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A Note From Barb Trousdale - A Few Words For The New Year!

If moving in 2016 is one of your goals, our Team would be delighted to assist you in accomplishing that objective.  We have developed a marketing system that ensures every property we list gets the best exposure you can find in this market.  Our services to Buyer-Clients include thorough research of a property and the completion of a market analysis to help them make an educated decision about the price and terms to offer. 

The real estate market statistics for November 2015 were recently released by the Northwestern Vermont Board of Realtors which reports on sales in Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle Counties.  Kathleen Sweeten, CEO of the Northwestern Vermont Board of Realtors® reports "The market continues to be busy. As was expected, the Federal Reserve elected to raise short-term interest rates for the first time since 2006. Even with the small increase, it is anticipated that Mortgage rates will remain at historically low levels in 2016." 

There were slight improvements in most categories analyzed. Sales from January 1 to November 30, 2015 were up by 11.3% over the same time period in 2014.  In addition, the median sales price increased by 1.8% and the average sales price by 0.8%.  Average days on the market were almost identical 95 vs. 96 and the percentage of the original listing price received increased by 0.1% to 94.8%.

The number of month's supply of inventory for sale continues to decrease; resulting in fewer properties for Buyers to choose from; and a real opportunity for Sellers considering listing their property.  If you or someone you know are contemplating a move, I encourage you to consider whether it would be best to have your property competing with fewer properties this time of year rather than waiting until the spring market when many homeowners choose to list.

With a combined 19+ years of experience and hundreds of successful transactions under our belt, Theresa Ferrara and I are ready to help you (your friend, colleague or family) make your dream of moving a reality! You can rest assured with Heather, our Administrator who is also a licensed Realtor behind the scenes, your transaction will be handled with utmost of care and professionalism!

We look forward to hearing from you in 2016. Wishing you a safe and healthy New Year!

Barb Trousdale

A Fall Home-Maintenance Checklist

You've heard of spring cleaning, but what about fall? Cooler temperatures and storms often mean unexpected leaks, cold drafts, home repairs-and home repair bills. Fortunately, basic fall home maintenance can prevent many of these repairs. Below are a few tips to prepare your home and prevent maintenance issues.

Seal the Gaps. Use silicone caulk to seal windows and cracks in the siding, and use weather stripping around doors to keep cool air from seeping in.

Is Your Home Ventilated? While sealing gaps keeps the cold air out, your home needs to be properly ventilated to combat high indoor humidity, to expel potentially dangerous gases such as carbon monoxide, and to prevent moisture-related home repairs such as rot, mold, and insect infestation. In the fall, test exhaust fans, clean exhaust fan grills and dryer vents, and use your exhaust fans liberally.

Inspect and Clean the Chimney. This is one area where it pays to hire a professional chimney sweep. The Chimney Safety Institute of America recommends annual inspections to ensure the safety and efficiency of your chimney. This inspection will also address the chimney's role in ventilation.

Clear Rain Gutters. Keeping gutters clear of debris can prevent accumulated leaves and/or ice from forming "dams," which if left untreated can lead to major roof and siding leaks.

Test Your Detectors. The Consumer Products Safety Commission recommends changing the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors at least once per year, typically when changing your clocks either in the fall or spring. The U.S. Fire Administration recommends testing them monthly and replacing them every ten years.

Examine the Roof. Use binoculars to scan the roof for missing, loose, or damaged shingles. Keep an eye out for signs of wind damage. If you notice any issues, take appropriate measures to secure the compromised area before more severe weather arrives. A minor repair now could save you from major repairs (and water damage) later.

Tune Up Your HVAC System. At a minimum, change your furnace filters. This will go a long way in improving the efficiency of your HVAC system and potentially extending its useful life. Many HVAC service companies offer affordable HVAC tune-ups this time of year in which they'll change the filters, clean the coils, check the thermostat, and inspect the system's components for signs of wear and tear.

Call Your Gas Company. Most gas utility companies offer free services in the fall and winter in which a technician will light your pilot lights and inspect your furnace, water heater, and other gas appliances.

4 Ways to Minimize a Home's Flaws

No house is perfect. Here are some clever interior design tricks to minimize your home's flaws and make it a more beautiful place to live:

1. Dark Rooms
Everyone loves light-filled rooms. If your home's small windows don't let in enough light, paint the walls a light color to help brighten dark corners. Hanging mirrors on walls opposite windows will bounce daylight around a room. Reflective surfaces can also brighten a space, so decorate with gold and silver accessories and invest in furniture with high-gloss finishes. Lastly, make sure that sunlight can reach your windows; trim any overhanging branches outside your home.

