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!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


There is a saying “If you are lucky enough to live by the water, then you are lucky enough.” Many residents of Rock Pond in Georgetown are among those folks who are lucky enough and they are in the process of saving their sweet little beach from being taken by the town for back taxes.
Decades ago funds were left in trust by a private party to maintain the Rock Pond Beach for the enjoyment of those who had deeded rights to the beach. What has happened to those funds is yet to be discovered, but the story behind the movement to save a special place in the sun is as American as it is heartwarming.
For years the little beach was the focal point of summer where families and friends gathered to relax and enjoy the beauty of Rock Pond. It was so adored by the community that beach chair and blanket space was at a premium and one had to get there early to stake out a spot. The beach was kept clean and a shed was built to store equipment such as rakes and floats that cordoned off the swimming area. The neighbors knew and cared about each other and the Rock Pond community was “lucky enough”.
As happens with the passing of time, children grow up and move away from sweet little beaches. Parents grow older and their needs are often better met in other locations. The dynamic of whole communities can change to the point where neighbors no longer know each other and the only gatherings that take place on sweet little beaches are those of geese and ducks.
The beautiful Rock Pond Beach was left to ruin for years and it was becoming a junk yard filled with trash. There is a sadness associated with the ruination of something beautiful and timeless. Busy with their separate lives, Rock Pond residents continued to drive past the sad little beach every day as it became more of an eyesore than the gem it always was. The task of cleaning up the beach seemed overwhelming anyway and where would one begin if one did? One did.
Kris and Nicole Owens have four children and they live across the way from the beach. Kris began riding his lawn mower over to the beach to mow the grass. He and Nicole then began to clean up the beach by raking up trash and glass particles that would hurt their children. When asked what made Kris begin such an undertaking Nicole said “Oh, he just generally does things that feel right.”
Close neighbors and friends joined them with rakes and trash bags. They made a path to the old shed and rummaged through forgotten floats and equipment. Soon they had the swimming area cordoned off and as more neighbors began to take notice, the old dock began to see kayaks and canoes. One day several weeks ago as Kris was raking, a passerby stopped to ask why he was “bothering to clean up the beach” that was being “taken by the town for back taxes to be sold off as buildable lots.” Kris did not know the man and has not seen him since, but for those who do not believe in “coincidence”, this chance encounter certainly was “meant to be”.
Kris went to Town Hall and found that in deed, the town was preparing to take back the
beach that would be turned over for development. Quickly a committee was formed and fliers went out to nearly two hundred homes that have deeded rights to the beach. Most residents were not even aware of those rights, but many were pleasantly surprised to learn of the additional value to their properties.
The town is now working with the Rock Pond Beach Association who have collected funds sufficient to stave off the taking for the time being. What has happened at Rock Pond, however, goes beyond taxes and taking, raking and cleaning. Neighbors are gathering with friends and families. Children are learning a sense of community as they see neighbors, once strangers, now waving on the way by to each other. What began with one mower and one rake is not so far removed from the barn buildings of centuries ago. People needed each other to develop as part of a whole rather than to merely exist in isolation. There is as much laughter as there is splashing now around Rock Pond and it is absolutely intoxicating.
Perhaps being part of something so uplifting during such difficult times will be a driving force behind many “Rock Pond” movements throughout the country. The Rock Pond neighbors have become “lucky enough” again.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


We are approaching that time in our country when the voting booths will be opening again for us Americans to control our own destiny. Professional commentators are all over the map with predictions and there is rarely a shortage of propaganda to support claims that further a political agenda.
Propaganda that espouses “how well” we are doing in the ant farming market can hurt ant farmers who rely upon such faulty information. Propaganda that leads consumers to believe that the housing market is improving right now or in the near future is dangerous and can cause the loss of fortunes.
Experienced Realtors have the means by which to provide Clients with information that exists outside the political arena, the TV, radio, print media or internet. Painting a rosy picture of the housing industry may work in the voting booth for a temporary period of time, but in Real Estate, the truth will set you free indefinitely. Here is the truth:

