incredibly tiny. But remember, we’re dealing with the weight – and side pressure – of tons of rainwater. So what you should be looking for are damp marks or stains around windows or holes in your basement walls.

Still not sure? Then look for a telltale whiteish powder (called “efflorescence”) that forms on concrete and masonry surfaces when moisture penetrates the material. And if you’ve got a finished basement, look for swelling of your wood paneling, stains on your trim and baseboards or floor tiles that have popped loose. So what do you do?

Get your home inspected. Yep, the same advice that applies to a home buyer applies to a home seller: Get an impartial opinion from someone who has no stake in the outcome. For a homeowner with a potential basement water problem, the person to consult is one who isn’t selling quick remedies, costly fixes, equipment and systems. That doesn’t mean you may not eventually hire someone to do work on your basement, but your first call should be to someone who isn’t selling anything. And guess what? The inspector’s analysis will probably result in you checking your gutters, downspouts and landscaping before doing anything else.

You also may want to fill any voids under your stoops, steps and slab to prevent water from pooling. Ironically, you might also want to consider putting heavy clay-content soil around your foundation: By placing clay just below the surface around your foundation, you can help direct water away from your house before it has a chance to drain below and collect within other clay deposits – creating that pressure I mentioned. Still, there are steps that inevitably may have to be taken even after you’ve dealt with the obvious sources of water and its control – and it may call for a licensed contractor:

  • Sealing holes and cracks in your foundation with hydraulic cement or epoxy-based material.
  • Sealing exterior joints between your foundation and home with swimming pool-type caulking.

Of course, the best source for advice, again, is a home inspector – a good resource for a homeowner, home seller and home buyer.

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What’s The Advantage of Building Brand New?
By Harry Cassidy

It’s been weeks now.

The two of you have been driving all over the Downriver area, on weekends, after work. You’ve gone through just about every community, and looked at just about every style of home. And nothing strikes your fancy…

One has the kitchen you like, but not enough bedrooms.

One has the right number of bedrooms, but a back yard the size of a postage stamp.

One has the bedrooms, the backyard and the kitchen, but it needs new windows and a roof.

What to do?

How about building your own home?

Sure, the idea of a new construction causes some people of bit of apprehension. (We’ve all laughed at “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” with Cary Grant.)

But having a home built to your specifications could be the perfect solution to your home search dilemma: not only will you get a house that fulfills your own wish and necessity lists, but you’ll also get a clean slate.

You’ll get walls without any holes (from previous pictures); you’ll get bathrooms that have never been used; you’ll get a garage without a drip of oil on the floor; you’ll get a basement without any clutter whatsoever; you’ll get wide open closets just waiting action. You’ll also get a furnace that’s brand new, a roof that won’t have yo be replaced for decades, a driveway of new concrete, windows that won’t let in winter and plumbing that won’t leak.

On the flip side, of course, you’ll also get a new mortgage (with higher payments, no doubt), possibly higher taxes (depending where you move), and all the expenses of moving in to a home with nothing: new window shades, new towel racks, new toilet paper holders. Still, with existing home inventories fixed throughout the Downriver area, a new home might be just the ticket, and they’re going up everywhere: Brownstown, Woodhaven, Southgate and Flat Rock, just to name a few towns.

So where do you start when considering building your own home? Well, let’s start at the beginning.

Location, Location, Location…

Your first decision, of course, is to choose a community and neighborhood that fits your needs.

A place close to shopping, but not congested? A house close to a school? A neighborhood of young families or one filled with empty-nesters?

A neighborhood of similarly styled houses, or a development with a range of designs? A street with high traffic or a cul-du-sac? A city with low taxes and limited services or one with higher taxes but substantial services?

This first decision really sets the stage for every other choice you make.

Of course, the home itself may outweigh many other concerns: an ideal home can make any location seem wonderful.

So look around and find locations that fit your needs and your lifestyle.

The Development

There are two types of housing developments:

The first is created by a company that builds every home within the project.

The other kind of development is created by a company that then invites other builders to construct their own homes on lots within the project.

In either case, you’re seeking information about the builder, and the developer.

From the developer side, you want to know right off the bat whether you’d be moving into a condominium development, even if you house is a stand-alone structure.

Condominium developments involve the creation of a homeowners association that is responsible for common maintenance, such as snow removal and lawn care (of common areas). Such developments probably have private roads that will require maintenance down the road, paid for by the homeowners, who pay annual association fees.

The advantage of this kind of development is the speed in which it can be built out.

The other kind of development, the subdivision, is built on what will become city streets. This is the traditional development we’ve all grown up with: you’re only responsible for your own home.

