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5 Questions you Should Ask your Real Estate Agent

by Joanne Hiller

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Real Estate Agent | Keeping Current MattersWhether you are buying or selling a home, the process can be challenging. That is why we always suggest that you take on the services of a real estate professional when embarking on a potential home move. However, not all real estate agents are the same. A family must make sure they hire someone who truly understands the current housing market and, not only that, knows how to connect the dots to explain how market conditions may impact your decision.

How can you make sure you have an agent who meets these requirements?

Here are just a few questions every real estate professional should be able to answer for their clients and customers:

  • Are home values approaching a new bubble or will prices continue to appreciate?
  • Is it better for a first time buyer or a move-up buyer to wait until they save a bigger down payment before they purchase a home?
  • Where will 30-year mortgage rates likely be in 12 months?
  • Why do I need an agent when I can just as easily find the house online myself?
  • Is buying a home still a good investment for my family?

Make sure you hire an agent that can answer questions like those above. That will guarantee the home buying or selling process will be much easier for you and your family.

5 Eco-friendly Flooring Options

by Joanne Hiller

Is your carpet harboring a million-strong population of dust mites? Are your vinyl tiles cracked and faded? Have your ceramic tiles broken into hundreds of tiny shards? It might be time for a new floor.

But before you replace your carpet with traditional hardwood, consider purchasing green flooring. Environmentally friendly cork, bamboo, and linoleum may cost a bit more than the box of laminate flooring at the big box store, but these green options are beneficial to both you and the environment. Some types of flooring put a strain on the earth's resources; certain carpets are made from petroleum oil, and certain hardwood floors are harvested from clear-cut forests. These flooring options could also harm your health. Newly-installed carpets and hardwood floors can emit formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds (VOCs); this effect, known as off-gassing, can pollute the air inside your home. By purchasing green floors, you can live in a healthy home on a healthy planet. Here are your green flooring options.

Hardwood
Hardwood is the perennial flooring choice.
Just ask any real estate agent - hardwood floors are a selling feature. Hardwood comes in a range of colors and finishes; no matter your decor, you'll find a flooring that suits your home. Hardwood floors are also a great option for anyone with allergies. Since dust mites can't live on hard surfaces, you'll breathe in fewer allergens.

But not all hardwoods are created equal. Off-gassing is a major concern; hardwood floor stains and sealants typically contain formaldehyde and VOCs. When buying a hardwood floor, look for products labeled low-VOC or no-VOC; make sure that the adhesive used to glue down the floor is also low-VOC. If you're having your floors stained, look for a product made from natural pigments. Also look for the Forest Stewardship Council certification. The FSC sets standards that protect the health of forests around the world; the certification guarantees that your hardwood floor was sustainably harvested without damaging healthy ecosystems.

Bamboo
Bamboo is a type of fast-growing grass;
a crop of bamboo can replenish itself in just three to five years. A forest, meanwhile, takes decades - even centuries - to replenish itself. Bamboo is clearly the green choice. It's also a smart design decision. Since bamboo plank flooring is harder than most hardwoods, it holds up well in high-traffic areas. It is also more resistant to moisture than traditional hardwood floors, making it the perfect fit for bathrooms and kitchens. Bamboo is also quickly becoming the affordable option; bamboo floors are much less expensive today than they were ten years ago.

But not all bamboo flooring is environmentally friendly. Some producers clear-cut forests and burn grasslands to make way for bamboo crops. Check with the flooring manufacturer to make sure their bamboo growers harvest their crops sustainably. Alternatively, look for the Forest Stewardship Council certification. You'll also want to make sure the bamboo flooring and adhesive don't contain formaldehyde; the air in your home should be as clean as the air in the bamboo field.

Cork
Most people are familiar with cork - it tops most wine bottles.
But this natural material also makes for a great floor. Cork holds up well in damp rooms. It is hypoallergenic and mildew-resistant. A cork floor dampens sounds and vibrations, making it the perfect flooring choice for apartments and townhouses. Suberin, a natural substance in cork, acts as a fire retardant and a bug repellent. It is a hard-working floor - and floors that work overtime are typically expensive. Cork is one of the priciest flooring materials. If you love the look of cork, contain it to the rooms in your home where you'll be on your feet for a while, like your kitchen, since standing on cork won't cause lower back pain.

Cork is sustainably harvested from the cork oak tree; a tree can withstand around 20 harvests during its lifetime. But for every upside, there is a downside - cork is a Mediterranean crop. Transporting cork flooring to countries around the world creates carbon emissions, slightly tarnishing cork's green credibility.

