Natalie's Blog The latest in Real Estate and Fine Living

Local Real Estate

Flood Zone and Flood Insurance Update

Visalia homeowners whose homes were not in a flood zone under the previous FEMA map but find themselves now in a flood zone due to FEMA's changes to the Visalia flood zones can find relief. This also helps home buyers and sellers who are considering a purchase or sale of a home that is in a flood zone that requires flood insurance. A property that meets the criteria may be eligible to receive flood insurance at a discounted rate if the property is grandfathered in, due to the previous flood zone not having required flood insurance.

President Obama on Friday signed HR 5569, the National Flood Insurance Program Extension Act of 2010, funding the program through Sept. 30, 2010.  The bill is retroactive and covers from June 1, 2010 to the date of enactment of the extension.  Flood insurance is required for mortgages on properties in the 100-year floodplain. Congress has allowed the program to lapse three times this year, forcing many real estate transactions to be placed on hold and, in some instances, canceled.

Buyer Information

Close by Sept. 30 to Receive Homebuyer Tax Credit

U.S. homebuyers who are eligible for a Homebuyer Tax Credit have until Sept. 30 to close the transaction and receive the credit.

Congress has extended the closing deadline, which had been June 30, by three months. The action affects an estimated 180,000 homebuyers who, because of circumstances beyond their control, had been unable to close on their purchase by the original deadline.

One factor in the backlog is that many of these transactions are Short Sales that often require extended time to complete.

Buyers who secured a purchase contract by April 30 are eligible to receive the credit. This is money that never has to be repaid, provided you live in the home for three years.

Qualified first-time buyers can receive a credit of 10 percent of the home price up to $8,000. You are considered a first-time buyer if neither you nor your spouse has owned a principal residence in the U.S. in the last three years.
 Homebuyers who owned and lived in their principal residence for five consecutive years of the last eight are eligible for a credit of up to 10 percent of the purchase price, up to $6,500.

The National Association of Realtors estimates that 4.4 million people have received the credit since it was made nonrefundable in 2009. That includes 2.9 million first-time buyers and 1.5 million repeat buyers.

Other facts about the Homebuyer Tax Credit:

  • The upper income limit to receive the full credit is $125,000 for individuals and $225,000 for couples.
  • If the purchase price is more than $800,000, you are not eligible for the credit.
  • You can apply the credit to the 2009 or 2010 tax years. There is no minimum income for claiming the credit. You qualify for the full credit even if you won’t owe any taxes for 2009 or 2010.
Buyer Information

Buying Foreclosures

Since Visalia is now more of a buyer's market because of the many foreclosures, also known as REOs and bank-owned properties, buyers have opportunities that have not been available to them for several years. Low prices, low interest rates, and lots of properties to choose from - it's a buyer's dream.

When looking to purchase a property that will meet your short-term and long-term goals while staying within your budget, it is important to determine if purchasing a foreclosure is right for you. Some buyers I have worked with asked to look at foreclosures because they wanted "the best deal." After taking the time to learn their needs, goals, and financial situation, I would then help them look for the best deal that would also be the "best fit." Sometimes the better deal was a foreclosure, and sometimes it was a well-cared for, non-foreclosure residence.


1.   Look before you leap.
      Examine your financial situation before you start looking. How much money do
      you have to invest in improvements for a home? Where will the money come
      from? Savings, credit, or your monthly budget? Determine if you can afford to
      buy a foreclosure.

2.  Show me the money.
The bank selling the home requires evidence of your ability to pay for the home:
     A pre-approval letter for the amount financed and evidence of funds for the
     down payment and closing costs, or for the full amount if you are paying cash
     for the property. 

     The banks love cash buyers because that often means they won't be asked for
     as many concessions and because there is no loan involved and no property
     conditions required by the loan or the appraiser. 

     Buyers who are getting home financing must restrict their purchase to
     properties that conform to the loan guidelines and that pass the appraiser's
     inspection. This means that certain properties may not be in a condition good
     enough to be purchased with certain loans - or possibly any loan. Keep in
     mind, the bank is selling the property in an as-is condition and may not be
     willing to pay for - or even allow you, the buyer, to pay for - repairs to be
     done to conform the property to meet the requirements. 

     Don't let this discourage you though. In our current market their are many
foreclosures that are in good enough condition for you to purchase with a

3.  Count the cost.
     Once you find the property you want, make sure you calculate the costs of
     repairs, especially for any big-ticket items such as a new roof or A/C and

4.  Avoid buying the money pit.
     The bank, unlike a "regular seller," has never resided in the property and
     cannot tell you anything about it. Inspections help to eliminate the element of
     surprise when it comes to making home improvements, so you don't end up
     owning a money pit. 

5.  When average is no longer average.
Average homes in average condition make better rentals than luxury homes
     when factoring in maintenance costs. So if you are handy, you could pick up
     a good property that just needs a little sweat equity, yielding you better cash

Out of time.
Many people live very busy lives and just don't have the time to make
     necessary home repairs. This applies not only to foreclosures but to other
     fixer-uppers as well. It is better to know your limitations before you buy.

7.  Let's Make A Deal!
Often foreclosures/REOs are left in need of repair, which can mean more
     leverage when negotiating price. Of course, the banks are not giving homes
     away, so keep that in mind when making offers. 

     Often buyers are surprised to find that some foreclosures are priced very
     aggressively - under market value - generating a lot of buyer interest and
     therefore getting multiple above-price offers.  

8.  For rent.
There are plenty of potential renters out there who have been displaced
     after losing their homes as a result of short sales and foreclosures. These
     folks need affordable homes to live in. Investors have a great opportunity to
     partake in win-win situations for themselves, the bank, and the renter.

If you are interested in learning more about purchasing a bank-owned property, or you are ready to start looking at foreclosure homes, please contact me. In addition to our traditional listings, RE/MAX Visalia has a large market share of the foreclosure properties in Visalia. We know what makes for a successful purchase of a foreclosure, whether it is one of our listings or one of another agency's. 

Seller Information

Six Tips For Choosing The Best Offer For Your Home

By: G. M. Filisko

Selling your home will go a lot smoother if you think of it as a business transaction and don't let emotions get in the way.

Woman reviewing house offer over the phone

You’ve worked hard to get your home ready for sale and to price it properly. With any luck, offers will come quickly. You’ll need to review each carefully to determine its strengths and drawbacks and pick one to accept. Here’s a plan for evaluating offers.

1. Understand the process

All offers are negotiable, as your agent will tell you. When you receive an offer, you can accept it, reject it, or respond by asking that terms be modified, which is called making a counteroffer.

2. Set baselines

Decide in advance what terms are most important to you. For instance, if price is most important, you may need to be flexible on your closing date. Or if you want certainty that the transaction won’t fall apart because the buyer can’t get a mortgage, require a prequalified or cash buyer.

3. Create an offer review process

If you think your home will receive multiple offers, work with your agent to establish a time frame during which buyers must submit offers. That gives your agent time to market your home to as many potential buyers as possible, and you time to review all the offers you receive.

4. Don’t take offers personally

Selling your home can be emotional. But it’s simply a business transaction, and you should treat it that way. If your agent tells you a buyer complained that your kitchen is horribly outdated, justifying a lowball offer, don’t be offended. Consider it a sign the buyer is interested and understand that those comments are a negotiating tactic. Negotiate in kind.

5. Review every term

Carefully evaluate all the terms of each offer. Price is important, but so are other terms. Is the buyer asking for property or fixtures—such as appliances, furniture, or window treatments—to be included in the sale that you plan to take with you?

