Why Do I Need a Preapproval to Look at Houses?

If you have ever been in the market for a house, you are familiar with a preapproval. If not, a preapproval is a letter from a mortgage lender stating that they have reviewed your financial status and have determined that you meet their borrowing guidelines for obtaining a mortgage to purchase a house.

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I’m sorry, but I just cannot answer that question

I have only been licensed for a few months now and fortunately I have started out with a good number of friends and family wishing to purchase a house or list their current home. Being such a new agent has it’s ups and downs as I have to call and ask my mentor tons of questions all the time. Being around real estate since I was 18 though definitely helps.

As an agent, I want to be as helpful as possible to you and your family so before we look at a house, I generally do a ton of research on it so I can answer your questions before, during and after a showing. I do the same thing for a listing so that it gets listed for the best price and I can accurately market the house to sell it for you.

All of this being said, there are just some questions that I get asked and I simply cannot answer. Below are a couple of examples I have been asked in my short time as a licensee.

“Is this area safe? Would my family and I be safe in this neighborhood?”
I am from Lancaster and Fairfield County. I was born and raised here. I probably have an answer for you but the fact remains that I simply cannot answer this question for you. I can provide you with plenty of resources for doing this research on your own though! There are so many websites that cater to this type of knowledge which is awesome however you much do the research on your own.

So why can I not answer this question? There are a number of reasons but the biggest one is that talking about a neighborhood could be seen as redlining or steering. Both are against the law and prohibited for Fair Housing Law. Steering or redlining is basically where I try and limit you to certain neighborhoods or steer you away from other locations for one reason or another.

“Who lives around here? Are there many “insert some kind of demographic here” around here?”
If you ask a friend or family member who is familiar with the area you are looking at houses in, you may get a very different answer from what I will give you.

So why can I not answer this question? By me answering those types of questions, I could be violating Fair Housing Laws. Simple as that. There are plenty of resources online where you can research the makeup of neighborhoods, areas and entire cities or counties! I would be more than happy to proceed those resources for you.

“Why is the owner selling? Who are they? Do they have kids? Are they old? Are they getting a divorce? I just knew they were getting a divorce!”

When buying a home, I think it is good to do as much research as a buyer as you can. And I will do as much as I can for you as well so you are as informed as you can be. However, I likely will not and cannot answer these questions for you as I simply do not know. And it is very likely that even asking the listing agent for this information ahead of time will not yield much good information simply because the listing agent will not disclose the information without explicit permission from the seller. I would leave this information out of your home buying decision making.

“Is something wrong with the house? I heard “insert rumor here” from the neighbor or a friend that this thing is wrong with the house.”

As your agent, it is my duty to inform you of everything I can. That being said, I am not a home inspector, termite inspector, septic inspector, water inspector, electrician, well inspector, structural engineer, or a contractor. HOWEVER – I will provide you a list of people our brokerage has worked with in the past and you may choose to have any inspection done on the home you would like and I would encourage it!

“How are the schools around here? Please find us a home in the best school district in the area.”

Again, steering you toward particular school districts or schools in a neighborhood is against Fair Housing Law and I cannot do it. I can, again, provide you with resources to do research on area schools. Once you have told me where you would like to be, I can help find a house in that area – no problem at all.

I think that is all for today. Just remember that as your agent, I try to answer all of your questions as we progress through this journey that is finding the next place for you to call home. If I do not know an answer or cannot give you an answer to a question, just know that I will find or help you find an answer!

Fire Prevention Week

This week, October 9-15, 2016, is National Fire Prevention Week. House fires occur more often in the upcoming months than in any other months. This is generally due to the holidays and having more cooking going on and having decorations plugged in.

Now is a good time to check your fire extinguishers and make sure they are still good to go. Most newer fire extinguishers will have a pressure gauge on them. If the needle is in the green area, the extinguisher is still okay to use. If it is not in the green area, consider having the extinguisher replaced or serviced by a professional.

Speaking of fire extinguishers, the best place to have one is obviously in your kitchen. Experts recommend that the extinguisher be in clear and plain view and accessible in the event of a fire. This means, please do not put it in a cabinet or on top of the fridge behind a bunch of stuff. Experts also say the best place to put it is not near the stove. In the event of a fire, you may have to reach through the flames to grab the extinguisher if it is too close to the stove. Everyone in your household should also know where the extinguisher is, when to use it, and how to use it. This should be part of your household Emergency Action Plan.
smokealarmplacementThis is also a good time to check your smoke detectors. Before we do that though, let’s talk placement of smoke detectors. There should be at least one on every level of your home. And from there, one in each bedroom. I would not recommend putting on in the kitchen simply because cooking in there may set the smoke detector off. If it is constantly going off, that tends to lead to people disconnecting them or pulling the battery which is a huge safety risk. For the same reason, I would not recommend putting a smoke detector close to a heating or cooling vent.

test-smoke-alarmI generally, at least once per month, check that the smoke detector is still functioning by holding down the test button on it and wait for it to make that obnoxious noise that it makes. In terms of changing the battery in a smoke alarm, every six months is usually the recommendation. The easiest way for me to remember it is when daylight savings time starts and ends. I know, I know, you just put new batteries in them and they are supposed to be good for 5-10 years. I would recommend reading the guidelines about your smoke detector to see what the manufacturer recommends. One thing to remember though is if that smoke detector starts chirping, it is definitely time to change the battery in it. It is trying to warn you!