The Builder

Once you’ve settled on the type of community you want, the next step is to settle on a builder for your home.

You should ask neighbors within the development for information about their experience; whether things went as the builder said they would or if there were any unusual situations that arose during construction.

You should also check out whether the builder offers a range of models to choose from, so you can better expect to find something to fit your needs: split-level, colonial, ranch, etc.

You’ll also want to check the type of warranty the builder provides, since state law requires that all builders provide at least a one-year warranty.

Find out what the warranty covers, and if possible, find out if current homeowners have had any warranty work performed yet (and how satisfied they were).

Finally, ask questions of the builder: Find out about the construction process, the sequence of events, and the timetable expected for completion of each step: Excavating for the basement, pouring of walls, carpentry, electrical, plumbing and appliance installation.

Also ask about a final walk-through, during which the builder tours the house with you and makes a list of any remaining items that need to be finished, altered or repaired to specifications.

The Selection

Now comes the fun, and terrifying, part: selecting your home, and everything on it, in it and around it.

In quick order, you’re going to select the style of your home, the brick and siding colors, the shingle and trim colors, windows, door handles, special requests (for a different kind of sink), counter tops colors (in the kitchen, two full baths and a half bath), tile colors, wood trim (and floors?), interior paint and carpeting, cupboard designs.

And you’ll be making all these selections based on photographs, Formica chips, brick panels and blueprints.

You’ll also be deciding on whether you want a gas line run to your fireplace, how many phone and cable TV jacks, ceiling fan preps, skylights, French doors off the bedroom (or just windows), and whether you want that addition off the front of the house for a study. You’ll also be deciding on any upgrades: the “best” carpeting instead of “better”; the “better” cupboards instead of the “base” model; lever door handles instead of round; wood floors in the kitchen instead of vinyl tile.

Yes, it can be intimidating, but it’s also exciting; a roller-coaster ride of homeownership.

Throughout the selection process, your builder’s representative will be filling out forms for each choice, and you’ll be getting a copy of everything. (Keep those copies for future reference.)

Make sure you ask questions every step of the way, especially since options can increase the cost of the “base price” of the home you selected.

Maintain a running total of how much your spending on “extras.” You can always pare back if things get out of hand, as long as it’s before construction begins and your changes don’t affect the construction process. (A different color may not matter, but an addition surely will!)

The bottom line is that you’ll be creating the home of your “dreams” during this process, so enjoy every minute of it.

Selling Your Home

Unless you’re moving from an apartment, you have a separate issue to deal with as you pick out your new home: How to sell your old home. Right off the bat, the last thing you want to be is rushed.

You don’t want to sell your home for less than you should because you’re in a hurry.

So the best way to protect against this is to keep in constant contact with your builder: By keeping up with the construction timetable, you’ll know almost exactly how much time you have to put your home on the market, advertise it, show it and close a deal.

(Most builders talk about six months as being the average time for building a home from scratch. But check with your own builder to find out the timeframe he’s using. This timeframe is very dependent on weather conditions, so keep in mind there can always be slight delays.) To ensure everything goes smoothly, keep your real estate agent up to date on construction schedules, too.

Also, in many cases you can work with your existing mortgage lender (if they’re going to be your new mortgage lender) about any special needs you may have down the road.

Want to know more? Ask your agent and your mortgage lender.

Home Sweet Home

When everything is said and done, building a new home can be one of the most challenging, and gratifying, experiences in your life. You have a house that is everything you’ve ever dreamed of, and everything is brand new. (If you’re a home handyman, you’re going to be mighty bored for awhile, but there’s always hope: you still have that basement to finish off someday.)

You also have a home that’s just waiting for that house warming party.

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What Intangibles Apply To Selling
By Harry Cassidy

There’s no question but that spring and summer are tied for the most popular times of the year to buy and sell and home. But that doesn’t mean any other time of the year is bad – only that it has a different set of circumstances that need to be addressed.

First, of course, is the issue of enrolling children in school: This may be the single most important factor facing parents looking for a new home. Who wants to move their children from district to district once school’s started?

However, the public education landscape has changed so much in Michigan that in some instances this may not be the insurmountable challenge of the past. For example, your child might be enrolled in a charter school – which makes moving from one city to another less problematic: you’re already providing transportation to and from school, so it should make little difference moving. (Of course, a major move – across the state, for instance – is different.)

For those attending public school though, there’s another concept out there that might be of value: Schools of Choice. This state-wide initiative allows public school districts to enroll non-residential students to attend class. There are conditions, but this could be the perfect solution – if your home district is a “schools of choice” school system. If it is, then it’s possible for you to keep your child in his or her existing school, maintaining friendships and staying on an existing learning track.