Is the amount of earnest money the buyer proposes to deposit toward the downpayment sufficient? The lower the earnest money, the less painful it will be for the buyer to forfeit those funds by walking away from the purchase if problems arise.

Have the buyers attached a prequalification or pre-approval letter, which means they’ve already been approved for financing? Or does the offer include a financing or other contingency? If so, the buyers can walk away from the deal if they can’t get a mortgage, and they’ll take their earnest money back, too. Are you comfortable with that uncertainty?

Is the buyer asking you to make concessions, like covering some closing costs? Are you willing, and can you afford to do that? Does the buyer’s proposed closing date mesh with your timeline?

With each factor, ask yourself: Is this a deal breaker, or can I compromise to achieve my ultimate goal of closing the sale?

6. Be creative

If you’ve received an unacceptable offer through your agent, ask questions to determine what’s most important to the buyer and see if you can meet that need. You may learn the buyer has to move quickly. That may allow you to stand firm on price but offer to close quickly. The key to successfully negotiating the sale is to remain flexible.

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who has survived several closings. A frequent contributor to many national publications including, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and legal topics.

Used with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Copyright 2010.
All rights reserved.

Home Improvement

Develop A Landscape Plan To Fit Your Budget (video)

By: Laura Fisher Kaiser

Scroll over, then click on photo to play video. For more videos and articles about home improvement visit our Resource Center.

Use tracing paper to plan out a landscaping project. Additional home improvement videos can be found at

Landscaping is one of the surest ways to pump up the value of your property. According to research by Virginia Cooperative Extension, going from a plain lawn and a concrete driveway to a well-landscaped lot raises a home’s perceived value by 12.7%. The opposite is also true: A “minimal” landscaping job—a thoughtless smattering of scraggly plants—actually detracts from home value.

How much should you invest in upgrading your landscape? Professionals recommend budgeting 10% of your home’s value. But the important thing to remember is that success doesn’t depend on how much you spend. “Landscaping doesn’t have to be expensive, just well planned,” says Carl Heldmann, author of “Be Your Own House Contractor.” Here’s how to get started on a landscape plan of your own. 

First, consult a pro

To figure out how to allocate your landscape dollars, start by picking the brain of a pro. Even if you have a naturally green thumb, a trained professional can save you from wasting money on wrongheaded ideas and open your eyes to possibilities you haven’t considered. There are various types of landscape pros, and their expertise is priced accordingly.

If your yard has major issues or you have grand ambitions, consider hiring a certified landscape architect to design a comprehensive plan that includes such things as irrigation, lighting, architectural features, soil conditioning, and, of course, the growing stuff. A verbal consultation costs about $100-$150; a detailed plan can run from $300 to $2,500. The American Society of Landscape Architects offers a state-by-state “firm finder” on its website.

Landscape designers typically charge less than degreed landscape architects and are a good choice for simpler projects that don’t require construction. Horticulturists specialize in plants, not necessarily design. Then there are landscape contractors, the design-build firms of yard work. Start by asking friends whose gardens you admire for recommendations. Your local home and garden center is another good source for contacts.

Set your priorities

Before you get any dirt under your nails—or hire someone to get dirty—you need to make two lists: a) what you want and b) what your property needs. These aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but the exercise is important for setting priorities. It would be folly to spend big bucks on an outdoor kitchen before resolving potentially disastrous issues such as a diseased tree or drainage problems.

The first question that a professional will likely ask is: What do you see yourself doing in your yard? Hosting Sunday barbecues? Doing the crossword puzzle in a hammock? Swimming laps? Growing vegetables? Clip pictures of outdoor spaces you like and don’t like to clarify the feeling you’re trying to achieve.

Remember that part of your landscape budget will go toward the “b” list. Those are things that may not lend themselves to sexy magazine spreads but can protect your property value—not to mention enhance your quality of life—by lowering water bills, reducing the need to mow or rake, or blocking the view of your neighbor who hot-tubs in the buff. We’re talking about practical considerations such as irrigation, fencing, lighting, equipment storage, privacy, and security.

Create a “floor plan” to target costs

To ballpark costs for materials and labor, think in terms of square footage, which is how landscapers charge. According to, hiring someone to create a “naturalistic garden” averages $11 a square foot; the cost can double for a formal garden with walls and water features. And don’t forget to factor in long-term maintenance such as mowing, mulching, and pruning. (Sweat equity, anyone?)

If you’re designing your own plan, start by measuring your property or getting a plat survey from the county. You might even be able to find a topographical map indicating features like slopes and swales. You can sketch the basic layout to scale using old-fashioned graph paper or landscape design software. Prices have come down considerably on the latter, but quality varies widely, so check online reviews before purchasing. A free option: Google’s
Sketchup, with cool apps for trees, pavers, shrubs, outbuildings, and the like.

Once you have the parameters, create a floor plan, marking off different sections just as you would rooms of a house. The front path is the foyer, there might be a “dining room” with a picnic table, a shady “bedroom” for a hammock, a “rec room” with play equipment. Consider the costs for each area of your plan, including materials, equipment, furnishings, greenery, and any specialized labor like irrigation or electricity. 

Think long term

If your ambitions exceed your wallet (and whose do not?), go back to your priority list and pick a section or projects to tackle as your budget permits, advises Angela Dye, principal designer/president of A Dye Design, a landscaping firm in Phoenix, Ariz. “What is the absolute most important thing you need to have done?” she asks. “What is bugging you most?”

A carefully conceived plan will keep you on track during this gradual transformation, both in terms of vision and budget. And remember that patience pays off. “Additions or renovations can start losing value once completed,” says Jim Lapides, spokesman for the American Society of Landscape Architects. “A landscape literally grows in value over time.”

Laura Fisher Kaiser is a contributing editor to Interior Design magazine and a former editor at This Old House magazine. The secret to her Washington, D.C., garden is blood, sweat, tears, and mosquito repellent.

Video provided by Today’s Homeowner host, Danny Lipford.

Used with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Copyright 2010.

Home Improvement

Seven Smart Strategies For Kitchen Remodeling

My clients often ask which home improvements will bring them the most resale value. This is an important question whether you are deciding which home to purchase, or would prefer to update your current home rather than purchasing a new one - without losing money in the long run. Kitchens rank at the top of the list as to bringing a high benefit while you are in the home and when you sell the home. John Riha's article below is filled with great information regarding remodeling your kitchen. You can find more resources regarding your kitchen and much more in our resource center.


If you’re contemplating a kitchen remodel, you’re also weighing a considerable investment. But a significant portion of the upfront costs may be recovered by the value the project brings to your home. Kitchen remodels in the $50,000 range recouped 76% of the initial project cost at the home’s resale, according to recent data from Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report. To make sure you maximize your return, consider these seven smart kitchen remodeling strategies. 

1. Establish your priorities

Simple enough? Not so fast. The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends spending at least six months planning before beginning the work. That way, you can thoroughly evaluate your priorities and won’t be tempted to change your mind during construction. Contractors often have clauses in their contracts that specify additional costs for amendments to original plans. Planning points to consider include:

  • Avoid traffic jams. A walkway through the kitchen should be at least 36 inches wide, according to the NKBA. Work aisles for one cook should be a minimum of 42 inches wide and at least 48 inches wide for households with multiple cooks.
  • Consider children. Avoid sharp, square corners on countertops, and make sure microwave ovens are installed at the heights recommended by the NKBA—3 inches below the shoulder of the principle user but not more than 54 inches from the floor.
  • Access to the outside. If you want to easily reach entertaining areas, such as a deck or a patio, factor a new exterior door into your plans.