2. Lack of Storage
Storage space is no longer a luxury-it's a requirement. If your closets are overflowing, it's time to clear the clutter. Start by donating the items you no longer need to local charities. Invest in organizers for your home's bedroom and front hall closets. A double clothes rail and a few shelves for shoes and sweaters can double or even triple the amount of storage space in a closet. Finally, toss those old wire hangers; wooden hangers make a closet look organized and tidy.

3. Awkward Architecture
Low, sloping ceilings in the bedrooms, narrow hallways, and steep staircases don't help a home's appeal. To help take the focus off a low ceiling, paint the walls and the ceiling the same color, preferably a light one. If you want to make a narrow hallway feel wider, paint the walls and the trim in a pale, cool tone; colors on the cool end of the spectrum visually expand a space. To camouflage a steep staircase, tack a horizontal-striped carpet runner on the treads and risers.

4. Ugly Views
You can't change your home's location, but you can help disguise the train tracks in the backyard or the factory across the street. Outside your home, plant a row of evergreen trees to hide the view (investing in more mature trees will give you immediate cover). Inside your home, hang curtains with bold patterns or colors. The bright curtains keep the eye focused on the home's interior instead of that unfortunate exterior view.

Is Overpaying Your Mortgage a Good Financial Strategy?

Most people pay the minimum amount due each month toward their mortgage, taking either 15 or 30 years to pay off the loan, depending on the original terms. However, if you can afford to pay more—even just a small amount—it can make a big difference in your finances.

Sending the Extra Money
One way to pay more money toward your mortgage is to slightly increase your monthly payment by $20-50. Simply add this amount to your check or online bill payment. This method is ideal because it allows you to be more flexible; for example, if you need that extra money for an unexpected expense, you're not committed to paying it toward your mortgage.

Another method you can use to pay more money toward your mortgage is to set up biweekly payments. In this scenario, you pay half of your mortgage every other week (this method is especially ideal if you are paid biweekly). Paying biweekly results in a full extra payment per year (26 half-payments per year equals 13 full payments).

It's important to note where the extra money goes when you overpay your mortgage. Each mortgage plan applies this money in different ways, which produces different results. If you apply the extra money to your principal balance, this helps you pay off the mortgage faster. However, some companies apply the extra money toward your next payment only, which means that you'll pay off the same amount of money over time. You should be able to tell the company where you want to apply your money, but don't assume that they're doing what you want.

Effects of Overpaying
When you pay extra toward the principal of your mortgage, you are decreasing the total amount of interest that you pay over the lifetime of the loan. Traditionally, when you make your payments during the first few years of the mortgage, the bulk of your payment goes toward interest rather than principal. Paying extra each month can save you thousands of dollars on your total cost over the full term of the loan.

Prepayment Penalties
One potential negative effect of overpaying your mortgage is having to pay a prepayment penalty. Certain mortgages have this type of clause to protect the bank from losing money. If you pay your loan off too quickly, you may have to pay extra money to the bank. It's usually still less than what you would have paid if you followed the loan terms. Check with your mortgage company about its policy on prepayment penalties.

First-time Buyers Increase, Home Sales Climb Nationwide

First-time buyers represented 32 percent of the market in May, a 2 percent increase from April and a 5 percent increase from a year ago. First-time buyers haven't had this much of a presence in the housing market since September 2012. Unemployment is down among young adults, and many lenders are lowering their down payment requirements. These factors combined with more affordable mortgage insurance options are enticing many first-time buyers to leave their rentals and purchase homes. Economists with the National Association of Realtors (NAR) believe that the number of first-time buyers in the market will continue to rise. The percentage of these buyers will depend, however, on how fast mortgage rates and home prices climb.

Fewer Investors
While first-time buyers saw opportunity in the improving housing market, investors saw fewer deals. Individual investors purchased just 14 percent of all homes sold in May, a drop of 2 percent from a year ago. For the third month in a row, all-cash transactions accounted for 24 percent of all homes sold, down from 32 percent a year ago.

Demand Exceeding Supply
In May, housing inventory was up slightly because more homeowners put their houses on the market. Total housing inventory rose 3.2 percent to 2.29 million existing homes for sale. The housing supply is 1.8 percent greater than it was a year ago. At the current sales pace, this level of inventory represents a 5.1 month supply. Despite the modest increase in inventory, demand still far exceeds supply. On average, homes in May stayed on the market for 40 days. This is the third shortest time recorded since NAR began tracking this statistic in May 2011. The inventory shortage led to an increase in home prices. So not only was May the 39th month in a row to record year-over-year price gains, but every region in the country saw home prices increase.