Concrete
Concrete is not just for factories anymore.
This flooring choice is synonymous with modern; lofts and contemporary houses feature concrete floors in keeping with the look of streamlined simplicity. But concrete flooring is not just for modern interiors. Professional installers can finish concrete in countless ways, mimicking stone, tile, and even linoleum. Concrete floors are incredibly durable. If sealed annually, they can last a lifetime, saving you the cost of repairing worn-out floors every ten years. Concrete floors are also easy to clean - you can literally hose them down. And since installing concrete floors doesn't require adhesives, the air in your home will be free of VOCs and other harmful chemicals.

Yet concrete does have its drawbacks. The hard surface is not kind to backs; home cooks who prepare dinner standing on a concrete floor will be prone to back pain. Consider installing it in bedrooms and dining rooms, places where you will be sitting or laying down. While concrete is kind to your home's air, it does have a large carbon footprint. Concrete's raw materials are mined, a process that releases carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Also, concrete is not readily recyclable - be ready to commit to your concrete floors for a long time. Lastly, when figuring out the price of concrete floors, you'll need to factor in the cost of installation. Since concrete is hard to install, DIYers shouldn't attempt the job themselves.

Linoleum
Linoleum is not just for grandmothers' kitchens anymore.
This natural material comes in a wide range of colors and styles; if you want a one-of-a-kind floor with intricate patterns, linoleum might be the floor for you. Linoleum is made from flax and natural resins. Since linoleum is a natural product, it won't emit dangerous chemicals. It's also biodegradable, eliminating the environmental impact of recycling it or throwing it away at the end of its life.

Linoleum is hypoallergenic and mildew-resistant. It can withstand high traffic and high humidity; the product hardens over time, meaning linoleum can easily endure the punishment a growing family inflicts on it.

You want to create a comfortable home for you and your family. But that comfortable home shouldn't come at the expense of your family's health or the health of the planet. Fortunately, environmentally friendly floors are beautiful and affordable. With so many green options for sale, you can find a floor that suits your home and your lifestyle. So trade in your dusty carpet and peeling vinyl tiles for a green floor that is comfortable under your feet.

Kitchen and Bath Trends for 2014

by Joanne Hiller

Designers have been installing eco-friendly cabinets and flooring in kitchens and bathrooms for years, but green design is fast becoming the most popular design trend of 2014. Energy-inefficient incandescent light bulbs are being phased out in favor of LED bulbs; dishwashers, refrigerators, sinks, and vanities are all incorporating these high-impact, low-wattage bulbs. And designers are making space in kitchens for integrated trash and recycling storage.

Lower Water Bills
But the biggest trend in kitchen and bath design is water conservation. Touchless faucets conserve gallons of water. So do most dishwashers on the market today, since most consume less water than hand washing a load of dirty plates. In the bathroom, whirlpool tubs have fallen out of favor with many homeowners; instead, designers are specifying large, walk-in showers in the master bathroom, equipped with water-saving shower heads.

A Standout Fridge or a Hidden One
When it comes to kitchen appliances, stainless steel is still the finish of choice, followed by economical white. But some designers are taking a more daring approach by specifying colored appliances in all shades of the rainbow. Integrated appliances are also popular design choices in 2014; designers are hiding refrigerators and dishwashers behind cabinetry to give open-concept spaces a more welcoming feel.

Safety First
The population is aging, and kitchens and bathrooms are being redesigned to accommodate the needs of the elderly. Wide, zero-threshold doorways are easier for wheelchairs and walkers to glide over, while pull-down shelves and cabinetry make reaching for high objects easier for those with mobility issues. Showers are also getting a makeover, with grab bars and hand-held shower devices. As an added benefit, these universal design upgrades make homes safer for both older and younger generations alike: young children unsteady on their feet will also benefit from a trip hazard-free home.

Kitchen Must-Haves
Every kitchen cabinet should have soft-close hinge hardware, since this is now the industry standard. And quartz countertops have trumped granite as the industry favorite; quartz countertops have fewer seams and are nonporous, so homeowners can forego the sealing process. Homeowners who spend their budget on these upgrades will see a return on their investment when it comes time to sell.

Clean Up to Keep "Curb Appeal"

by Joanne Hiller

Whether a house attracts attention as someone drives or walks by can make or break a potential sale. A house can have all kinds of interior upgrades and renovations but may take forever to sell because of how it's perceived "at the curb."

