Know Thy Neighbor… and Neighborhood too

When searching for a home it’s great to shop online, and honestly, that’s the only way to be successful these days for the average homebuyer. While you can find out many details about the house you’re interested in, it’s almost impossible to learn about the area and the neighborhood unless you KNOW the area and the neighborhood. In Charlotte, one street can make all the difference between luxury living and “wouldn’t walk my dog there on a dark night,” so what can you do?

Many of my clients will ask my opinion, which I am always hesitant to give out for two reasons: one, anything I can say can be construed as trying to steer you one way or another (which is illegal), and two, I don’t have a good baseline of what you consider “safe” or “good” so any opinion I have might not align with what you’re looking for.

Case in point: I had a friend live with me for a few months and after the first week she said that she couldn’t believe that I lived in such a “rough” area. For context, I do live on the edge of two distinct neighborhoods, if you turn one direction out of my driveway you will see new homes ranging from 600-800k, and if you go out the other direction you will see questionable characters standing on street corners. I generally understand where my friend was coming from, but I also don’t agree with her. Alas, this is why I am so finicky about sharing my personal opinion, and instead I offer some options for my clients to make their own best decisions.

Safety

As with my friend, one person’s “safe” is another person’s “no way” so there are tons of online resources that I give to my clients including the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department website, CrimeMapping.com and AreaVibes.com. It’s important to know that negative reports will always outweigh the good and it’s equally important to see what a rating would be for a city you know and are familiar with. You might just see that your lovely hometown doesn’t fair as well as you thought it did in these website ratings.

What’s most important, and something I stress that all of my clients do, is to drive around a neighborhood that they may be interested in. And I don’t just mean a quick drive on a sunny Sunday afternoon. What I actually mean is go there around dusk on a Friday night, drive through at midnight, take an extra few minutes one morning and drive what your commute to the office would be from that neighborhood. You would be surprised what you can find out about a neighborhood by taking a few extra minutes there.

Also, during your drive through I recommend taking a walk down a few streets during a time when people have just gotten out of work and will be the most active outside. This gives you an opportunity to say hello to the neighbors. While it can be a bit uncomfortable to speak to someone, most people are happy to talk about their neighborhoods and to connect over the mutual interest. They will also tell you the good and the bad, and will be much more candid with you than the sellers or their agent will be with me.

Fun example: in that 600k-800k part of my neighborhood there are a few older homes sprinkled throughout. One of those homes illegally keeps chickens on the property. This is a well-known detail within the neighborhood, they’ve been there for eons but how would you feel if your first Saturday morning in your new half-million dollar home started with a rooster crowing at 6:30am? While I’m certain it’s against city ordinances to keep farm animals within the city limits, there’s also something to be said for getting grandfathered in because you’ve been around for the last 25 years living your best chicken-keeping life in the same house, on the same block. Who are we to stop them?

Schools

A parent’s choice for their child’s education is deeply personal and has a hefty impact on that child’s future, so it’s a big deal. I have had appointments on the same day with different families, and one family thinks school X is absolutely amazing but only a few minutes later I hear that school X is absolutely terrible and this second family only wants their child to go to school Y. Both sets of parents are right. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and everyone is entitled to pick their child’s education. Do not give me or any other real estate professional the power to tell you otherwise. Again, jump online and look at some school ratings, find the PTA and parent groups on social media, and talk to someone who has their kids in that school. You can ask all of the questions and get the unfiltered answers from the people who really know, and then make the best decision for you and your family.

It’s also important to note that school districting lines change every few years around here, so if there’s a school that you would like your child to be in it’s imperative that you go the extra mile. I can confirm with the seller’s agent and call the school district to double-check, however, there may be changes in the future that I’m unaware of. Parents and students that are going to be directly impacted by a change are the best to know details, so again, talk to your school’s PTA and parent groups for any pending details.

