Friday, December 17, 2010

Santa’s Home Sale Tips

The real estate myth that “no one buys a home during the Holidays” is debunked every time another property is sold between turkey dinners and gift wrapping. These past weeks have been exceptionally busy at the office and based on the most frequent questions sellers and buyers ask, I offer Santa’s list of “do’s and don’ts”.

1. “What’s that smell?” Homes have aromas. Some are fresh and new. Some are old and stale. Some harbor animal or smoke odors. Some still have the fish dinner from last night hovering when a buyer is due to visit. There are steps a homeowner can take to clean the air but one must not draw attention to the remedy. If the home is vacant or needs freshening for other reasons, open windows and doors to air the home. During the colder months be sure to time such “airing” so that the home is warm and inviting in time to be shown. Use air fresheners sparingly and be careful when spraying over solid floors to avoid causing slippage. If you use aromatic candles, extinguish them at least twenty minutes before the showing and PUT THEM AWAY. Many buyers understandably assume that lit candles are being used to “hide” odors. A soft, clean scent rather than a strong fragrance should greet the buyer as the door opens.
2. “How about my pets?” I love mine and you love yours but a buyer may not share our devotion to our pets. The buyer, in fact, may have serious allergies or be afraid of pets in the home they wish to see. It is always best to take your pets for a long walk or ride when your home is being shown. I will not soon forget the demonic feline that greeted buyers and me as we climbed the stairs to the second floor. Standing on its back legs with front paws and claws reaching out to do facelifts on everyone, this hissing, growling guard cat saved that second floor with its beautiful bedrooms and baths from ever being seen or sold. On another occasion, a two hundred pound Mastiff with the best intentions appeared just as the front door opened. He cocked his head in a curious position and watched as the buyer ran screaming back to the car. The seller had assured the Realtor that his beloved buffalo would be behind a gate. He was. He simply walked through it in his excitement to make a new friend.
3. “What should I do about my Christmas Decorations?” By all means, put them up. Christmas decorations are warm and inviting and their very glow suggests a happy home and heart. That said, I have a brother who makes it his mission to get a bigger tree every year. Because we have had many decades together, and based on the fact that his wife and children could barely enter the room last year, his living room walls and ceiling will have to be removed this year. As I write, he is in the process of accomplishing the engineering marvel necessary to achieve this year’s “Rockefeller Center” goal. Please keep this insanity in my family and not yours when the goal is to sell the home. Passageways must be kept free and easy to maneuver so that your Realtor need not bring along a buzz saw to show the property.
4. “Is it best to wait till the Holidays are over or until spring to put my house on the market? That depends. If your goal is to sell your home for the most money in the shortest period of time, the answer is to list it now. The buyers are buying now. The rates, although still low historically, have increased steadily over the past few weeks as of this writing. Generally higher rates mean less borrowing power for a consumer to buy your home. The other critical component is that home prices are not increasing despite the rhetoric that occurs during political campaigns. Waiting with the hope of “getting more” for your home in the near future is unrealistic according to every reliable survey in our industry. Know that having your home on the market can be stressful for you and it requires work to keep it in good showing condition. Minimizing stress during the holidays may meet your needs more so than optimizing the chance for sale during this period. As for waiting until spring, know that the fall and spring markets have been described as “more active” in the past, but the market changes of the past few years have affected all trends to the point where an age old home selling rule emerges; “It only takes one buyer.” If that one buyer does not see your home while you are “waiting to put it on”, he will buy another property on Christmas Eve or in the middle of a January blizzard. He has. She does. He will.

Speak to your Realtor about your thoughts and needs. Make this very important decision about your largest asset with the professional help that is invaluable. Kevin, if you are reading this article, and you are thinking of selling your home before Christmas, you may have trouble reaching me. My cell phone has been acting up recently………no, really……it has been……..

Broker/Realtor Janet Hilton is a former practicing attorney and critical care RN who with her husband retired Lynn Fire Lieutenant George Hilton own and operate Country Crossroads Realty at 28 Bay Road, South Hamilton, MA. For expert advice and services in the buying and selling of real estate, call 978-468-5910 or visit THE OFFICE IS A DROP OFF CENTER FOR TOYS FOR TOTS ……..Our Own Realtor/Marine Lloyd Smith may be reached at 978-853-7655 for more information.

Friday, November 12, 2010


It is said “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a Veteran.” My Father served under General George Patton during World War ll and although he died when I was young, I grew up knowing that he saved me from a life without freedom and that he would have given his life to make it so.