Don't let potential buyers slip away. Impress them with a yard that says, "This is just the beginning of a not-to-be-missed property."

Clean up the clutter, daily.
Rake up dead or dropped leaves, clean your gutters, and pull weeds. Stand at the curb and take an objective look at your front yard. Are the branches of that gorgeous tree starting to curve downward? If you're unsure about doing it yourself, hire a professional to trim your trees. Does the "decorative" rock in your biggest tree well look like it doesn't belong? Then get rid of it. Is the walkway leading to your front door dotted with unripe fruit, cones or seeds that have dropped from your favorite tree? Be diligent about cleaning them up every day.

Keep your lawn healthy and maintained.
Mow your lawn weekly to keep it looking trim. Minimize dry or damaged spots by watering and fertilizing the grass on a regular basis.

Decide on a focal point.
Choose a colorful, lush, eye-catching accent for your yard. Here are a few possibilities: a shrub with brilliantly hued flowers (such as bougainvillea); a window box with cascading plants, heliotrope, geraniums or mums; multi-colored flowers lining a walkway.

Gov. Rick Scott and politicians from the Tampa Bay area to the Washington beltway rang the warning bell last year. So did real estate agents struggling to sell homes in flood-prone areas of Florida.

Soaring flood insurance rates, they warned, threatened to wreak havoc on property values throughout the state. In the cross-hairs, in particular, was Pinellas County, which had more older, low-lying homes facing a sharp flood insurance increase than any other county nationwide.

Now there's evidence that a congressional fix early this year to stall the harshest of the rate hikes coming under the National Flood Insurance Program has stabilized property values. At least in ground zero of Pinellas County.

In fact, the market rebound from the flood insurance scare has been strong enough that Pinellas property owners receiving their tax bills in the fall may be surprised to discover home values are rising by double digits nearly across the board, even in flood-prone neighborhoods like Shore Acres in St. Petersburg.

On average, property values are expected to be up 11 percent countywide, said Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov, who is prepping notices of proposed taxes to send out in August in advance of the November tax bills. In at least one beachfront neighborhood, in the East Lake area, and in one Midtown neighborhood, property values jumped more than 30 percent. Only in a couple of neighborhoods are values down, and then by less than 3 percent.

One reason for the higher values: Even though home sales plummeted in some areas during the flood insurance crisis at the end of the year, there was never a corresponding drop in asking prices before the market rebounded.

Shore Acres is typical of what happened. It started out 2013 strong. But sales came to a virtual standstill late last year amid worries that older homes would lose their decades-long lower flood insurance rates when they changed hands. Anecdotal reports surfaced of buyers of such homes seeing flood rates explode tenfold. Out of 46 sales in Shore Acres last year, only two occurred in the fourth quarter.

Hit by a groundswell of complaints, Congress intervened in March, passing a measure that repealed the biggest of the rate hikes being rolled out under the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012. At the same time, Lloyd's of London and other private insurers pushed into the market, driving flood insurance rates lower.

The housing market responded with gusto. In the first half of this year, Shore Acres already has had 26 sales with an uptick in prices.

The result: Home market values in Shore Acres for tax purposes are running 16 percent higher than the previous year.

"Their sales certainly dropped off, but then they bounced right back up," Dubov said.

Home values are based in large part on sales prices. In Pinellas, the median sales price in 2013 was $153,000, up from $134,900 in 2012; in Shore Acres, the median sales price was $283,500, up from $236,725 a year earlier.

Other area counties saw a similar price jump: Median sales prices in Hillsborough County were $175,000 last year (up from $148,000 in 2012) while Pasco sales prices were $133,000 (up from $115,000).

So, what will Dubov tell perplexed homeowners who saw their neighbors laboring to sell their homes last year?

"I do expect to hear from some people, knowing you can't please everyone," she said. "I also expect some people will be very relieved that their property values didn't go the other direction, putting them back underwater (owing more than their home is worth)."

Under the Save Our Homes cap, no matter how large of an increase in market value, the tax bill for a homesteaded resident will not go up more than 3 percent a year. The cap is even lower if there is a smaller rise in the Consumer Price Index.

Dubov's office is supposed to calculate the market value of homes as of the end of 2013, based on sales volume and sales prices, taking out sales costs and Realtor fees. However, Dubov took into account a broad pickup in early 2014 as assurance that a late drop in 2013 in the number of sales was "a temporary blip" and not part of a trend. "I'm not going to gut the market on prices that never fell," she said.