1. The Housing Market continues to decline. Eighty percent of Contracts to Purchase single family homes go to closing within Sixty days. In order to determine the value of a property, all who work in the industry look backwards to compare prices of those comparable properties that have SOLD. We consistently see that the prices continue to decline.
2. There are indicators that can be used to determine future changes. One of these indicators is a “future contract”. When Realtors and industry related professionals such as bankers and appraisers look at the declining number of contracts that have been written for the purchase of homes in the coming weeks and months, the news is instructive. The number of sales continues to decline as do the prices.
3. The leading economic indicators (LEI) show unemployment stats hovering at 10% and despite some reporting to the contrary, the Stimulus Package has not produced the jobs needed to bolster the housing market.
4. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shares fell to their lowest since 1992 and 1994 respectively as reported by Wall Street. The sharp decline is thought to be a direct result of proposed legislation that would require the mortgage giants to raise huge capital sufficient to give a break to homeowners whose loans are too burdensome. When investors get spooked, it becomes more difficult for consumers to obtain a loan to purchase a home.


As long as a consumer has a handle on what is true, he/she can move through any market and achieve the optimum outcome possible (most amount of equity out in shortest period of time). If you want to (or have to) sell your home, do not wait. You are living in your own bank and it is shrinking. There is nothing you did to cause it and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You must price your property correctly and it will sell. Every property sells at the right price and time.

Know that if you sell one property and purchase another, you may be among the many consumers who refer to your selling and buying as a “wash”. The market decline is across the board. You do not sell “too low” and buy “to
If you are a buyer, there is hardly a better time than these times to make a purchase. The rates remain historically (or hysterically) low and the banks are doing what they should be doing. They are loaning money to folks who can pay them back.

If you are planning to retire in the near future, downsize and you have a good bank account, you may be among those in the best position to buy. The housing prices will remain low. You can sell your home that has accumulated large equity over the years. You can purchase a home that meets your changing needs for cash or a smaller mortgage thereby ridding you of the burden of higher interest rates.

We are not near the end of this declining market and we who read the signs and practice within the industry every day know it. If you do not understand the economic facts that directly affect your fortune, you will lose money. It is that simple.

This is America, thank goodness. Information is free flowing. Read as much as you can and educate yourselves as much as possible about the Housing Recovery. There has never been a time when Americans failed to rise above any/all adversity. We just need to know the truth and no one makes better decisions collectively than Americans do.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Sometimes the frustration of not finding just the right home to purchase leads folks to consider building the exact home they envision. Finding suitable land requires more homework than finding suitable houses that have already undergone the research and development of the land involved in building. Before embarking on a journey that may lead to either your dream home or your nightmare, there are preliminary steps to follow.
Once you have located a parcel that feels like home to you, go to the town (or city) hall to check with the planning and zoning departments. Ask what the long range plans may be that would affect your enjoyment of your property. Heartbreak only begins to describe the aftermath of building a lifelong dream house next to lush natural surroundings that were subsequently cut down to make way for the super highway that had been in the planning for years. There may also be a school or a park planned that would bring all the crowds and ballplayers to your dinner table daily.
If you are certain that a future municipal airport will not be sharing your air space every night, you will want to determine if the land is in a recorded subdivision or lies within unrecorded acreage. Subdivisions come with plats (maps) that will have more updated details than the subdivision plan itself. You would be able to determine if your neighbor had the right to cut down all the beautiful woodlands on his property that had attracted you in the first place. The documents may show that those woodlands may never be cut down and that directly affects the resale value of the home you build.
The plat may show utility easements (the right of use or way over your land) that will restrict or prohibit construction. These easements can not always be seen, but their existence will determine what you can or can not do with the land.
Land within subdivisions generally comes with restrictions that limit the control you will have over your property. Limiting control is not necessarily a bad thing as restrictions exist to maintain certain standards of living and are applied to all owners within that subdivision. Without restrictions, a neighbor could decide to raise attack dogs in an unfenced back yard while another neighbor could express his inner self with lime green exterior paint that irritated the dogs.
Another consideration that must be addressed when evaluating land costs is the topography of the land itself. Is it mostly ledge that must be blasted? Is it on a slope that must be filled in with additional soil? Are there already utilities at the site? Is there water or sewerage at the site or will you have to drill a well and install a septic? The costs to preparing the land for building may be so high that once your home is built on such a top heavy site, you may never get a return on the value invested. After all, it would still only be one single family home in a market that will not reward the preparatory work involved in building it.
Building your own home on the perfect location is enormously rewarding when the research has been as thorough as is reasonably possible. When looking for land for homebuilding, it is imperative that you engage the services of knowledgeable professionals. Your Realtor, Builder and Lender should be with you throughout the process to avoid finding baseballs crashing through your picture window that overlooks the new town dump with aromas that float on the breeze to your patio that sits under the Boeing 747 that roars overhead periodically drowning out the symphony from super highway traffic that appeared after you built that dream home.

