June 2010 Archives

June 22, 2010

New Home Construction Catering to Women!?

Interesting article by Alyssa Abkowitz in the May 2010 issue of SmartMoney, called "Wanted: Single Women Home Buyers." Abkowitz discusses what new-home builders are doing these days to attract customers their way -- specifically female customers, who are often either the "deciders," or, increasingly, are buying solo.

Okay, so if you've got double X chromosomes, now's a good time to stop and test yourself: What are the most important home features to you? And what cool features do you wish homes had, but rarely seem to encounter?

Actually, some of the items that today's builders are rolling out "just for you" seem fairly predictable, like giant walk-in closets, enhanced home safety and security features, and attention to aesthetic details.

Some, as Abkowitz points out, seem like things that any reasonable person would want, such as kitchens that open into the family room, walk-in pantries, and drop-zones for groceries. (Yay for drop zones! In my house, they're called "chairs.")

And then there are the really granular, sometimes oddball features: wall-mounted gift-wrapping stations with retractable shelves; "serenity packages" that features walls padded with noise-muffling material and bathrooms with hidden storage right in the walls for reading materials and feminine hygiene products; and a special hairdryer-ready drawer with the plug included. Wow, things I never knew I wanted!

Come to think of it, having read too many Victorian novels as a kid, those hidden drawers sound really appealing. Some hidden bookshelves and passageways would be nice, too. And how about a dumbwaiter?  


June 15, 2010

Homeowners' Warranties: Another Reason Not to Love Them

Anyone who's read any of my books on real estate will know I cast a wary eye on homeowners' warranties -- those service contracts meant to supply repair and replacement of a home's appliances, heating, and other systems when needed.

I've heard too many stories of homeowners who were disappointed when, after paying the standard service fee, they were told that nothing more could be done because the condition arose before the contract period, or they didn't do the required maintenance on whatever the malfunctioning object was, or the problematic portion of the pipe or whatever was excluded from coverage. (Actually, that last bit wasn't a story I heard -- it happened to me, with my dishwasher. Grr.)

Anyway, we can now thank Amanda Gengler, of MONEY magazine, for coming up with yet another reason not to love home warranties: When the warranty company actually agrees to a replacement, they don't need to use the same brand!

Gengler notes, in an article in the June 2010 issue of MONEY called "5 Things You Need to Know About Home Warranties,"  "There's no promise that a GE will not replace your Viking or a black dishwasher won't appear in a kitchen full of white appliances."

Just another reminder that a home warranty is not, repeat not, a form of insurance. You don't get cash, you don't get a choice of repairpeople -- you get services, and often limited ones. 
June 11, 2010

Nolo's Book for First-Time Landlords a Bruss Award Winner!

The annual Bruss awards for excellence in newly published books were recently announced at a conference of the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) in Austin, Texas. Good news for Nolo: Our book First-Time Landlord: Your Guide to Renting Out a Single Family Home, by Janet Portman, Marcia Stewart, and Michael Molinksi, won silver! For real: Here's the NAREE press release.

Author Janet Portman says of helping to plan and write this book, "We knew there were a lot of people who'd never expected to be landlords -- perhaps who'd moved to a different house, or inherited homes that they couldn't sell in the current market -- and we planned the book to address that need. We're delighted to see the enthusiastic response from both customers and the NAREE awards committee."

And congratulations to the other winners!
June 10, 2010

Online Fun for Home Buyers

The sun is shining, you're hoping to buy a new house -- but you're stuck at your desk, and haven't seen an open house sign in your neighborhood in weeks. Here's some diversion while you wait: a new article on Nolo's website, "Online Fun for Home Buyers." 
June 4, 2010

Buying a Vacation Home in a Development: What to Look For

Vacation home developments aren't doing too well financially these days -- even the reputable builders are struggling, if not going under.

But, according to research gathered by Carl Shepherd, of HomeAway, the vacation home market isn't dead, nor is it just for the rich. The average income of vacation home buyers has actually fallen in recent years, to around $87,000. Most of them plan to make the numbers work by renting the place out when they're not staying there.

So if you're among those considering buying a vacation home, what should you look for? Here are seven tips for buying in a development, provided (at a recent seminar) by Dan Collins of IMI Executives. His advice can, in some cases, be adapted for buyers of regular vacation homes, or year-round homes located in developments.

1) Look for a place on a great piece of land, or one with excellent added amenities. (That's the "location, location, location" advice that's always been true for real estate, and is perhaps truer than ever in the down economy.)

2) Check out the master plan. No matter how nice your house-to-be will be, what surrounds it is equally important. The plan should reflect wise designs, such as an acceptable level of density between homes, and desirable amenities.

3) Choose a reputable developer. That's also truer than ever, since the disreputable ones are going out of business faster than ever, sometimes before finishing the project.

4) Make sure the developer has the financial capacity to see the project through. Ask lots of questions, on topics such as the company's financial strength, and how much debt it will be taking on for this particular project. If you see that a major loan is coming from only one lender, consider that a red flag -- if that lender pulls out or requires repayment before the project is stable, there could be trouble.

5) Favor developments where the major amenities have already been built or are under construction. Otherwise, you might never see them!

6) Make sure that the area is within reasonable driving distance of a solid population of other potential buyers.

7) Look for perks, such as family-friendly club policies (so the grandkids can swim in the pool) or several weeks' free stay in local hotels while you wait for the place to be built, giving you a chance to get to know the area.

Happy travels!