Sales Climb Nationwide
In May, all regions of the country experienced sales increases. The Northeast posted the largest gains with existing-home sales jumping 11.3 percent, for a total increase of 11.3 percent from a year earlier. In the Midwest, sales climbed 4.1 percent month-over-month and an impressive 12.4 percent year-over-year. The South and West both saw an increase of 4.3 percent from April. When compared with May 2014, sales were 6.9 percent higher in the South and 9 percent higher in the West.

5 Things Mortgage Lenders Like to See

Job Stability
The lender needs to see signs of stability. Don't make any sudden changes in your employment if you're planning to apply for a mortgage soon-stay at your job for well over two years.

Low Credit Card Debt
Your back-end debt-to-income ratio plays an important part in getting approved for a home loan. This ratio is the total amount of debt payments you make each month divided by your gross monthly income. It should ideally be under 36 percent, but to increase your chances of getting approved for a home loan, work on getting that percentage below 30 percent.

No Charge-Offs
A charge-off is the worst thing to have on your credit report because it means all the creditors attempts to come to an agreement regarding the debt has been ignored. Call all outstanding creditors and collectors in advance to come to a compromise regarding the debt as soon as possible-don't wait until a potential mortgage lender is pulling your credit report to find the negative items.

A Home Within Your Budget
Along the same lines with minimizing your debt-to-income ratio, you should also minimize your potential monthly housing expense as a percentage of income (the front-end ratio). Your front-end ratio shouldn't exceed 28 percent, so to improve your chances of getting approved, choose a home that puts you closer to 20 to 22 percent.

Money Saved Up
Loans with little money down are more difficult to get. Increase your chances of getting approved by saving up for at least 10 to 20 percent down.

Boost Your Home's Appeal with These Backyard Accents

A lot is said about curb appeal when listing your home for sale, and the outward appearance of your property is important. What many home sellers do not know, however, is that the backyard can be even more enticing to would-be buyers. A beautifully manicured lawn and perfectly landscaped exterior will draw buyers in, but what they see in the back of the home may close the deal. Adding these simple touches to your backyard can make your home more appealing, and help it to sell faster.

A Fire Pit
Adding a fire pit to your backyard expands your entertaining possibilities and extends the outdoor living season into the cooler months. More home buyers are looking for pre-installed fire pits, and having one in your backyard can boost your home’s backyard appeal. Install a fire pit that is an appropriate style and size to enhance your backyard space. If your home’s appeal is luxury, then choose a high-end model.

Solar Lighting
Modern buyers are looking for green solutions to their outdoor lighting problems, and nothing is greener than a set of dusk-to-dawn solar lights. Solar lights are inexpensive to buy, easy to install, and they can go almost anywhere. If your home has a rear deck, line the perimeter with solar lights to enjoy pleasant nights grilling, entertaining or just hanging out with friends. A solar spotlight in the backyard can also help keep the property safe from burglars.

Container Garden
This is an easy addition you can make to your backyard deck and patio space. All you need is a few attractive, properly-sized planter pots and a bit of creativity. Intersperse edible plants and ornamental ones so you can enjoy beautiful flowers and fresh vegetables from your container garden.

3 Things to Consider before Accepting a Cash Offer

The cash buyer outranks the financed buyer because there is a lower chance of the deal falling through and because, typically, a cash buyer can close faster than a financed buyer. These are attractive benefits in some situations. Yet there's more to a home offer than a finance contingency and the closing date. In general, there are three things you should scrutinize before accepting a cash offer for your home:

1. Source of the Cash
Of course you need to verify that the cash buyer has the cash he says he does. But it's not just a question of how much cash the buyer has, but also what type of cash he is holding. A buyer needs liquid cash-enough money in the bank to cover the balance of the purchase price and closing costs. That's potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars that the buyer must deliver in the form of a bank or cashier's check at the closing. A buyer who needs to sell a property to raise the cash is as great a risk as a financed-buyer, as there is a chance that they will not be able to sell their current home on time.

2. Other Contingencies
A cash offer contains no finance contingency but that does not mean the offer is contingency-free. Most buyers reserve the right to appraise and inspect the property before closing and to withdraw from the contract if the inspection reveals any major repair issues. If an inspection reveals any problems, you will have to carry out the repairs and/or renegotiate the purchase price. For this reason, a cash transaction may not proceed any faster than a mortgage-financed purchase, and there is still a chance the deal will fall through.