Friday, July 9, 2010


You have waited all year and it’s time to relax away from home. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, statistics show that July and August are the busiest months for burglars who love your being away almost as much as you do.
There are many ways to avoid becoming a victim of these menacing threats to our homes and lives. Here are some tips from the FBI, The Home Safety Council and this REALTOR that may serve to keep your homes secure while you enjoy much deserved time away:

1.Do not leave recorded messages that you are “out of town”.
2.Do not leave any key anywhere except in the hand of your REALTOR, a trusted friend or family member who will bring in your mail and any periodicals or newspapers while you are away.
3.Keep bushes, shrubs and any plantings trimmed under windows so burglars can not hide in them. (If your home is on the market, REALTORS don’t like hidden burglars at all.)
4.Let your trusted neighbors know that you will be away and that you are not expecting any visitors so that they may call the police about suspicious activity around your home. (Your REALTOR is NOT to be carted away)
5.All doors, windows, garages and sheds should have working locks.
6.Be sure the automatic garage door has been completely closed as you leave.
7.Make one last trip around the home to be sure all sliding glass doors, side doors, bulkheads etc are locked and secured.
8.Store ladders securely away in locked garage or shed so that they can not be used to access the home.
9.Use timers for selected lights or outdoor water sprinklers to make it appear that someone is home.
10.Mow the lawn one last time just before you leave. (Tall grass suggests that the homeowner may be away).
11.Put bright lights over porches and walk ways in front and back yards.
12.Do not leave any toys, tools or equipment in the yard.

Have the time of your good lives this summer and come home to your properties refreshed and happy. For those of you whose homes are on the market, just come home ready to close!

Broker/Realtor Janet Hilton is a former practicing attorney and critical care RN who with her husband retired Lynn Fire Lieutenant George Hilton owns and operates REMAX Country Crossroads at 144 Newburyport Turnpike in the Rowley Plaza. For excellence in providing Real Estate services, call the office 978-948-5333 or visit

Thursday, June 10, 2010


Out of the housing crisis that has wreaked havoc with so many Americans during the last several years have emerged a growing number of families and individuals who are in need of rentals. The growing number of rental seekers is likely to meet head on with a growing number of homeowners who have been on the fence as to whether to sell now or wait “until the market comes back”.

Before the wave of bad loans, falling home values, unemployment, short sales, and foreclosures began washing over our families, friends and neighbors, there were few single family homes for rent. If a family entered into a landlord/tenant relationship, it was most likely with a landlord who owned the home as an investment property. He bought low and chose to rent until he would sell high in a strong market. Typically, the landlord required that the tenant applicant have a strong credit history before he would enter into an agreement for rental. The tenants were often folks who were not in a position to purchase, but could demonstrate income flow and who had good credit.

Difficult times often produce changes in attitude that precede changes in practice. These days are really tough for those who own shelters from the storm and for those who need to be sheltered. Here is who you all are and to the extent that you meet and help each other, I offer the following information:

Tom and Judy have 2 small children. They purchased their second home at the height of the market with a loan that their lender said they could refinance within about six months. It was a choker of a loan and when the market fell down around the high price they paid for their home, they were not able to refinance. The rising interest rate came due and they struggled to keep current as their home quickly became worth far less than what they owed the bank. After two more devastating years, they sought counsel with an accountant and lawyer. On advice of counsel, they filed for bankruptcy. What they did not know was that the attorney had the mortgage discharged despite the fact that it was never the couples’ intent to discharge their mortgage as part of the bankruptcy.