Realtors interact with many Veterans as they prepare to downsize from homes that no longer meet their needs. They have raised their families. They have done their best. It never ceases to amaze me just how grounded and humble they are about their sacrifices that they rarely discuss. I can never begin to imagine what they have seen, heard, felt and smelled throughout history so that I can write about them as I choose.

These are the Services of our Armed Forces and they are the most powerful and righteous warriors in the history of mankind. They stand on the wall in the dark so that we may sleep in peace at night.

1. The United States National Guard, born in Jamestown 12/13/1607, formerly known as the “Militia”, they are our country’s oldest fighting force with roots to the Patriots who shaped our way of life. The Army National Guard has participated in every war and conflict the US has ever fought from skirmishes to World Wars. In more recent times, the Guard protects our country from natural disasters and plays a major role in the war on drugs that threatens our very fabric from within.

2. The United States Army, born 6/14/1771 also with roots to the Patriots, the US Army is unstoppable and continues to remind any foe of our country that the price to pay for threatening our way of life is, historically, the loss of theirs.

3. The United States Navy, born 10/13/1775. Above and below the oceans of the world, the USN keeps enemies from our shores by bringing unimaginable warfare to theirs. They are positioned all over the world and they remain ready to turn on a dime to quell any threat to our country.

4. The United States Marine Corps born 11/10/1775, a department of the US Navy, is known throughout the world as the instant and terrifying response to any threat to our country. Specially trained to quickly deploy and conquer enemy territory until the Army arrives, the US Marines are often both the first and the last American warriors an enemy will see coming over the wall at them.

5. The United States Coast Guard born 8/4/1790. The USCG has the duty of protecting our shores and they do so both inside and outside of our borders. They are also deployed throughout the world as our “police department” at sea and are heavily involved in the war on drugs. As with the United States Marine Corps, the President can deploy them instantly. USCG’s Medal of Honor recipient Douglas A. Munro’s last words were “Did they get off?” after evacuating pinned down Marines at Guadalcanal.

6. The United States Air Force born 9/18/1947 was formerly known as the US Army Air Corps. The USAF like the US Navy projects its military power all over the world. When our ground troops call in for “air support” the clouds open up and terror rains down upon those who have taken up arms against our country.

While there has been so much press and pressure about the condition of our housing market and our economy in the recent years, there has never been a time in our country when Americans failed to find the balance.

The election of 11/2/2010 can be viewed not so much within the context of any particular party, but rather as the collective voice of Americans who continue to rise up against any threat to our way of life whether it is from within our borders or from outside of our borders. We rise up in submarines, PT boats, aircraft carriers, Sherman tanks, fighter jets, helicopters, Higgins landing crafts, parachutes, horseback, boots on the ground, scuba gear…………or in the election booths.

There are certain words that can never be said enough and they can never be said enough to certain Americans. Thank you, dearest Veterans, and Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


This week I would like to dedicate my article to a sweetheart of a lady whose beloved home no longer meets her needs. I will call her Maggie and I will tell you that she represents a growing number of our relatives, neighbors and friends who are at a crossroads in life that involves “home being where the heart is”.
Maggie called and asked if we would come to her home and provide a price analysis for her. She and her husband had purchased the home nearly forty years ago when they were a much younger couple. Maggie’s husband died in recent years.
When Maggie answered the door to her lovely home she made little eye contact with my associate and me. She led us from one room to the next and had very little to say as if she were showing two strangers someone else’s home and not the property she called home for forty years. By the time we reached the end of our tour, she was standing at the far end of the kitchen with a distance between us.
It did not take a Sigmund Freud to know that we as Realtors represented something disturbing, painful or both to Maggie. We approached her table and asked if we might sit together for a few moments. When Maggie sat down her arms were folded across her chest and she did not pull her chair closer to the table. Maggie’s heart was not “in” real estate pricing or market details at all. Maggie’s heart was in her home.
I looked toward the many family photos and mementos that lined the walls and asked her about her family. She began to tell us about raising her children and grandchildren in the home. We learned where the holiday parties were held and where presents were opened year after year. She unfolded her arms and pulled her chair closer to the table. She said…. “I am overwhelmed.”
After further discussion we learned that Maggie had been living alone in a large home that required much work both interiorly and exteriorly. Her arms ached from raking leaves and her back would ache from shoveling soon. She could hardly keep up with the dusting and vacuuming of so many rooms that she rarely enters anymore. She said “I love my home and I do not want to leave it.” When I asked if she could hire the help she needed to maintain the home without sacrificing her own health, she said she could not afford it. Once again she said “I am overwhelmed.”
Even if Maggie were to make the decision to sell the home, the rest of the news came as a shock to her. Because her neighborhood had little to no turnover, neither she nor her neighbors had a realistic sense as to what they had been hearing and seeing on the news for the past several years of declining prices. Maggie just had no idea that her home’s value had dropped to the level it had. For her, the housing crisis had impacted “others” and it was not easy for Maggie to learn that she was one of those “others”.
Like many folks in Maggie’s position, there are homeowners who planned to downsize one day and use their long term equity as “retirement” funds. The loss of equity in the housing market has impacted every household in one way or another. It is small wonder why Maggie is feeling “overwhelmed”. She is impacted both emotionally and financially.
If you are reading this article and you can identify with Maggie, here are some thoughts for you as we discussed with Maggie:
1. DO NOT SELL YOUR HOME. Explore all the possibilities that may work for you including the renting of space for financial help and assistance with maintenance. Perhaps a family member or friend needs help too. These times present as many opportunities as they do challenges and you may help each other.
2. SELL YOUR HOME. Know that if you purchase another home that does meet your needs you will be making that purchase in the buyers’ market of lower pricing. It may be a financial “wash” for you in the end
3. DO NOT MAKE HASTY DECISIONS. Every property sells at the right price and time……every single one. It is very difficult to make a decision of such magnitude while you are feeling “overwhelmed”. Please hold off until you have gathered information sufficient to make the best decision to meet your needs.
4. RELY ON TRUSTED PROFESSIONALS. A trusted professional will never say “Sign right here.” when he/she recognizes the signs of one who is “overwhelmed”. Timing is everything and as long as the bank is not at the back door, there is plenty of time to learn what you need to know to make the decision of a lifetime no matter what that decision is.
5. REMEMBER WHERE AND WHO YOU ARE. This is America and no matter what has been thrown in the path of Americans, the journey continues for all of us who work hard and get up every morning with the full appreciation that we are the luckiest people in the world.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