My last Fire Prevention Week reminder is that smoke detectors do not last forever. In general, alarms should be replaced every 10 years. But when did they get installed? I know. I installed new smoke detectors in 2013 when I bought my house so the inside of the battery compartment says “replace 2023.”

A Treasure Lost

2016 will mark my 29th Fairfield County Fair. I love the fair. Lancaster and Fairfield County are near and dear to my heart but the Fairfield County Fair is something. I’ve never been to another county fair so I guess I’m biased but the Fairfield County Fair is the last and the best fair in Ohio. I have heard people say it is better than the Ohio State Fair which I would honestly believe.

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I love the fair not just for the food and the shows but because I get to see people who I do not see very often. I get to see the pride people take in their hard work over the last year in raising animals, preparing for livestock shows and even growing the county’s tallest sunflower. It is a week long celebration of the heritage and pride we all hold for Fairfield County and Lancaster.

fg-churchI have seen many county fairgrounds before but never have a I seen a grounds that takes pride in preserving our history. The Fairfield County Fairgrounds is lined with historical buildings that once stood proud in various towns and villages throughout the county and then were moved to the fairgrounds to ensure that time will not forget them. There is the Mt. Zion United Brethren Church, the train station, general store, the round cattle barn, and of course the Rolley School House Covered Bridge that was lost in the Spring of 2016.

106285_141950-meThe Fairgounds is not just a staple of Lancaster and Fairfield County history though. It has roots in United States history as well. In the 1860’s during the Civil War, the Fairfield County Fairgrounds were temporarily renamed Camp Anderson and tents and training areas were setup for soldiers.

old-grandstand-1915In 2009, the Fairfield County Agricultural Society and the Fairfield County Commissioners made a decision to demolish a piece of history – the ladies’ grandstand. The ladies’ grandstand was a three story tall structure that originally stood next to the gentlemen’s grandstand on the south side of the horse track. old-grandstandIt was built in 1908 and remained in it’s location until sometime in the 1920’s. In the 1920’s, it was moved to it’s current location on the northeast side of the track.

The grandstand was badly damaged by a wind storm in 2009 and was not structurally safe. Honestly, I do not remember a time when it was safe to occupy except when I was small I remember sitting up there with mom and Nana one year during the fair. Anyway, when the grandstand was slated for demolition in 2009, a group of preservationists got together and were able to raise $100,000 to preserve the structure and make some repairs so that it would not be demolished. The group persevered and the ladies’ grandstand stood for another seven years.

14369891_10202284984721965_8214656706078318051_nIn the early fall of 2016 – September 24 to be exact – a fire was reported at the fairgrounds in the very early hours of that Saturday. When the Lancaster Fire Department arrived, the ladies’ grandstand was fully engulfed in flames. The structure was a total loss and so far the fire seems suspicious.

A piece of Fairfield County’s history; lost forever because of a senseless act.

With the 2016 fair only a couple of weeks away, I imagine that there will be a sense of sadness hanging in the atmosphere this year. For many of us, it feels as if we have lost a dear, old friend. For me, it’ll be sad to walk the outer rim of the fairgrounds and not pass by the ladies’ grandstand and be reminded of an earlier time.

Fraud in Real Estate – Wire Fraud

It sounds technical, but this topic is not. It is about protecting yourself in the day and age of technology. Fraud can happen anywhere and anyone can be a victim. It would seem that the easiest way to gather information from unsuspecting victims is through a method called social engineering.

Fraud

No – it has nothing to do with engineering. In this context, social engineering is the act of using established trust to gain information about someone in order to exploit their technology in a manner that would harm them.

A good example of this in a real estate transaction is wire fraud. You’re currently in contract to buy a house and you receive an email (seemingly) from your Realtor that instructs you to wire $10,000 to the title company in order for the transaction to proceed. Trusting your agent, you call your bank and have the transfer setup to the account indicated in the email you have received. You call your agent to tell them you have transferred the money at which time they state they have never asked you to transfer any money. At this point, let’s hope that the wire transfer can be stopped.

How did this happen though? Social engineering. Likely in this scenario, someone was able to obtain your email login. They then searched your emails and saw that you were currently involved a real estate transaction and then spoofed an email from your real estate agent. It seems quite elaborate just to trick you, however most of the time, the people trying to steal information and money from you are part of a much larger fraud scheme and likely you are one in a group of thousands or tens of thousands that were frauded at the same time.