The bottom line is that there are always options. And exploring those options are crucial if you’re looking to take advantage to today’s lower mortgage rates. That’s right: today’s mortgage rates are a far cry from the 9-plus percent interest being offered during late spring and early summer. As of mid-August, rates were dropped below 8 percent – making now a great time to go shopping. Or to put your home on the market.

Of course, the “dance” involved in buying and selling a home revolves around an inanimate object – bricks and mortar – but it really involves intangible emotions:

  • How does the home “feel?”
  • Does it reflect our personality?
  • Will it allow us to enjoy our own lifestyle?
  • Does it contain the kind of features that are important to us?
  • Does it contain drawbacks that overwhelm those features?

Answering these questions takes time, but if you’re a home seller, there are ways in which you can help a prospective buyer reach those answers. They key is to look at your house through the eyes of a stranger; examine the interior and exterior with the critical eye of someone who doesn’t care about the efforts you’ve put into a home – but cares only about the results.

Once you’ve taken that difficult viewpoint – and it is difficult – then you can go to work, ensuring that your home becomes the answer to someone else’s dreams. How? Well, let’s walk through a few obvious suggestions:

First, make necessary repairs to your home – and clean up around (and inside) the house. The fact is that most of us are procrastinators, and often put off important jobs – like caulking, screen repairs, missing mortar. Likewise, we get used to the clutter in the back yard – but a prospective buyer won’t.. They’ll see these little things and add them up in their head – coming up with an overwhelming total of work needing to be done. Work they won’t want to do.

Next, make your house a showcase. No, you don’t have to be Martha Stewart, but bright colors, open spaces and uncluttered countertops and tables make for an inviting setting. Place flowers in a vase, bake some bread or heat some rolls (that’s an old idea); anything that will make your house say “welcome.”

Clean your closets. You’ve been putting it off anyway, so now’s a good time (besides, you’re going to have to box things for your own move eventually). Remember: You don’t want visitors to see your clothes, you want them to see the “space.”

Show off your home’s features. If you have ceiling fans, turn them on if it’s hot or even to circulate air in cool weather (point out the benefits of circulating air all year ’round; it keeps a home’s temperature balanced and comfortable). If you have a fireplace, build a fire (or “turn it on,” if it’s gas). Just the sense of “warmth” adds a special dimension to the room. If you have a great view from your windows, open the curtains and let the sunshine in.

These are only a few suggestions – I actually have a total of 69 I make to my own clients – but they give you an idea of how to prepare your home for visitors. And prospective buyers – buyers who now will be taking advantage of lower interest rates, and educational options.

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Easy Maintenance: The Best Way To Protect Your Investment
By Harry Cassidy

It’s true that late fall and winter isn’t the prime home-selling time of the year, but you shouldn’t be too surprised to learn that steps you take today can pay extraordinary dividends when that day comes.

What I’m referring to is the very normal maintenance that you should do to your home each fall to protect your investment. (There’s that word again, “investment.”) Whether you’re planning on selling your home soon – or never – the fact is that some very simple steps and very simple preventive maintenance today can go a long way in protecting – and even enhancing – your home’s value down the road.

Take, for example, keeping your gutters and downspouts clear of debris and blockages: Forget the aesthetic beauty of a neat exterior – the fact is that problems with roof runoff can cause the phenomenon of “ice damming.” An “ice dam” is created when snow melts but can’t drain off the roof. It then refreezes and expands up under your shingles. The result is water getting into your wood sheathing and rafters – not a good thing. How can you avoid the buildup of standing water? Make sure it drains away – by keeping your gutters and downspouts free and clear of clutter.

Another obvious step to take is to turn off the water shutoff valves inside your house that lead to your exterior hose lines. Although your basement is above freezing, that short distance on the other side of your brick or wood exterior will be open to the elements – and we all know that pipes freeze in the winter.

Finally, if you have a brick exterior, check the mortar: if it’s missing, get it replaced! If you don’t you’re inviting moisture into the spaces between the brick and your interior walls.

OK, so much for the effects of water on your home. Now let’s move on to the cold. It’s a common mantra, but I can’t emphasize enough the need for you to check the caulking around all your doors and windows. Today, of course, most people have invested in energy efficient windows, but that doesn’t mean you can take a breather: check the caulking every fall. And if you don’t have energy efficient windows, seriously consider having them installed: not only will they save you literally hundreds of dollars in heating bills, but their value will only add to the overall market value of your home.

Likewise, check the amount of insulation you have in your attic (even if it’s not large enough to be called a “real” attic). Even a few extra inches of insulation can make all the difference in keeping heating costs down and your comfort level up. (Keep in mind that a great selling tool is to show a prospective buyer your actual utility costs: if they’re low because you’ve taken the time to insulate your home, you’ve given the prospect a great incentive to buy.)