It was almost impossible to get enough of the coverage of the rescue of the thirty-three Chilean miners as this miracle of life was unfolding before our eyes. The whole world became fluent in the language of gratitude, love and joy as we watched each condemned man fall into the embrace of his family and friends who had waited breathlessly two thousand feet above hell.
As I listened to one commentator after another, it came as no surprise that once again our wonderful country had come to the aid of another with our advanced technology, amazing resources and our unparalleled sense of duty to humanity.
On a day that yet another bank’s delay had caused several lawyers, realtors, sellers and buyers to sit for hours at the Registry of Deeds while movers with trucks full of furniture sat outside homes they could not yet enter, the mood was unusually gay and conversation was uplifting as the hours passed. Though thousands of miles away, joyous events can have a contagious affect on all of us. Positive experiences make us feel good.
It is natural to feel good around the positive and feel bad around the negative. It is so simple a concept that I expect more folks would change the way they look at themselves and our world if they adopted a positive outlook on life. There are increasing numbers of books, seminars and “schools” of thought that espouse the belief that one’s positive thoughts and deeds attract more of the same. Conversely, the opposite is just as true.
Someone you know sees the clouds forming and says “Oh no. No one will come to my open house in the rain.” Someone else you know sees the same clouds and says “Oh boy! Everyone will see that my roof and basement remain dry!” Some one you know has a home on the market and says “It will probably never sell in this market.” Someone else you know has a home on the market and says “I’d better start packing now.”
Someone reading this article has a job she does not love with co-workers who do not appreciate her. It is not possible to hide the negative feelings that always project outwardly and scream “Misery is my co-pilot.” That person would have nothing to lose by looking in the mirror and saying “I am lucky to have a job.” What would it cost that person to hum or whistle a tune at work and put a kick in his/her step? If it is true that positive thought turns into positive deeds and a return on your investment, why not apply it to real estate?
Here are some facts to consider the next time a negative thought about real estate rears its ugly head in front of you.
1. Every single property sells at the right price without fail and every time.
2. The number one reason a property does not sell within a reasonable time frame for that particular market is the price. The number two reason is ineffective marketing.
3. Everyone needs a place to live and properties get sold and purchased in every market.
4. If you must sell at a lower price in this market, you will also be purchasing at a lower price in this market.
5. If you experienced difficulty during this cycle of real estate, know that cycles are ever changing and this is a perfect time to believe that the difficulty will not last.

Recognize negativity and those who would suck the joy out of your life as environmental toxic hazards to be avoided at all costs. Know that for sixty-nine days the fate of thirty-three miners had been in the hands of believers who never say die and with whose powerful collective positive thoughts and deeds gave the world an early Thanksgiving Gift.