After another year went by, Tom and Judy continued to pay their bank every month on time. When they read about “loan modification” programs, they began to inquire of their bank if they would be eligible. It was during this dialogue with the bank that they learned that there was no mortgage to modify. It had been discharged. As such, not one of their hard met timely payments had been reported to the credit bureaus. They in fact, had no credit history building. When they called their lawyer he said “Just keep paying the monthly bill on time. The bank probably won’t evict as long as you pay them.”

That night the couple stared at the ceiling. The next morning they stared at their children.

If this family like so many hard working Americans knocks on your door knows that they make good money, they respect the property of others and they pay their bills on time. The old standard “credit report” will no longer reflect the whole story in this challenging market.

If you are a homeowner whose home no longer meets your needs, it may very well meet the needs of the Toms and Judy’s out here. We have every reason to believe that home prices will increase again but not for several years. If you are on the fence about what to do with your own home, you may have options that are well worth exploring. We have a number of worthy families who are waiting to meet you. You may need Tom and Judy just as much as they need you until the storm clouds clear.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


In May, 1868 General John Logan, National Commander of the grand Army of the Republic officially proclaimed Memorial Day to honor all those who gave their lives in the service of their country.

As a very young girl, I can remember marching in the Memorial Day parade every year and trying so hard not to drop my baton while an ocean of flags waved all around me. As an adult now I reflect on the irony of my Memorial Day parade experience. I was thrilled with my sparkling gold trim on a costume that I was sure dazzled everyone as I marched by. It was a costume to die for. My WW11 Veteran Dad, however, marched along side of me no doubt immersed in his own thoughts about the COUNTRY he loved enough to die for.

The years that have passed since my marching career came to an end have given this “Majorette Idol” time to understand the extreme importance of REMEMBERING the sacrifices of our military. The importance of those sacrifices never diminishes over time.

As of this writing, two very sacred and solemn anniversaries are upon us.
May 31st, Memorial Day is an opportunity to reflect on how vitally important it has always been to teach our children what it took and takes to live in freedom. If we do not make sure that each generation understands and values the freedom they have to make choices, to speak against tyranny, to pursue happiness and attain their own financial goals, we run the danger of becoming the kind of country that needed to be rescued by America in the past.

On June 6, 1944, 160,000 allied troops landed along 50 miles of Normandy France coastline to fight the Nazis. By the end of the day, over 5000 allied ships and 13,000 airplanes had taken back the territory at a cost of 9000 soldiers killed or wounded. The indescribable sacrifice resulted in over 100,000 allied soldiers beginning their advance through Europe to rid the world of such an unspeakable curse.
During the recent years when Americans have been working harder for less, we have experienced the loss of housing, jobs and many have lost hope. There has never been a time in America, no matter what the economic or political challenge faced, that we have failed to focus our collective energy, intelligence and spirit to eradicate any threat to our precious way of life.

While the interest rates are lowering again and home prices are at all time lows, no matter what your individual challenges may be, there is no doubt that recovery is around every corner in America. Whether we are sitting on Easy St, or traveling the Road of Hard Knocks, we owe everything we have to those who gave everything they had. The best way to honor them is to TEACH OUR CHILDREN WELL.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Every now and then when I’ve brought a buyer to a newly constructed home I’ve heard “Why would the builder ever put the kitchen on this side of the house?” or “Look how far I have to walk with shopping bags from the garage.” It is critical that builders and all those in the home building industry listen very carefully to what the consumers want. There is ample evidence from such sources such as the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) that they are doing just that.

Huge consumer groups have spoken and the industry captains have heard. The growing trend in home building today is to provide solutions that are economical without sacrificing appeal and convenience.

In short, through the first two quarters of 2009 the homes that were built were smaller according to the US Census Bureau and more efficient. Home sizes on average stopped increasing in 2008 and began a downward trend in 2009. For the first time since 1992, the building of homes with at least 3 bedrooms was down. The number of homes being built with 4 or more bedrooms has been falling since 2007 and those with 2 or more stories have continued a downward trend since 2006.