Because planning a kitchen is complex, consider hiring a professional designer. A pro can help make style decisions and foresee potential problems, so you can avoid costly mistakes. In addition, a pro makes sure contractors and installers are sequenced properly so that workflow is cost-effective. Expect fees around $50 to $150 per hour, or 5% to 15% of the total cost of the project.

2. Keep the same footprint

No matter the size and scope of your planned kitchen, you can save major expense by not rearranging walls, and by locating any new plumbing fixtures near existing plumbing pipes. Not only will you save on demolition and reconstruction, you’ll greatly reduce the amount of dust and debris your project generates.

3. Match appliances to your skill level

A six-burner commercial-grade range and luxury-brand refrigerator might make eye-catching centerpieces, but be sure they fit your lifestyle, says Molly Erin McCabe, owner of A Kitchen That Works design firm in Bainbridge Island, Wash. “It’s probably the part of a kitchen project where people tend to overspend the most.”

The high price is only worth the investment if you’re an exceptional cook. Otherwise, save thousands with trusted brands that receive high marks at consumer review websites, like and, and resources such as Consumer Reports.

4. Create a well-designed lighting scheme

Some guidelines:

• Install task lighting, such as recessed or track lights, over sinks and food prep areas; assign at least two fixtures per task to eliminate shadows. Under-cabinet lights illuminate clean-up and are great for reading cookbooks. Pendant lights over counters bring the light source close to work surfaces.

• Ambient lighting includes flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and track lights. Consider dimmer switches with ambient lighting to control intensity and mood.

5. Focus on durability

“People are putting more emphasis on functionality and durability in the kitchen,” says McCabe. That may mean resisting bargain prices and focusing on products that combine low-maintenance with long warranty periods. “Solid-surface countertops [Corian, Silestone] are a perfect example,” adds McCabe. “They may cost a little more, but they’re going to look as good in 10 years as they did the day they were installed.”

If you’re not planning to stay in your house that long, products with substantial warranties can become a selling point. “Individual upgrades don’t necessarily give you a 100% return,” says Frank Gregoire, a real estate appraiser in St. Petersburg, Fla. “But they can give you an edge when it comes time to market your home for sale” if other for-sale homes have similar features.

6. Add storage, not space

To add storage without bumping out walls:

• Specify upper cabinets that reach the ceiling. They may cost a bit more, but you’ll gain valuable storage space. In addition, you won’t have to worry about dusting the tops.

• Hang it up. Install small shelving units on unused wall areas, and add narrow spice racks and shelves on the insides of cabinet doors. Use a ceiling-mounted pot rack to keep bulkier pots and pans from cluttering cabinets. Add hooks to the backs of closet doors for aprons, brooms, and mops.

7. Communicate effectively—and often

Having a good rapport with your project manager or construction team is essential for staying on budget. “Poor communication is a leading cause of kitchen projects going sour,” says McCabe. To keep the sweetness in your project:

  • Drop by the project during work hours as often as possible. Your presence assures subcontractors and other workers of your commitment to getting good results.
  • Establish a communication routine. Hang a message board on-site where you and the project manager can leave each other daily communiques. Give your email address and cell phone number to subs and team leaders.
  • Set house rules. Be clear about smoking, boom box noise levels, which bathroom is available, and where workers should park their vehicles.

Consumers spend more money on kitchen remodeling than any other home improvement project, according to the Home Improvement Research Institute, and with good reason. They’re the hub of home life, and a source of pride. With a little strategizing, you can ensure your new kitchen gives you years of satisfaction.

John Riha has written six books on home improvement and hundreds of articles on home-related topics. He’s been a residential builder, the editorial director of the Black & Decker Home Improvement Library, and the executive editor of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. His standard 1968 suburban house has been an ongoing source of maintenance experience.

Used with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®.
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Home Improvement

What To Consider Before Building A Pool

Are you considering building a pool? If so, the article below by Julie Sturgeon will assist you in taking the necessary steps to make your dream a reality. You can find a host of helpful information about pools and other home improvement topics in our resource center.Inground pool installed by Custom Pools, Inc., Minnesota

If you want the ultimate backyard gathering spot, nothing fits the bill like a swimming pool.

The decision to build an in-ground pool isn’t one to take lightly. Apart from the substantial installation costs, which typically run into the tens of thousands of dollars, you have to factor in ongoing maintenance expenses as well as insurance and tax implications. And you can’t be assured of recouping your investment when you sell; while a pool may be attractive to some buyers, others might be put off by the upkeep or safety concerns.

If you’re looking for bang for your buck at resale, an upscale kitchen or extra bathroom offers greater impact. But if you want the ultimate backyard entertainment amenity and social gathering spot, nothing fills the bill like a swimming pool. Thinking about taking the plunge? Here’s a look at how the numbers add up. 

Ballpark your installation costs

The average cost in the U.S. to install, equip, and fill a 600-square-foot concrete pool starts at $30,000. Add in aesthetic details like waterfalls, lighting, landscaping, and perhaps a spa, and you’re easily looking at totals approaching six figures.

Concrete is the most expensive pool material, but it’s also the most durable and offers the most options for customization. Fiberglass shells and those with vinyl liners fall on the lower end of the budget scale, but the liners typically need replacing every 10 or so years. Changing the liner requires draining the pool and replacing the edging (called coping), so over time costs add up. Most home buyers will insist that you replace a vinyl liner, even if it’s only a few years old.

Decide on a filtration and heating system

The filtration pump is the biggest energy hog in a pool system, so you want to get the most efficient pump possible. The good news here is that new, variable-speed pumps use up to 80% less energy than old single-speed pumps, cutting operating expenses dramatically. At about $1,500, these cost more up front, but some local utilities offer rebates through participating pool dealers. You can further cut energy costs by setting the pump to run at non-peak times, when rates for electricity are lower.

If you’re planning to heat your pool, gas heaters are the least expensive to purchase and install, but they typically have the highest operation and maintenance costs. Many pool owners opt instead for electric heat pumps, which extract heat from the surrounding air and transfer it to the water. Heat pumps take longer than gas to warm the pool, but they’re more energy-efficient, costing $200 to $400 less to operate per swimming season. Regardless of heating system, covering the pool with a solar blanket to trap heat and reduce evaporation will further lower operating costs.

Account for ongoing maintenance expenses

All pools require that the water be balanced for proper pH, alkalinity, and calcium levels. They also need sanitizing to control bacteria and germs, which is where chlorine has traditionally entered the picture. These days you have a variety of options, including systems that use bromine, salt, ozone, ionizers, or other chemical compounds that can be less irritating to skin. Chlorine remains the most popular because the upfront costs are reasonable, and you don’t have to be as rigid about checking the levels on a set schedule. But as far as your wallet is concerned, they all even out in the end.

In a seasonal swimming climate, budget about $600 annually for maintenance if you shoulder the chemical balancing and cleaning yourself; in a year-round climate, it’s more like $15 to $25 per week. To save yourself the task of once-a-week vacuuming, you can buy a robotic cleaning system for between $500 and $800 that will do the job for you. In locations where the pool must be opened and closed for the season, add another $500 each time for a pro to handle this task.

Factor in insurance and tax implications

A basic homeowners insurance policy typically covers a pool structure without requiring a separate rider, but you should increase your liability from the standard amount. It costs about $30 a year to bump coverage from $100,000 to $500,000. Many underwriters require you to fence in the pool so that children can’t wander in unsupervised.