Thursday, September 30, 2010


The fall market has kept many Realtors busy and there is plenty of inventory to keep buyers busy as well. Looking for just the right property can be a full time job for buyers whose busy lives leave limited time for their search. There are almost as many real estate sites as there are homes for sale and the process itself can be both confusing and overwhelming. What’s a buyer to do? Get yourself a professional Realtor to call your very own.
Realtors work with sellers when they list properties for sale and Realtors work with buyers who are looking to buy properties. Many buyers already understand the value and peace of mind that comes from working with one Realtor who knows what his/her client wants as well as he/she knows the market and how to find it.
Dan and Margo are renting presently and they spend every spare moment looking for just the right home to purchase. They are not working with a professional Realtor and they have not yet had a professional lender go over their finances in order to provide them with a pre approval letter that determines the price range that would work for them.
After months of driving through communities all over the North Shore and stopping in to countless open houses, they drove by the “house of their dreams” recently. It looked like everything they wanted. When they called the number on the sign they learned that the house was under agreement and scheduled to close the following week. Had they been working with a professional Realtor, they would most likely have known about the property as soon as it came on the market and they would not have lost the opportunity.
Ken and Carla’s home is scheduled to close. They have not yet found their next home. Although Carla thought it best to have a professional Realtor represent their interests on the buying end, Ken did not want to be “tied down” to working with one Realtor. Every Sunday Ken prepares a list of open houses from internet sites he has located. He and Carla pack up the children and drive from one open house to the next. Each time they enter an open house they are asked to sign the guest register. There is a section of the register where a guest can sign in his/her professional Realtor’s name instead of his/her own. Ken and Carla have no such professional representation. In a few weeks they and their children will have to be out of their home and they are scrambling to make last minute arrangements without the assistance of a professional Realtor.
Mark is a first time home buyer. Like many buyers, Mark does not understand the value of working with one professional Realtor whose fiduciary duty is to represent Mark’s interests from start to finish. Instead of choosing one professional Realtor to learn Mark’s exact needs, focus all attention and apply all skills to meet those needs, Mark converses with every Realtor he meets at open houses. He also calls Realtors whose numbers appear on the yard signs and he makes appointments with them to see the properties as he is entitled to do. The Realtors he calls are obliged to disclose to Mark that they represent the interests of the seller. Regardless, Mark engages in lengthy discussions without the benefit of a professional Realtor representing his interests. Mark does not understand that he has disclosed sensitive information about his circumstances that impact his ability to negotiate from a position of strength. The seller’s Realtor must act in the best interest of the seller and in the absence of a professional Realtor to represent Mark’s interests, the seller remains in a far better position.
Mike and Karin have sent out invitations to family, friends and to their professional Realtor for a housewarming party. They understood the value of working with one professional Realtor who understood exactly how to meet their needs. On the same day they closed on the home they sold, they also closed on the home of their dreams that they purchased with their professional Realtor’s constant representation and guidance. They never spent one dime out of pocket for that protection or representation and the transition was as stress less as possible.
“Realtor hopping” or “tail spinning shopping” is for the uninformed who continue to lose out on opportunities, and run amok through a market that can be unforgiving. Every one deserves the kind of experience that leads to a happy home, so choose an experienced Realtor, say a prayer to the real estate gods and off you go!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Always Thank a Marine