Another obvious relationship to your heating costs is the performance of your furnace. In today’s new homes, high efficiency furnaces are required – but there are different ranges of what that means. Check with a licensed contractor to learn more about what an exceptional furnace can do for your pocketbook – and your comfort level. Regardless of whether you have a new furnace or an old one, one piece of advice stays the same: periodically replace your furnace’s filter — and clean your humidifier. (Since moist air retains heat better than dry air, you want your home to have a slightly higher humidity in the winter than in the summer.)

Finally, if you have a fireplace, take great care in having it inspected and the chimney cleaned by a qualified “chimney sweep.” (Yes, they still exist.) This person will clean the creosote that builds up on the inner walls of your chimney from the burning of wood. Over time, the buildup can get to a point where the creosote actually can catch fire – and a chimney fire is no laughing matter: It’s difficult to reach and can weaken the structural integrity of the chimney itself. (If you have a gas fireplace, and haven’t kept your pilot light on all summer, check the burners before you light them the first time: spiders love to hide in the little outlets – and they can block the outlets, creating a gas buildup before actual ignition.

Now that we’ve covered water and fire, let’s move on to one last thing: the condition of your sidewalks and driveways. Every winter, we spread salt and other materials on our walkways to prevent ourselves and visitors from slipping and falling. But we’ve all seen what salt – and the related freezing and melting of water – can do to our roads and highways. Well, it can do the same thing to your concrete driveway and sidewalks: The use of salt can ultimately erode and pit the surface, creating an unsightly mess of cracks and uneven pavement. If you must use something, consider the same option they use up north: sand. (Remember, all you’re looking for is traction. Let Mother Nature take care of the ice.)

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Tips on Selling in a Slow Market
By Harry Cassidy

It’s no secret home sales in Michigan, including the Downriver area, are very slow right now.

While that means buyers have their pick of houses and can take their time deciding what to purchase, there is a downside. Slow markets sometimes have the effect of eroding appreciations in home values, reducing or even eliminating the steady equity gains homeowners used to expect.

Michigan’s problems have been especially acute. Reports in newspapers and on television have highlighted the overabundance of “for sale” signs and the relatively high rate of foreclosures in the state. The Web site Foreclosure.com, an online database of troubled properties, says Michigan leads the nation in foreclosures.

Although good news might be hard to come by in Michigan’s current real estate market, homes are still selling. It’s typically not quick or easily, but it does happen.

However, selling today takes more effort than in the past. You may have to take a less emotional look at your house and judge it with the critical eyes of a buyer, trying to find its flaws and strengths. You will likely have to work harder and be more flexible on price than you would have had to be just a few years ago.

Probably the most important action to ensure your home is ready to sell is pricing it correctly. Fair prices are usually determined by searching the listings of other recent house sales in the neighborhood. These comparisons or “comps” tell what other buyers and sellers considered a reasonable price. Often this is called a “competitive market analysis.” Professional appraisals may also be helpful.

Avoid the impulse to be emotional when setting your asking price. An overpriced house will not sell in this market. If it costs substantially more than similar homes in the area, it may suffer from a lack of showings. And the longer a house sits unsold, the more people may start to view it suspiciously, and might begin thinking there must be something wrong with the property.

If you do get an offer, be willing to negotiate. With so many homes available, many buyers will not be interested in lots of back-and-forth bidding. Some experts even suggest setting your asking price slightly below comparable neighborhood houses, especially if you are eager to sell.

Anyone interested in selling a home should be willing to give it a thorough cleaning. This is the time to scrub, dust and wash. Again, look for spots where dirt collects that a critical buyer might notice. You’ll want to keep it clean for showings by real estate agents. Some people hire a professional housekeeping service for the task.

Give the walls a fresh coat of neutral paint, especially if the home has been lived in for years or it hasn’t been painted in a while. Rearrange furniture to make rooms look less cluttered.

In this market, it may also make sense to hire a professional home-staging company, which will view your house with an objective eye and make it look its most attractive. If your home sells more quickly or for a higher price, the fees could be worth it.

Updating the bathrooms or kitchen may also help it sell faster. Just don’t go overboard. Excessive remodeling can make a house no longer fit in with the neighborhood and recouping the costs almost impossible.

Other incentives you can add to help your house sell include throwing in amenities such as a dining room set or high-definition TV.

But no matter what you do, be patient. Most homes eventually sell. It may take a bit longer than planned, but if you’re realistic and persistent, you should end up with a deal amenable to everyone.

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