In some areas, adding a pool may increase your annual property taxes, but it won’t necessarily add to your home’s selling price. For that reason, try to keep your total building cost between 10% and 15% of what you paid for your house, lest you invest too much in an amenity that won’t pay you back.

Julie Sturgeon has written about residential pools for nearly a decade. Her family was clueless when they bought a home with an in-ground pool, but they have avoided making a major mistake with it yet.

Used with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Copyright 2010.
All rights reserved.

Foreclosures and Short Sales

What In The World Is HAFA?



Here is a cute animated video explaining how HAFA can provide homeowners solutions to foreclosure:

This video is produced by the same orgainization that I recived my Certified Distressed Property Expert® designation from. The Certified Distressed Property Institute is on the cutting edge of providing information and solutions for homeowners facing foreclsoure. The Institute has also been instrumental in providing the government recommendations for their new guidelines for pre-approved short sales, a quicker solution than a traditional short sale.


Fannie Mae Offers Homeowner and Home Buyer Guides

Fannie Mae recently released three “Five Step” guides offering information to current homeowners, those considering the purchase of a home, and homeowners at risk of default.   Each guide focuses on a different topic and provides five tips.  The guides include:  “Actions to Take Before Buying a Home,” “How Housing Counselors Can Help,” and “Protect Yourself from Mortgage Modification Scams.”

I hope you find this site and the guides on it helpful:

Buyer Information

Federal Tax Credit Extension

Homebuyers who qualify for the Federal Tax Credit are breathing a sigh of relief. Originally homebuyers needed to have a written contract by April 30th and complete their transaction by June 30th. The House and the Senate have both approved the measure to extend the tax credit until September 30th, giving homebuyers an addtional three months to complete their purchase and receive the tax credit. Now Congress has sent President Obama the plan to give homebuyers an addtional three months to qualify. I hope to be able to share the good news with you soon that the President has approved the measure.

Seller Information

Spring To Life

Tired of dreary winter days and ready for the warmth and renewal of spring?  So are house hunters!  Here are some easy, inexpensive steps that can lighten listings for the spring season and appeal to potential buyers:

  • Open curtains, shades and blinds to let spring sunshine in.  Wash windows inside and out to remove winter grime and to brighten up the home.

  • Remove winter leaves and debris from the lawn and flower beds. Apply early season fertilizer and weed control treatments as recommended for the specific turf type and climate. Plant blooming annuals for spring color in flower beds or in strategically placed pots, window boxes and planters.

  • Clean fireplaces and hide firebox discolorations with fire screens or potted plants.

  • Bring spring color inside with fresh seasonal flowers such as tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.

  • To give rooms a warm weather lift, put away heavy throws, blankets and dark accessories. Add some brightly colored pillows or candles. Crystal bowls and candlesticks give a light, airy feel to any table or room.  If possible, replace dark area rugs with lighter floor coverings.

  • Place a spring-themed centerpiece on the dining table, or hang a spring wreath on the door.  Put out some pastel placemats and colorful dishes.

  • Touch up paint.   Even if the home does not need complete repainting, applying a fresh coat of paint to doors, woodwork, window sills and stair treads can make rooms seem cleaner and brighter.

  • Plan open houses around budding spring flowers, trees and shrubs for maximum impact and appeal.

Breathing new life into older listings is especially important.  Make some of these suggestions, and watch listings spring to life! 

SOURCE: American Home Shield

Buyer Information

California's Tax Credit Monies May Go Fast

On tax day it seemed fitting to post information on how you can save money on taxes! Here is an article from C.A.R. (California Association of Realtors®) Legal Update that I received today about the California State Tax Credit. As always, I encourage you to seek specific advice from an accountant or tax professional regarding qualifying for this tax credit and other real estate related tax issues.

The $100 million allocated for California's first-time homebuyer tax credits may be depleted in about 10 to 20 days or sooner, according to C.A.R.'s Economics team.  California's Franchise Tax Board (FTB) plans to begin accepting applications on May 1, 2010 for tax credits up to $10,000 for first-time homebuyers and for homes that have never been previously occupied. However, the total tax credit allocation for all taxpayers is $100 million for first-time homebuyers and $100 million for new homes, both on a first-come, first-served basis.

C.A.R.'s forecast of 10 to 20 days to deplete the $100 million allocation for first-time home buyers is based on estimated May sales figures and other parameters. It does not take into account the possibility that buyers scheduled to close escrow in April may delay closing until May to take advantage of the tax credit. If a shift in closings from April to May occurs, the first-time homebuyer tax credits may be depleted even more quickly than indicated above.

Applications for the California tax credit must be faxed to the FTB after escrow closes. The FTB will update its website when the 2010 application form and other information become available.

For more information, please refer to C.A.R.'s Homebuyer Tax Credit Chart 2010.

Home Improvement

The Best Time To Plant a Tree

The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The next best time is now.  ~Chinese Proverb

Trees are a valuable asset to a home, here a just a few examples:


  • Some plants and flowers do not grow well in direct sunlight. The shade of the trees allows you to plant a multi layered landscape that you couldn't without the shaded area.
  • Trees can shade windows so that the fabrics of your home such as draperies, flooring, and upholstery, along with other items in your home, so they will not fade as quickly.
  • Summer time in the San Joaquin Valley is HOT! Trees can cool the temperature of home, outdoor living areas, and parked vehicles depending on where they are planted


  • Trees can be a backdrop for additional landscaping and give your home beautiful curb appeal.
  • Each tree is unique in the style it creates which can help to create a look that in turn creates a feel that creates additional enjoyment of your home. For example, you can create a tropical get away with palm trees as one of your features around a pool. Having a large pine tree shedding needles into the pool daily won't create that getaway feel!

Increased value

  • When you sell your home in the future you will have more mature vegetation which increases the value of your home both to you in the sales price, and to the buyer. As our Chinese proverb reminds us. If you haven't already planted that tree, plant it today!

Trees are also a wonderful benefit to a community. The City of Visalia, builders, and neighborhoods have decided to line streets with trees. Downtown Visalia has had a tree makeover over the past few years as trees were planted to create beautifully lined streets as the trees grow and mature. Some new neighborhoods are creating tree lined streets, while some older neighborhoods have planted trees many years after the neighborhood was built. In the years to come we will see more and more mature trees creating beautifully tree lined streets.

The benefits of trees are not limited to aesthetics or monetary value. There are many health benefits as well such as cleaner air and fewer sunburns at picnics!

When considering planting trees there are many factors to consider. Do you want native trees that require less water? What size tree is to scale with my home once full grown? What trees shouldn't be planted near my home due to their roots growing out and not down?

A few years ago I attending a class on trees held by Brian Kempf with The Urban Tree Foundation here in Visalia. It was so informative and valuable. Brian has been instrumental in working with the City of Visalia , many Visalia builders, and homeowners in neighborhoods who want to beautify Visalia with trees. Take a moment to visit The Urban Tree Foundation's website to learn more about trees - which ones to plant, how to care for them, and much more.

I leave you with this quote on this breezy day in Visalia.

Breeze is the conductor, trees the musicians, leaves the instruments.  ~Nathaniel LeTonnerre

Home Improvement

Top Kitchen Trends for 2010

By Melissa Dittmann Tracey, REALTOR Magazine

So what’s cooking in the kitchen this year? The National Kitchen & Bath Association surveyed designers to reveal the top design trends for 2010.