So how can we avoid this? Well, that is going to require some cooperation on both your part as a buyer or seller and your agent’s part.

  1. When you begin working with an agent, ensure they lay out a communication plan with you. I am always sure to tell my clients that I use many different methods of communication such as phone calls, email, text, and dotloop. TELL YOUR AGENT which you would prefer. If I am going to be sending documents or anything to my client, I generally send it via dotloop or email and then text or call them and tell them I have sent it.
  2. From the agent stand point, we should all have statements in our signatures warning for the potential of wire fraud. The same goes for a confidentiality statement.
  3. Ensure that you are using strong passwords and change them regularly. In the business world, changing your password at least once every 90 days is a standard practice however for the average at home user, once per year is adequate. Use a combination of letters, numbers, symbols and capitalize letters. This ensure better security and they are harder to guess. If you think your account has been compromised, change your password – do not even hesitate. If there is a chance, it is better to be safe than sorry.
  4. Watch out for emails where the sender does not have very good English or has many spelling or grammar issues. And before you click on a link, look at the domain name (something.com) and see if it’s a site you recognize. If you click on a link and it asks for your username and password, I would suggest closing out of it and then typing the website into your address bar yourself instead of using the link.
  5. While most agents would not be dealing with wire transfer, if it does happen, your agent should contact you prior to initiating the transfer. If you receive something asking you to transfer money and you are not sure what it is, call your agent or your title company to verify its legitimacy.
  6. Stay alert of any strange emails you get. With all of the technology used in real estate including email and document management systems, not to mention all of the people who are actually involved in a transaction, it is not out of the question to get messages from people who you do not recognize asking you for documentation or to verify something. If you are not sure of the validity of a communication, do not be afraid to contact your real estate agent or your title agent.

Guys, the bottom line here is to be hyper vigilant and aware of what is going on. If you have questions, ask someone! As a Realtor, if I do not know, I will find out for you. Do not assume anything.

Small Details – Leaded and Stained Glass

As a new agent, I have been given the opportunity to do open houses for other agents in my office. Twice now, I have held an open house at a home on Forest Rose Avenue in Lancaster for my friend, Jackie.

I love this house. It’s so out of place where it sits but then again, it isn’t. If you have ever taken a look at the architecture in Lancaster, you will see that it changes sometimes by block or even from house to house, depending on who built it and in which part of which decade.

The small details in this home are what make it unique. From the white and burgundy tiled floor in the half bath to the almost flawless woodwork – my favorite are the leaded glass windows in the front entry way and the front windows in the living room. Can you imagine the painstaking attention to detail the artist had to have to complete these windows in the house? Or the sheer cost of having those produced custom for the owner at the time?

The home has been upgraded to newer windows everywhere except for several panes of stained glass as well as these leaded glass windows in the front of the house. It’s these small things that makes my heart happy that in modernizing the house, the owners did not erase those windows from the home but instead kept them and added storm windows to insulate and protect the house and those windows.

This home is truly a hidden gem on a side street in Lancaster. If you are in the market for a historic home that is ready to move into, look this one up!

Open House Tips

An open house sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? There are a lot of things to think of though before you open your home up to potential buyers!

Open Houses are potentially one of the best marketing devices we are Real Estate Agents have in our arsenal. It gives prospective buyers the opportunity to come in, look around, ask questions, and not feel pressured. It also open up the possibility of having people come in and look at your home who may not be working with a Real Estate Agent and therefore would not have ever called and scheduled a showing to see your home.

To make sure each and every open house brings the most potential buyers, try and follow these simple steps.

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Review – Cherry Street Pub

Growing up, the building on the corner of Cherry Street and Angle Street in Lancaster, there has literally always been a restaurant there. The first one I remember is Snead’s and then Bib’s and then nothing. It was strange to see this building sitting empty since I can always remember something with delicious food being in there.

One time, upon driving passed the Snead’s building, I noticed activity going on in the building. The rumor was that the owners of Billy Crickets, which had closed earlier, were opening a new restaurant in the 100 year old building. Thus the Cherry Street Pub was born.

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Client vs. Customer

The terms are not interchangeable in Real Estate. 

If you represent the seller, they are your client and their buyer is your customer. Inversely, if you represent the buyer, they are then your client and the seller is your customer. If you represent the seller and the buyer, they are both your client. 

A client is for whom you are working and to whom you owe fiduciary duties. A customer is with whom you are working. 

“Why do you want to be in real estate?”

Since starting real estate classes, I’ve been asked several times why I want to be a Realtor. In several classes, we have been asked for the instructor to go around the room, say our names and why we want to be in real estate. My answer is usually the same as the others – money – but only because the real reasons are too long to state in a class of 50 other people. 

My real answer is two part – hobby and personal need. 

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