In times of economic challenges, huge gas guzzling cars lose their appeal. The same can be said for behemoths that drive up heating and maintenance costs in the ever changing climates of Rowley, Georgetown, Ipswich, and our beautiful North Shore communities. The desire for spacious living area can be achieved without building a huge costly structure. According to the NAHB, one of the top 10 priorities in 2010 would be to build 9-foot ceilings on the first floor for example.

Rooms separated by walls have given way to the open floor plan that remains desirable but is being built on a smaller scale. The person doing the cooking is no longer isolated in the kitchen from family or friends enjoying the company of each other. The functions of each open area may be defined by the placement of furniture or specific flooring, but the purpose is to accommodate multiple needs in a warm, inviting and organized plan.

The top ten home features that builders will be including in 2010 are:
Walk-in closets, Laundry rooms, Insulated front doors, Great rooms, Low “e” windows, Linen Closets, Programmable thermostats, Energy Efficient appliances and lighting, Separate shower and tub in the master bathroom, and Nine foot ceilings.

Among the largest consumer groups that the builders should be listening to now are the Baby Boomers who were born between 1946 and 1964. One level living is easier no matter who is carrying the bundles or laundry and the over 55 buyers have spoken. The top ten features according to the NAHB Baby Boomer survey include in order of preference:

Washer/Dryer in the home(90%), Storage space(84%), Windows that open easily (81%), Garage door opener (73%), Easy to use thermostat (73%), Master bedroom on first floor (71%), Private Patio (67%), Porch (66%), Attached garage (65%) and bigger bathrooms (64%).

Americans have a distinguished history of meeting challenges head-on and an even more remarkable legacy of teaching the world how to do it. Our basic need for shelter from the storm is deeply personal. Whether the home building industry accurately anticipates the consumer need, or listens carefully to the consumer in order to meet the need, the housing needs in America will be met brilliantly. For now, watch for smaller homes with a larger “feel” that include window designs that enhance natural light as well as higher ceilings and clever use of space. What appear to be going the way of the buffalo are sunrooms, butler’s pantries and media rooms. So, where do we put the butler………in the master walk in closet?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Home Is Where a Mother’s Heart Is

At a time when real estate professionals, economists, actuaries and accountants are busy interpreting data to determine housing trends in order to provide answers for homeowners and buyers, there are some folks whose focus is far from the maddening crowd. One such homeowner has captured this author’s heart and on this Mother’s Day, I share her with all readers.

“Irene” has been married to her devoted husband for several decades and their grown children live nearby on the North Shore. As is becoming more common among families, Irene, her husband, and married daughter’s family have decided to sell both of their homes and purchase a larger home together. Toward that end, I have come to know this lovely family.

When we all first met in our conference room, Irene, who is a little bit of a lady and cute as a button, sat quietly while conversation went on around her. She nodded and smiled several times as her family discussion led to searching for homes in several towns other than the one she had lived in for so many years. Every so often I saw her look down at her folded hands, then put a smile back on her face, look up and continue to nod.

After a few more moments, I asked Irene if she had any questions or towns she might like to add to the list of possibilities. She hesitated before saying “I really love my church. I will miss my church and my friends. I also love my pharmacy. They’ve been filling my prescriptions for years and years.” The moment of silence that followed was deafening and was broken by family who very lovingly assured Irene that they would drive her to her church or pharmacy whenever she needed no matter where they decided to move.

Irene had no desire whatsoever to leave her home that is clearly the center of her universe as much as she is the center of her family’s universe. As time goes by, change becomes more challenging for most of us and moving from one home to another can be very difficult. Irene exemplifies all those precious souls who sacrifice so much for the happiness of those they love. She knows that her children are very excited about the new adventure of exploring large homes with new sparkling kitchens. She is aware of how much work it is for her husband to maintain the upkeep of their present home and she knows that the change that is inevitable is in the best interest of those she loves. Irene wants her family to be happy.