Several months ago I listed a property and was so moved by the owner’s personal story about her Dad that I wrote about it that week. For those readers who may have missed it, I’ll recap briefly because the story has evolved this week.
The owner had purchased the property some years earlier and had planned to have her Dad move in with the family. Her Dad had served in World War ll as a Navy Coxswain who delivered Marines in landing boats to the horrific battles off the Japanese held Saipan and Tinian Islands. His life long devotion to the Marines as a direct result of what he witnessed caused him to say to all who would listen “Always thank a Marine.”
Shortly before he was to join his daughter and family at the WW11 Memorial in Washington a few years back, he called his daughter to say that he would not be able to make the trip. He told them “If you see a Marine, thank him.” Within days he died. After his funeral, his heartbroken family made the trip to honor him and they made their way to the Tinian and Saipan section of the Memorial where they placed a 1941 photo of their young Navy Coxswain.
They saw an elderly man staring down at the photo. When he asked if the man in the photo was their Dad, they nodded and the old man’s eyes filled. The daughter asked “Did you know my Father?” The old man was surrounded by his own family when he answered “You never forget the face of your Coxswain.” The Coxswain’s daughter asked “Are you a Marine, sir?” When he nodded, she said “My Father said to thank you.”
In recent weeks, the property that is tastefully decorated with military and historic memorabilia (no doubt rooted in a daughter’s devotion) went under agreement.
As is the case with many sellers who have not yet found their next home, the seller began to experience the stress of that interim period between homes. Will the right home be found in time? The closing is approaching.
While I was on vacation, the colleague who was covering for me let her know of a property in another North Shore community. While that particular property was not quite right, she drove around the area and it began to “feel like home”. As she turned the corner, she saw the home of her dreams. It was just as she pictured. It was the perfect size. It was just the right style. The neighborhood was perfect. The yard was exactly what she wanted. It was just so quaint and cute. It was also under agreement with another buyer.
My client really began to feel that she would never find a property that felt so much like “home”. She drove to the property again and again just to see it while she begrudgingly continued her search for another property. Toward that end she reviewed dozens of properties and we walked out of several more that just did not feel like home.
I had spoken with the listing Realtor and asked that she keep me posted if the transaction should fall through. She agreed to do so but she added that everything looked like “a go”.
To respond to the growing need for interim housing, several large hotel chains offer programs that meet myriad needs of folks in like circumstances. Just as my client was considering such options, she had one of those “moments” that can only be understood by those who have had such a “moment”. She began reflecting on how she had planned to have her Dad live with her in the home she had purchased with him in mind and that was now about to be sold. While she was having such a “moment”, my phone was ringing several towns away. The listing Realtor was calling to inform me of a most surprising turn of events. The home of my client’s dreams was back on the market. This adorable home is now back under agreement with my client.
As happens in this world to believers of things beyond this world, it was my colleague who was covering for me while I was away who first directed my client to this area that became so special to her. My colleague is a Marine. Just as my client was signing the paperwork that would secure her new home for her, I felt a “strong urge”to make a call to my colleague. When he answered the phone, I handed it to her so she could “Thank the Marine”.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


Because the housing recovery depends on the economy’s consistent adding of jobs, it remains unlikely that home prices will increase within the next several years. That said, what is a seller to do?
Generally, there are two reasons why a seller sells his/her home:
1. The seller is under duress due to financial or personal hardship.
2. The seller’s needs change and the low cost of re-buying makes good money sense in such a market.
Sellers who stay informed of the current market conditions are more likely to make the best decisions for themselves and their families. There are as many options available to homeowners as there are circumstances. Here are some thoughts to consider while contemplating the possible sale of your home:
1. You have lived in your home for many years. It no longer meets your needs. You have a good deal of equity in the home and if you sell, you will be buying another home that does meet your needs.
If you find yourself in this category, you are very lucky in deed. No matter what the market price is for your home, as long as you make a purchase in the same market, the “hit” will be across the board. Folks refer to this transaction as a “wash”.
2. Your home no longer meets your needs and although you can afford the mortgage you have little to no equity in the home. Contact a professional Realtor and a qualified lender for advice on how to move forward.
3. You can not afford to pay the mortgage and the bank is at the door. You may be eligible for a loan modification. (Be very careful with this one. Scams are widespread and one “red flag” to avoid according to Fox News Contributor Attorney Bob Massi is when any “promise” is made to reduce the principle. It is not done.). You may also be eligible for a short sale wherein the bank agrees to accept less than what is owed on the mortgage because the home is no longer worth the full amount. Contact a professional Realtor who is experienced in short sales.
4. Your home no longer meets your needs and you are considering putting it on the rental market rather than selling it in a buyer’s market. The key question with renting vs selling is “what is your motivation?” If you wish to rent it out now and sell it “when the market comes back”, the unknown is “when”. You will have to do the numbers that involve the carrying costs of the property through the years of uncertainty against the amount of rent that you would be able to receive to offset your debt. You may also wish to ask as many landlords as you can find about their experiences.
5.Your home no longer meets your needs but you think you should just tough it out until the market “comes back”. Once again, the key is “when” you can sell your home for an amount of money that is acceptable to you. Real Trends publisher Steve Murray, a well known economic authority on real estate trends reports that a home purchased in 2005 (the height of the market) will not be worth that purchase price again until approximately 2018. These figures are based on the long road back through joblessness and historic national debt that is increasing by the moment.

There are some truths that remain clear to those who practice in the Real Estate industry. Every home sells at the right price and time. Everybody needs a place to live. The buyers are buying and the banks are lending. The July/2010 report that showed homes sales at their lowest number in 15 years had more to do with the fact that the April tax credit deadline prompted buyers to act more quickly thus lowering their numbers for July.

What is a seller to do? Keep informed and do not be afraid of this market. It is the lack of understanding that may cost you dearly. Your professional Realtor is your best defense against jeopardizing your assets in a market that does not reward gamblers or lightweights. Good Luck!