The story could easily have been radically different if Biggert-Waters had not been partially repealed.

"It had great potential to do harm. It stopped the market for a while," Dubov said. "And now, it appears to not really be having a big effect.

Jake Holehouse, a local insurance agent and activist fighting the rate increases under Biggert-Waters, said the marketplace has not only returned to stability but is heating up toward 2006 levels in some places — like high-end condos in downtown St. Petersburg.

The "biggest thing that never happened," Holehouse said, was Congress' decision to keep a flood map "grandfathering" provision in place for older homes. That means as long as a house remains in compliance and has a construction date of 1971 or newer, its flood map will remain unchanged for the lifetime of the property.

"That's the biggest driver of confidence" among buyers, he said, who would otherwise have to worry about such a home getting rezoned under a new map, triggering much higher rates.

The emergence of private flood insurance options — from Lloyd's of London to Florida insurers like Homeowners Choice and Security First — has greatly helped to stabilize the market, Holehouse said.

Over time, flood rates are expected to continue rising and some insurance agents fear Lloyd's and others will dramatically raise rates after establishing a presence in the flood market.

Gordon Chernecky of Shield Insurance of Tampa Bay, a longtime agent for homeowners and flood policies, is worried any euphoria over surviving the flood insurance mess will be short-lived.

Too many of the sales in flood zones are from cash buyers who don't buy flood insurance, Chernecky said. Moreover, he said, the delay in sharper flood rates is only temporary. His bet: Congress will let FEMA hike rates dramatically over time and private insurers, like Lloyd's of London, will drop the lure of relatively cheaper insurance.

"Lloyd's has been this angel from heaven, but they've come and gone before," he said. "This is a big problem coming down the road. People are still really oblivious to what's going on."

For now, though, Dubov gives kudos to Capitol Hill for stepping up.

"We'll never know what the impact would have been if Congress had decided not to act," she said.

Does Brand Matter When Picking a Real Estate Agent?

by Joanne Hiller

DOES BRAND MATTER WHEN PICKING A REAL ESTATE AGENT?

You know the names, Coldwell Banker, Prudential, Re/Max, and Century 21. The list goes on and so do the ads, because national real estate brands blast away at consumers with marketing programs from TV spots and local signs to search engines and social media. But if you’re a buyer or a seller, does the brand name really matter?

Of factors that go into picking a real estate agent, some evidence suggests that brand name isn’t important. This according to the National Association of Realtors, only 3% of buyers and 4% of sellers report considering an agent’s association with a particular firm to be an important factor.  Clients just want to know that they are getting the same exposure as the national brands, and they are.  What they really care about is service, not the name on the door.  And smaller firms provide great service because the environment is less corporate.

Let me give you some real shocking Real Estate news. If we all were to assume that the Big names in Real Estate do most of the business (that’s because they are big) we would be totally wrong. Here are a few examples…let’s take New York City, the real estate capital of the world. The big guys are far behind, you see the names like Brown Harris Stevens, Douglas Elliman, Bellmarc Realty, Corcoran Wexler just to name a few. Now let’s go to Los Angles Stanford Raffles Realty, Westside Estate Agency, Jade Mills Estates and Peter Lorimer Group. When these agency’s started out they never lost sight of what made them Big.  SERVICE, SERVICE AND SERVICE.  The TV Brands as we call them are about one thing more corporate mentality.

Where is the playing field now? It is equal. In the past it was perceived that the TV Brands were getting a large portion of the business but now thanks to the internet, we are seeing that 95% of people search for their homes on line.  It really comes down to the Multiple Listing Service which dominates throughout the country.  The name or brand of the company is not as important anymore, and what matters most is the specific agent’s reputation, regardless of where the agents works.

Having said that,  where does Island Estates Realty fit into this scenario?  Since 1969 located on Island Estates * Consistently the Island’s Top Producing Office * Reputation Above The Rest * Performance Above the Level of the Corporate Brands *  Marketing Beyond Your Expectations - Professional Photography , Videos, Brochures, Glossy Postcards, New Interactive Floor Plan * Powerful Internet Presence  * New Cutting Edge Web Site with Hundreds of Links and International MLS

Displaying blog entries 11-16 of 16

Contact Information

Joanne Hiller
Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate
110 Island Way
Clearwater FL 33767
(727)460-5721
Fax: (727)446-2691