3. The Bottom Line
Some cash buyers, especially investors, make a low cash offer because they are cash buyers. They effectively charge a premium because there is zero risk of the bank refusing the buyer's loan. This may not represent the best deal for some sellers, especially those that need the sale proceeds to purchase a new home.

Weighing Your Options
If you are lucky enough to receive more than one offer, and at least one of those offers is cash, the real question for you to ask is: how risky is the financed offer? The most telling answer to this question comes from the buyers themselves; specifically, what action they have taken towards securing the necessary financing. A financed buyer who holds a quality preapproval letter, provides a good down payment and has reliably paid a mortgage in the past likely will get his loan. These qualities render his offer as strong as or stronger than the cash offer, particularly if he offers a higher price. The trick is to look at the deal holistically and not be swayed by the word "cash."

Make Your Yard Sale a Success

Holding a yard sale or garage sale is like going into business for a day. It can be fun and wildly successful, or it can be pure drudgery and a waste of time. Don’t go to the trouble without reading these tips to make your sale a success.

Join Forces with Friends
A lot of "stuff" in a sale is always more enticing than sparse offerings. A yard sale requires a lot of energy, lifting, moving, and time for details, so the more helpers you can gather, the better. It’s also a lot more fun!

Research Rules
Your neighborhood may have rules concerning when or how long you can hold a yard sale. Is there an annual neighborhood garage sale you can join? You may also need a permit from the city.

Advertising Is Important
The extent of your advertising depends on your location. The more remote your location, the more advertising you need. Make use of newspaper classifieds, online community boards like Craigslist, neighborhood signs, and word of mouth.

Begin Collecting
Start collecting things weeks before the sale so you have time to make decisions (don’t sell grandma’s wedding brooch!), and gather supplies like tables, shelves, hangers, bags, and spare change. If you are in doubt about whether something will sell, put it out there. Even broken appliances have value for their parts.

Be Ready to Make Deals
You’ll sell more if you are willing to bargain, because shoppers love yard sales for that very reason. You can remain firm on items if you like, but if your goal is to get rid of junk there are several ways to do it:

? Designate a charity as the recipient of all or part of the proceeds-people are more willing to buy if they know it’s for a good cause.
? Make up bags or boxes of similar items and put one price tag for everything.
? Toward the end of the sale you can lower prices, offer two-for-one deals, or let shoppers fill a bag for $1, $5, or whatever seems to be a fair price.

Don’t forget the details, such as providing extension cords to test appliances and making a plan for rain.

Tips to Hire a Contractor You Can Trust for Home Repairs

Hiring a contractor can be a process fraught with anxiety. Take a few precautionary steps to ensure that you're getting a trustworthy contractor who does high-quality work.

1. Ask for Referrals
Reputable contractors do not knock on doors to solicit work. The best source of recommendations is talking to people who have had similar jobs done. This can be as simple as asking friends and neighbors if they can recommend someone.

2. Do a Background Check
Search the names of the contractor and the company online, and do searches adding words like scam and problems. Check sites like the local Better Business Bureau and Rip Off Report for complaints. Most states also have a website allowing you to check if a business is properly registered or if a person has a required license.

3. Get Estimates
Take the time to get several bids on the project. Watch out for red flags such as arriving late, appearing disorganized or dirty, and making a bid without looking closely at what the job involves. Take a pass on any contractor who cannot provide references, or who claims to have references but cannot provide contact information.

Be careful of bids that are a lot lower than the other bids; this is often a contractor who either plans to use substandard materials or who lacks the experience to fully understand what the job involves. Extreme low-ball contractors are also likely to attempt to add on expenses mid-project either because they planned a bait and switch or aren't making as much as they thought they would because they underestimated the costs.

4. Get a Contract
For all but the most simple jobs, the contractor should be willing to draw up a contract. The contract should state the scope of the job, the type of materials to be used and the payment schedule: including upfront deposit, interim payments for stages of work completed, and final payments. Be wary if the contractor pressures you to sign immediately; they should be willing to wait 24 hours for you to review the contract in detail, particularly for complex jobs.

5. Don't Pay Everything Up Front
Once the contract is signed, the main leverage that the customer has is the outstanding balance due to the contractor. A deposit before work begins is usual, but should not be more than 10 to 20 percent of the total fee. More may be required for custom orders as the contractor may have to pay for specially ordered materials, but commonly used materials and tools that can be used for other jobs are normally carried on the contractor's own account.

6. Check Their Work Before Final Payment
Make sure that the job is finished to complete satisfaction before handing over the final payment. Once the contractor has all the money in hand, there is less incentive for him to return and fix things.