When I visited Irene and “Bill’s” home, there were photos and mementos everywhere to attest to a lifetime of love within the home. While I began to measure the living room, I watched Irene as she ran her fingers over some of the photo frames on a side table. As Bill and I discussed preparing the home for sale, I noticed Irene staring out toward their lovely screen room off the kitchen. Once outside, Irene proudly pointed out the landscaping and BBQ area where “we have had so much fun.”

As the days went by, we began looking at properties and I watched “something” come over Irene. It is the same “something” that holds families together. It is the pure generosity of heart and selfless behavior of a wonderful Mother who will pack up many memories and discard many others for lack of space as the process of moving begins. Without meaning one single word, Irene announced to me that she was “really looking forward to this new adventure.”

True sacrifice is that which is made by one who does so while smiling wider than those for whom the sacrifice is being made so as not to diminish their joy. If you are reading this article, “Irene”, know that the whole world wishes you Happy Mother’s Day.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Nicholas Cage just lost his Bel-Air mansion in foreclosure the beginning of April 2010 and he is only one example of the famous and wealthy homeowners falling victim to this new tidal wave of foreclosures that is looming over the prime market in the country. The famous actor listed his 11,817 square foot property for $35 million. When he had no offers it went to auction where it had no bids, so the bank took it back.
For the past few years, Americans have been hearing, seeing or living through the tidal wave of foreclosures that has washed out countless homeowners in the sub prime market.
By definition, “sub prime” lending means the practice of loaning money to borrowers who are a higher credit risk than normal. The criteria that are used to determine credit risk (prime vs. sub prime) are the following:
1. Credit scores of 660 or lower
2. Late payment to any creditor within the last 12 to 24 months
3. Collection accounts
4. Any repossession within the last 5 to 7 years
5. Bankruptcy filing within the last 7 years
Interest rates and fees for those borrowers who do not qualify for the prime market (excellent credit risk) will be higher because the risk that the “sub primers” will not repay their loans is higher.
Once the housing prices fell, the sub prime market homeowners began to buckle under the crushing devastation of adjustable interest rates on properties they could not refinance. By the thousands, home owners drowned in the tidal wave of sub prime foreclosures.
Those who are wealthier are generally the last to lose their homes even when they are in crisis because they have so much more credit power, savings and the ability to “move things around” to hold off inevitable foreclosure far longer than a sub primer. Many of the affluent homeowners have lost fortunes that were tied up in industries that have been hit particularly hard by the economy. As evidence that the super rich are about to join the foreclosure ranks with middle and lower class Americans, the number of multi million dollar mansions that were scheduled for foreclosure in February 2010 was 352 nationally. In all of 2009, the number was only 1,312.
One such 14 acre mansion in Westchester NY was listed for $13.9 million in November 2010 and when it did not sell, the bank moved to foreclose. The owner is Richard Fuscone, a high ranking Wall Street executive who filed for bankruptcy to delay the foreclosure on the 18,471 square foot mansion with 2 swimming pools, two elevators, six fireplaces, eleven bathrooms and a seven car garage.
Sources such as RealtyTrac and The Wall St Journal report that banks have foreclosed on homes with $5 million or more owed in Georgia, North Carolina and Colorado. States hit hardest in the country include Nevada, Arizona and Florida. (Nevada reported the highest foreclosure rate in the country). Other states that have reported highest foreclosure rates include Utah, Idaho and Illinois.
These facts and trends from around the country have relevance right here on the North Shore. The foreclosure wave which left so many of our neighbors floundering impacted the home prices around us. This next wave will do the same. There will be homes affected at all levels of value this time and the pricing of the home intended for sale must be very intelligently done to attract buyers who in turn must be able to obtain financing. Prices will not be increasing in the foreseeable future for reasons that are all too plain to see. The federal government had been buying up mortgage backed securities which kept the interest rates low. As of this past March 31st, however, they ran out of money to continue with that program.
No matter what is happening in any market, every property sells at the right price. Just when you think it may not be the right time to sell, think again about your specific set of circumstances and know that as a homeowner, you are sitting in your own “bank” and it is shrinking a couple of dollars a day. If your home no longer meets your needs, arm yourself with the truth about your options and learn how to move through this economy without making costly mistakes with this next tidal wave. How you ask? Call a knowledgeable Realtor before you end up swimming with the fish.