Among the trends gaining popularity this year: Hide your appliances in kitchen drawers, whether dishwashers-in-a-drawer or undercounter refrigeration (drawers being used as refrigerators). More home owners are opting to tuck their appliances away so they don’t interfere with the design.

Also part of the appeal to dishwashers-in-a-drawer is their convenience with the capability of washing small loads of dishes in each drawer, which saves water and electricity.
Here are some of the other top kitchen trends for 2010:

Color: Shades of white and off-whites are the most common kitchen colors, followed by brown, beige, and bone hues.

Cabinetry: The most popular wood for kitchen cabinetry remains cherry, followed by maple. In the decline: Painted cabinetry and light natural finishes and distressed finishes.

Design style: Traditional is the most popular kitchen design with contemporary following closely behind.

Flooring: Ceramic and porcelain tile and natural stone remain the most popular kitchen flooring. Hardwood, however, will dominate kitchens this year more than ever.

Countertops: Granite is the most popular option, but quartz is inching up to it in popularity.

Seller Information

IRS Tells Homeowners How To Get Tax Relief if a Lender Forgives Part of Their Debt

Generally, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) treats debt forgiveness by a creditor as taxable income.  However, under federal legislation that took effect in 2007, certain home mortgage debt cancellations—such as loan modifications, short sales, or foreclosures—may be exempted from federal taxes.  Other exemptions are also available.


  • Homeowners considering a loan modification, short sale, or foreclosure should note that the federal tax exclusion under the Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act of 2007 only applies to mortgage balances on a qualified principal residence and not on second homes, rental real estate, or business properties. 

  • The maximum amount of forgiven debt eligible under the 2007 law is $2 million for married taxpayers filing jointly and $1 million for single taxpayers.

  • The debt reduction only can be for loan amounts used to buy, build, or substantially improve a principal residence, including refinance loans as long as  an increase in the total mortgage debt if any is attributable to renovations and capital improvements of the house.  However, if refinance proceeds were used for other personal purposes, such as paying off credit card bills, purchasing cars, or investing in stocks, then the mortgage debt attributable to those expenditures is not eligible for tax exclusion under the 2007 law.

  • California homeowners who sold their house in a short sale or were foreclosed upon in 2009 still may have to pay state taxes on forgiven mortgage debt.  The California legislature did not extend the tax exemption for mortgage debt forgiveness for state taxes.  However, lawmakers are working on a bill that would provide the same tax relief on state taxes as the federal government currently offers.

SOURCE: CAR Summarization of article from March 14, 2010

Buyer Information

$18,000 in Combined Homebuyer Tax Credits For a Limited Time

Californians have a brief window of opportunity to receive up to $18,000 in combined federal and state homebuyer tax credits.  To take advantage of both tax credits, a first-time homebuyer must enter into a purchase contract for a principal residence before May 1, 2010, and close escrow between May 1, 2010 and June 30, 2010, inclusive.  Buyers who are not first-time homebuyers may use the same timeframes to receive up to $16,500 in combined tax credits if they are long-time residents of their existing homes as permitted under federal law, and they purchase properties that have never been previously occupied as provided under California law.

Under the federal law slated to soon expire, a first-time homebuyer may receive up to $8,000 in tax credits, and a long-time resident may receive up to $6,500, for certain purchase contracts entered into by April 30, 2010 that close escrow by June 30, 2010.  Additionally, under a newly enacted California law, a homebuyer may receive up to $10,000 in tax credits as a first-time homebuyer or buyer of a property that has never been occupied.  The new California law applies to certain purchases that close escrow on or after May 1, 2010 (see Cal. Rev. & Tax Code section 17059.1(a)(4)).  California law generally allows buyers of never-occupied properties to reserve their credits before closing escrow, but buyers seeking to combine the federal and state tax credits will not be able to satisfy the timing requirements for such reservations (see Cal. Rev. & Tax Code section 17059.1(c)(1)(A)).  Other terms and restrictions apply to both tax credits.

For more information, C.A.R. offers a Homebuyer Tax Credit Chart with a side-by-side summary of the federal and California laws.  C.A.R. also offers a legal article entitled Homebuyer Tax Credit Update.


Local Real Estate

Are You In a Flood Zone?

With the recent changes made by FEMA many homes in Visalia that were previously not in a flood zone are now in a flood zone, and many homes that were previously in a flood zone are no longer in a flood zone. To find out where you are currently located in the FEMA flood zone map just use this handy link.

For more information about FEMA, FEMA's Visalia flood zones, flood insurance, and related topics just click here.

Home Improvement

Comprehensive Spring-cleaning that Clears Your Bases

Spring-cleaning isn't what it used to be. In today's busy households, it
can be difficult for
one parent, let alone two, to find time to dedicate
to a big annual floor-to-ceiling deep cleaning. One solution is to
prioritize your tasks, taking a more realistic approach to home cleaning
and organizing. First, approach your cleaning by room, rather than
chore. Then, by separating spring must-do's from warmer-weather
good-to-get-done's, you can get essential tasks out of the way, and
apportion other work for later in the spring or early summer. Here are
some common-sense strategies to help refresh your home without
putting your life on hold this season.


Spring-cleaning must-dos:

  • Deep-clean fridge and freezer
  • Sort and file items in junk drawer (look for income tax receipts!)
  • Self-clean oven interior if needed
  • Clean window interiors and exteriors

Can do later:

  • Almost any and all cleaning can be divided up and conquered year-round, including detailing tile, deep-cleaning and conditioning wood, washing walls, cleaning light fixtures


Spring-cleaning must-dos:

  • Cleaning window interiors and exteriors

Can do later:

  • Almost any and all cleaning can be divided up and conquered year-round, including detailing tile and grout, washing walls, cleaning light fixtures


Spring-cleaning must-dos:

  • Replace winter drapery with summer curtains (send the former to the dry cleaners)
  • Clean light fixtures
  • Store any knickknacks that were on display over winter, replace with spring/summer accessories or fresh flowers

Can do later:

  • Almost any and all cleaning can be divided up and conquered year-round, including washing walls, cleaning molding and baseboards, cleaning and polishing wood, cleaning and protecting leather furniture. (If you can postpone larger cleaning tasks to summer, it may render the overall spring project less daunting.)


Spring-cleaning must-dos:

  • Get rid of junk; donate items in good condition, dispose of broken items
  • Check furnace filters and replace if needed

Can do later:

  • Shop-vac any dust or debris from workshop
  • Mop floors
  • Clean windows indoors and out


Spring-cleaning must-do:

  • Sort, clean and pack away winter clothing and sports gear and footwear, donating items no longer needed and disposing of any damaged items

Can do later:

  • Install a customized closet organization system if desired


Spring-cleaning must-do:

  • Put snow removal gear in storage
  • Store winter tires, if applicable
  • Shop-vac and (if needed) degrease floor

Can do later:

  • Dust ceiling rafters
  • Clean warm-weather sports equipment and then move into accessible garage location

SOURCE: American Home Shield

Buyer Information

Bringing the Dream of Homeownership Within Reach

As part of its plan to stimulate the U.S. housing market and address the economic challenges facing our nation, Congress has passed new legislation that:

  • Extends the First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit of up to $8,000 to first-time home buyers until April 30, 2010.
  • Expands the credit to grant up to $6,500 credit to current
    home owners purchasing a new or existing home between November 7, 2009 and April 30, 2010.

Here is more information about how the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit can help prospective home buyers become part of the American dream. If you have specific questions or need additional information, please contact a tax professional or the Internal Revenue Service at 800-829-1040.

Recent news:
IRS Releases Revised Tax Forms, Instructions for Claiming Tax Credit (Jan. 25)
Economists' Podcast: Lawrence Yun Discusses Market Recovery, the Tax Credit, and Employment (Jan. 12)
Economists' Commentary: Existing-Home Sales and the Tax Credit (Dec. 22)

Who Qualifies for the Extended Credit?

  • First-time home buyers who purchase homes between November 7, 2009 and April 30, 2010.
  • Current home owners purchasing a home between November 7, 2009 and April 30, 2010, who have used the home being sold or vacated as a principal residence for five consecutive years within the last eight.

To qualify as a “first-time home buyer” the purchaser or his/her spouse may not have owned a residence during the three years prior to the purchase.

If you or your client purchased a home between January 1, 2009 and November 6, 2009, please see: 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit.

Which Properties Are Eligible?

The Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit may be applied to primary residences, including: single-family homes, condos, townhomes, and co-ops.

How Much Is Available?

  • The maximum allowable credit for first-time home buyers is $8,000.
  • The maximum allowable credit for current homeowners is $6,500.

How is a Buyer's Credit Amount Determined?

Each home buyer’s tax credit is determined by two additional factors:

  • The price of the home.
  • The buyer's income.


Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit, credit may only be awarded on homes purchased for $800,000 or less.

Buyer Income

Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit, which is effective on November 7, 2009,  single buyers with incomes up to $125,000 and married couples with incomes up to $225,000—may receive the maximum tax credit.

These income limits have changed from the 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit limits. If you or your client purchased a home between January 1, 2009 and November 6, 2009, please see 2009 First-Time Home Buyer Tax Credit.

If the Buyer(s)’ Income Exceeds These Limits, Can He/She Still Get a Credit?

Yes, some buyers may still be eligible for the credit.

The credit decreases for buyers who earn between $125,000 and $145,000 for single buyers and between $225,000 and $245,000 for home buyers filing jointly. The amount of the tax credit decreases as his/her income approaches the maximum limit. Home buyers earning more than the maximum qualifying income—over $145,000 for singles and over $245,000 for couples are not eligible for the credit.

Can a Buyer Still Qualify If He/She Closes After April 30, 2010?

Under the Extended Home Buyer Tax Credit, as long as a written binding contract to purchase is in effect on April 30, 2010, the purchaser will have until July 1, 2010 to close.

Will the Tax Credit Need to Be Repaid?

No. The buyer does not need to repay the tax credit, if he/she occupies the home for three years or more. However, if the property is sold during this three-year period, the full amount credit will be recouped on the sale.

Home Improvement

Federal Energy Efficiency Tax Credits

   The Federal Government continues to provide incentives to
   homeowners to help encourage improvements in energy
   efficiency. Credit opportunities exist for everything from
   cars and appliances to homes and buildings. With more
   available options for energy-efficient appliances and
   products, a tax incentive is a wonderful way for the public
   to become more aware of green alternatives.

   Credits are available for both residential and commercial
   buildings. Many credits are based on standards for the
American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE)
or Energy Star, and must meet International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). Tax
credit details for home improvements:

  • Improvements must be installed between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2010.
  • They must be for your principal residence, except for geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, solar panels, and small wind energy systems, where second homes and rentals qualify.
  • Each must have a Manufacturer Certification Statement3 to qualify.
  • For record keeping, save the Manufacturer Certification Statement and your receipt.
  • Claim improvements made in 2009 on your 2009 taxes (filed by April 15, 2010). Use IRS Tax Form 5695 (2009 version), which will be available in late 2009 or early 2010.
  • If you are building a new home, you can qualify for the tax credit for geothermal heat pumps, photovoltaics, solar water heaters, small wind energy systems and fuel cells (Source:
  • Alternatively, in order for the credit to qualify biomass stoves, Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC), insulation, roofs, water heaters, and/or windows and doors, these improvements must occur in an existing home that is your principal residence. (Source:
  • $1,500 is the maximum total amount you can claim for products placed in service in 2009 and 2010 for most home improvements. Exceptions – in effect through 2016 – are geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, solar panels, fuel cells, and small wind energy systems, which are not subject to this cap.

An eligible residential project could include new roofing using metal or reflective shingles that meet ENERGY STAR standards. In this case, the tax credit would be for 30% of the cost of roofing materials only, up to $1,500. This is one of many examples of residential upgrades. The ENERGY STAR website and have many more specific examples (and ideas) for green residential upgrades and describe any stipulations there in.

Commercial Sector

Tax credits in the commercial sector include a tax deduction of up to $1.80 per square foot for owners or designers of new or existing commercial buildings that can save at least 50% of the heating and cooling energy of a building meeting ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2001. Windows, doors, and skylights are also a great way to take advantage of this credit program.

For a complete list of products and requirements, qualifications, and instructions on how to apply for these credits, visit the Energy Star website ( You can also find Frequently Asked Questions about the tax credits there.

Article written by
Amanda Goucher who is NAR's Green Designation Coordinator.

Just For Fun

Fly Away With Me

   The RE/MAX Hot Air Balloon fleet has more than 100
balloons flying in nearly two-dozen countries across
the globe. It's one of the largest hot air balloon
fleets in the world, and the largest fleet in North

RE/MAX has prepared this booklet to answer the
questions you naturally have about the majical sport
   of ballooning. By the time that you reach the
   concluding "Balloonist's Prayer," you will have seen
   how a piece of cloth, when filled with heat, can
   become as tall as a seven-story building and lift off
   the earth, lighter than the air around it.

Welcome to ballooning, and as balloonists say,
   "Soft Landings".  

Local News

RE/MAX Visalia Annual Awards Breakfast

RE/MAX Visalia had its Annual Awards Breakfast this month celebrating the accomplishments of 2009.

This year's celebration was in the new RE/MAX Visalia building located on Mineral King Avenue between Linwood and Akers. The completion of the new building, and now having all of the agents under one roof, was a major accomplishment for Owner/Broker Ed Evans. Ed Evans and his brother Bruce Evans of Evans Property Management are the owners of the beautiful new building where RE/MAX Visalia resides.

The Awards Breakfast was also a time of celebration for our RE/MAX family as we cheered for one another's accomplishments in 2009. At a time when many REALTORS® are leaving the industry we were thankful to have continued in our careers helping individuals and families with their real estate needs.

Natalie Sweeney was honored by the RE/MAX of California and Hawaii Region with the Executive Club Award for 2009 "in recognition of her outstanding sales performance and achievements in the real estate profession." Natalie specializes in assisting buyers and sellers purchase and sell residential properties including existing homes and new construction, traditional sales, short sales, and foreclosures. As a member of the Tulare County Association of Realtors Natalie sells real estate in Visalia, Tulare, Exeter, and the surrounding areas of Tulare County.

Many of the RE/MAX Associates received awards for their accomplishments, but one stood out among the rest. Visalia's youngest Associate, Borna Binesh, was honored to be Number Three among all RE/MAX agents in California. This was an outstanding award considering the Central Valley's prices are lower than most of the state and this award is based upon commissions earned. Borna specializes in listing foreclosures for many banks who have properties throughout the Central Valley. 


Federal Reserve Leaves Interest Rates Unchanged

The Federal Reserve announced yesterday it will maintain its target for the federal funds rate in the 0 percent to 0.25 percent range, and expects economic conditions to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period of time. “Information ... suggests that economic activity continues to strengthen and that the labor market is stabilizing," the Fed said in a prepared statement.

“Household spending is expanding at a moderate rate, but remains constrained by high unemployment, modest income growth, lower housing wealth, and tight credit. Business spending on equipment and software has risen significantly,” the Fed said.  “However, investment in nonresidential structures is declining, housing starts have been flat at a depressed level, and employers remain reluctant to add to payrolls. 

“While bank lending continues to contract, financial market conditions remain supportive of economic growth. Although the pace of economic recovery is likely to be moderate for a time, the Committee anticipates a gradual return to higher levels of resource utilization in a context of price stability,” the Fed said.

The Fed also said it would end its program of purchasing mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to help keep home loan rates low. That program will conclude at the end of this month when the Fed's mortgage bond holdings reach the $1.25-trillion limit it set last year.


Buyer Information

FHA Head: Don't Raise Down Payment

Now is not the time to raise the downpayment requirement on a Federal Housing Administration loan, warns FHA Commissioner David Stevens.

Stevens, testifying before a committee of the U.S. House, said his agency would probably insure 300,000 fewer home loans per year if the mandatory down payment was raised from 3.5 percent to 5 percent — a 40 percent increase.

Congress has been considering various ways to put FHA on a sounder financial footing. Besides increasing the downpayment requirement, another suggestion under discussion is raising the upfront mortgage insurance premium to 2.25 percent of the loan amount, up from 1.75 percent currently.

The National Association of REALTORS® also opposes the proposal to raise the mandatory down payment for an FHA loan. The FHA remains financially strong because it has taken steps to ensure solid underwriting standards and responsible lending practices, said Charles McMillan, NAR immediate past president, in testimony before the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity.

"As the leading advocate for housing issues, NAR believes that one of the best ways Congress can help strengthen FHA is to quickly consider and pass legislation that would make current loan limits permanent," McMillan said. “It’s important to note that higher balance FHA loans perform better than lower balance ones. While some argue that higher balance loans put taxpayers at risk, such loans actually strengthen the program and reduce risk to the fund."

Explaining that FHA has played an important role in the recent housing and economic crisis by filing the gap left by private lenders, McMillan said FHA insured almost 30 percent of single-family mortgages in 2009 and more than 50 percent of first-time buyer loans. “Historically, FHA’s market share has hovered between 10 and 15 percent of all loans. And when the private market is strong enough to return, we welcome a reduced FHA market share,” he said.

McMillan said NAR was also concerned that FHA wanted to decrease seller concessions to 3 percent. Reducing seller concessions could put homeownership out of reach for many buyers, he said, because it could require buyers to pay more at closing.

SOURCE: Associated Press, Alan Zibel, and NAR (03/11/2010)

Home Owner Information

Springtime Home Maintenance

You know spring has sprung when you have the desire to do some spring cleaning! Spring is also a great time of the year to take care of home maintenance items that will help keep your home in great condition. Utilize the list below to keep both the structure and mechanical parts of your home in tip top shape.

  • Air Conditioning
    Have your a/c unit serviced by licensed professional annually.
  • Filters and vents
    Change or clean a/c filter monthly. Clean dryer duct and exhaust vents in laundry and bathrooms and over stove.
  • Doors and Windows
    Seal drafty doors and windows.
  • Rain Gutters
    Clean out rain gutters and down spouts with power washer.
  • Safety Equipment
    Check or replace multi-purpose fire extinguishers and batteries for smoke detectors. 
  • Fireplace
    Have cleaned and checked for cracks.
  • Drainage
    Make sure water drains away from the foundation of your home. You should have several inches of space between the bottom of your siding or stucco and soil, exposing a few inches of your foundation.
  • Fencing
    Ensure that fence planks are secure to protect animals and children from getting in our out of yard. Also make sure that fencing around pool is secure.
  • Roofing
    Check attic for signs of roof leaks and check condition of roof.
  • Light Bulbs
    Make sure the light fixtures inside and on the exterior of your home all have the correct wattage.
  • Exterior Lighting
    Consider installing a lighting protection system on your home.
  • Fascia and Trim
    Check the fascia and trim for deterioration.
  • Attic
    Check for pests and animals, proper ventilation and insulation. Consider installing an attic fan to save on cooling costs.
  • Firewood
    Remove firewood stored near the home. Firewood should be stored at least 18 inches off the ground at least 2 feet from the structure.

Please contact me if you need a reference for a professional who can assist you with maintaining your home. I have preferred vendors who service Visalia, Tulare, Exeter, and the surrounding areas in Tulare County.

Foreclosures and Short Sales

Foreclosed Borrowers May Get Loans Again

Will people who currently face foreclosure or short sales who walk away from their underwater properties ever be able to get financing to buy another home down the road?

Banks haven't been very forthcoming on this issue. However, knowledgeable observers of the situation say that while it may take some time, the situation will right itself for most people.

Because bankrupt owners have eliminated their debts, they should "constitute attractive fodder for mortgage lenders," says University of Michigan law professor John Pottow, whose specialty is bankruptcy.

As home prices and the mortgage market stabilize, lenders will be motiv®ated to lend to people who previously had financial troubles if they look like they can pay they next time around, says Alan Riegler, a consultant with CCG Catalyst, which advises banks.

"The lender who figures out how to do more of this case-by-case stuff cost-effectively is going to end up ahead of the pack," Riegler says.

SOURCE: Inman News, by Matt Carter (03/05/2010), as published by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

For Sellers and Buyers

How Accurate Are Home Valuation Websites?

I'd like to share an exellent article with you written by Heather Mendonca, a fellow REALTOR® and friend of mine from RE/MAX Visalia. Heather had the information reviewed by a representative from Zillow for accuracy. Enjoy!

There are several online website you can use to see what your home is worth but I will use the most popular, Zillow, in the following explanation to give you an idea as to how they all work.

To measure the accuracy of the Zestimates, Zillow goes back in time and compares the historic Zestimates with the actual transaction prices of homes that sold. Here's how it works:

Zestimate Accuracy/Star Rating: This shows how accurate the Zestimate is in a locale. Four stars indicate the best (most accurate) Zestimates, three stars better Zestimates, and two stars good Zestimates. One star indicates that Zillow is only able to show tax assessed values, and not Zestimates. If they do not show any stars, they do not have enough data to indicate valuations.

Median Error: Half of the Zestimates in an area were closer than the error percentage and half were farther off. For example, in Columbus, Ohio, Zestimates for half of the homes are within 5.7% of the selling price, and half are off by more than 5.7%.
Within 10%/Selling Price: This is the percentage of homes in a location for which the Zestimate was within 10% of the transaction price. For example, in the Sacramento area, 73% of the time the Zestimate was within 10% of the selling price.

According to Zillow the accuracy for Zestimates in Tulare County is 4 stars. They claim to be within 10% of the selling price 63% of the time. The median error is 6.3%. This means that if Zillow says that a home is worth $380,000 it could actually only be worth $342,000 if they are within at least 10%, 63% of the time. For those of you buying or selling a home this is a big difference in price!  Another thing to consider is the fact that Zillow does not always take into account current new home prices and incentives which are a major driving force in today's market. However, as long as you read the fine print Zillow can be a helpful tool. If you are about to list or buy a home I would check with a local REALTOR® for a free home valuation to see how they compare.


Tulare County Multiple Listing Report for January 2010

The Tulare County Multiple Listing Service has published its January 2010 report. This report features statistics for the sales activities for all types of real estate. Here are the details regarding Single Family Residences:

Active Properties
Total Number:         1057        
      Average Price:   $227,254
      Median Price:    $175,000  

Pending Properties
      Total Number:           279
      Average Price:   $155,243
      Median Price:     $141,500

Sold Properties
      Total Number:           191     
      Average Price:   $149,223
      Median Price:     $133,000

Average Market Time:  54 days

Click here for a handy printable PDF document of the complete report for all types of properties. For additional current monthly reports from The Tulare County Multiple Listing Service visit Market Reports in our Resource section of Visalia Fine Living each month.

Home Owner Information

Tax Credits for Home Improvements

As we enter into the tax season it is a great time to make plans on how to save on taxes for 2010. You may want to use your tax refund to make home improvements that you will receive tax credits for, in addition to saving money in your monthly budget. Here are some improvements you may want to consider. Feel free to contact me if you need suggestions for reputable vendors.

Tax Credits for Solar Water Heaters

A federal tax credit makes energy-efficient solar water heaters a more affordable and sustainable option for many homeowners. Read


    Tax Credits for Replacing Heating and Cooling Systems

    Upgrading to an energy-efficient heating and cooling system can save hundreds on your utility bills and earn you a tax credit worth as much as $1,500. Read

  • Tax Credits for Replacing Your Roof

    Replacing your roof with a qualifying energy-efficient metal or asphalt roof can cut your cooling bill and earn you a $1,500 tax credit. Read

  • Tax Credits for Adding or Replacing Insulation

    A federal tax credit makes adding insulation an even cheaper way to improve your home’s energy efficiency and cut your heating and cooling bills. Read

  • Tax Credits for Replacing Windows, Doors, and Skylights

    If money seems to be escaping through drafty windows, doors, and skylights, this federal tax credit might make energy-efficient replacements more affordable. Read


  • Foreclosures and Short Sales

    What is a Short Sale?

    A short sale can be an excellent solution for homeowners who need to sell, and who owe more on their homes than they are worth. In the past, it was rare for a bank or lender to accept a short sale. Today, however, due to overwhelming market changes, banks and lenders have become much more negotiable when it comes to these transactions. Recent changes in corporate policy and the Obama administration have also improved the chances of getting a short sale approved.

    But to be technical, here's a more official definition:

    • A homeowner is 'short' when the amount owed on his/her property is higher than current market value.
    • A short sale occurs when a negotiation is entered into with the homeowner's mortgage company (or companies) to accept less than the full balance of the loan at closing. A buyer closes on the property, and the property is then 'sold short' of the total value of the mortgage.

    For homeowners to qualify for a short sale, they must fall into all of the following circumstances:

    • Financial Hardship – There is a situation causing you to have trouble affording your mortgage.
    • Monthly Income Shortfall – In other words: "You have more month than money." A lender will want to see that you cannot afford, or soon will not be able to afford your mortgage.
    • Insolvency – The lender will want to see that you do not have significant liquid assets that would allow you to pay down your mortgage.

    This seems simple enough, but it is a complicated process that takes the expertise of experienced professionals. Natalie Sweeney is a CDPE serving homeowners in Visalia, Tulare, Exeter, and the surrounding areas. Contact Natalie and together, you can identify all possible options and, when possible, a CDPE can assist you in the quick execution of a short sale transaction.

    Source: Certified Distressed Property Institute

    Foreclosures and Short Sales

    What is a CDPE?

    A CDPE, or Certified Distressed Property Expert®, is a real estate professional with specific understanding of the complex issues confronting the real estate industry, and the foreclosure avoidance options available to homeowners. Through comprehensive training and experience, CDPEs are able to provide solutions for homeowners facing hardships in today's market, specifically short sales.

    The prospect of foreclosure can be financially and emotionally devastating, and often homeowners proceed without guidance of any kind. The developers of the CDPE Designation believe that the best course of action for a homeowner in distress is to speak with a well=informed, licensed real estate professional. They have the tools needed to help homeowners find the best solutions for their situation. Often, when other options have been exhauseted, CDPEs can help homeowners avoid foreclosure through the efficient execution of a short sale.

    While enduring financial difficulties is challenging for any family, the process of finding a qualified real estate professional should not be. Selecting an agent with the CDPE Designation ensures you are dealing with a professional trained to address your specific needs. For more information contact a CDPE in your area. If you are located in the Visalia, Tulare, Exeter and surrounding areas you can contact Natalie Sweeney, REALTOR® and CDPE. She can also introduce you to a CDPE if you are located in another area of the United States. 

    CDPEs don't merely assist in selling properties, they serve and help save their clients in need.

    SOURCE Certified Distressed Property Institute

    Home Owner Information

    Saving Energy = Saving Money = Good Idea

       The government is expected to unveil a new program in the next
       couple of months that, if approved, may reimburse homeowners for
       up to half the cost of making their homes more efficient. Through the
       program, homeowners will receive the largest return from simple
       upgrades like caulking windows, adding insulation, and changing
       incandescent light bulbs to those that are more energy-efficient.

       To determine which energy-efficiency upgrades are best for their
       house, homeowners should obtain a energy audit. Homeowners are
       advised to hire a contractor licensed by the Building Performance
       Institute or the Residential Industry Services Network. These
       contractors have been trained to first test a home to determine the
       amount of energy it is losing, and then make suggestions or

    Local Real Estate

    Tulare County Multiple Listing Report for December 2009

    The Tulare County Multiple Listing Service has published its December 2009 report. This report features statistics for the sales activities for all types of real estate. Here are the details regarding Single Family Residences:

    Active Properties
    Total Number:      1000
          Average Price:     $241,611
          Median Price:       $185,450 

    Pending Properties
          Total Number:      243
          Average Price:     $154,133
          Median Price:

    Sold Properties
          Total Number:      291
          Average Price:     $150,329
          Median Price:       $140,000

    Average Market Time: 48 days

    Click here for a handy printable PDF document of the complete report for all types of properties. For additional current monthly reports from The Tulare County Multiple Listing Service visit Market Reports in our Resource section of Visalia Fine Living each month.

    Real Estate News

    Governor Schwarzenegger proposes extension and expansion of home buyer tax credit

    Governor Schwarzenegger announced his 2010 proposals for California during his State of the State address this week. One of his proposals is a recommendation to set aside $200 million for a first-time home buyers' tax credit of $10,000. Unlike the previous $10,000 credit, this credit can be received for purchasing an existing home, whereas the previous year's tax credit only applied to new home purchases.

    Home buyers can combine the state tax credit with the federal tax credit for home buyers. The federal tax credit provides qualifying first time buyers with an $8,000 credit and qualifying repeat buyers a $6,500 credit when purchasing a new primary residence. Buyers must be in contract by April, 2010 and close escrow by June, 2010.

    Local News

    Welcome Home RE/MAX Visalia

    The agents of RE/MAX Visalia have been located in several offices over the past few years as the company has continued to grow beyond the capacity of our facilities.

    This past summer many of us moved into our new location and were joined by additional agents who have made RE/MAX Visalia their new home. This week we have moved the last group of our agents from our Main Street location into our beautiful new building located at 4840 W. Mineral King Avenue between Linwood and Akers in Visalia. We are now all under the same roof and are ready to serve our clients and community in 2010. Welcome home RE/MAX family!



    Welcome to Natalie's Blog!

    Happy New Year! We at Visalia Fine Living are excited about 2010 and all the opportunites available to help our friends and clients have a geat year. To kick off the New Year we are launching Natalie's Blog, a place to find the latest in both Real Estate and Fine Living. We hope you enjoy your visit and come back often, as we are continually adding new content. We welcome your ideas for additional features and any other comments or questions you may have. We'd love to hear from you!