Here are some additional school resources, and of course there are more out there depending on where in Charlotte you’re interesting in buying:

  • Greatschools.org – widely known for rankings
  • MeckEd – shows some additional statistics for rankings in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and where they’re expected to go over the next few years
  • SchoolDigger – includes data from National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Census Bureau and the North Carolina Dept of Public Instruction
  • Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

“To DO” (Due Diligence) List

The process of buying a new home can be jarring because we prepare ourselves to shop for a home, but we forget to prepare ourselves for what happens next. Once the thrill of an accepted offer wears off, the next feeling that sets in is most-likely panic or at least a large dose of anxiety. So, what comes next in the process?

Once you have a fully-executed and valid contract, it kicks off the buyer’s due diligence (DD) period. This is a period of time that is negotiated as part of the contract for the buyer to complete all investigative procedures on the home and to finalize their loan in preparation for closing. The DD period is the time in which the buyer could walk away from purchasing a home with the least amount of negative financial impact.

A.K.A. if you’re not going to go through in purchasing the home that you are under contract on, DD is the period of time that you want to alert the seller. Yes, you will lose money, but if you wait until after the DD period closes, you’ll lose more.

Therefore, the few weeks of due diligence (length depending on the time period negotiated between the buyer and seller during contract) are used by the buyer to investigate every aspect of the home and the transaction to ensure that they would like to move forward in purchasing the home. Mutually agreed upon changes can be made to the contract during this time, though it’s best not to go into a contract expecting this after-the-fact change to occur.

Home Inspection

It’s important for you to understand what it is you’re buying with your hard-earned money, so it’s important to have a licensed home inspector schedule to come in. They will look at everything from top to bottom and will tell you whether or not something is working as intended, requires repair or requires additional investigation by a contractor. Because of the litigious nature of our society, everything will fall into one of these three categories but don’t let that scare you.

The home inspector terminology of “requires repair” does not mean that the seller has to make this repair. Let me repeat: THE SELLER DOES NOT NEED TO MAKE ANY REPAIRS TO THE HOME. North Carolina is an “as is” state and therefore property can be bought and sold regardless of whether or not it is deemed habitable. Scary , huh? If the buyer and seller cannot come to agreement on how to remedy the situation through repairs or compensation, then the buyer can decide not to purchase the home and forfeit their Due Diligence fee paid to the seller at the time of contract.

If the home inspector finds something major that is wrong with the home that would cause the buyer to want to walk away and find a new home to buy instead, then we are in territory where it makes sense to ask for repairs, a decrease in purchase price on the home, or seller paid closing costs to benefit the buyer. Each remedy option has its positives and negatives, so be sure to talk through these options carefully based on your situation.

Major items include the five systems within a home. If the repair is not a large-scale problem in one of these areas, it is likely not worth asking for a remedy. These include:

  • Roofing
  • Plumbing (including well water and septic, if applicable)
  • Electrical
  • Structural
  • Heating and Cooling (HVAC)

If there is something outside of these areas that really bothers the buyer and would make them want to walk away from the purchase of the home, the item is still worth having a conversation about. However, with our current market having very little inventory and lots and lots of buyers, a seller would be more likely to want a buyer to walk away from a deal, keep the due diligence fee for their trouble, and place the home back on the market than to fix something that they deem to be a cosmetic defect. Again, if the problem makes a buyer not want to purchase the home then it’s worth having a conversation about the item. Always.

Specialized Inspections

These inspections are outside the scope of the general home inspection report, but can be very important to a buyer’s overall understanding of the condition of a home. It’s important to understand whether or not these are important to you.

Termite Inspection

This is a specialist that comes out to specifically look for damage due to termite activity. While this may not be important in other areas of the US, it’s important here in the Carolinas. Termites can cause structural damage, so it’s best if damage is caught early and a remediation and maintenance plan can be put into place if needed. Some homes (specifically condos) often have what’s called a termite bond, it’s a yearly contract that the homeowner or HOA holds to ensure that any damage found is covered under an insurance policy. This requires ongoing walkthroughs on the home, usually on a yearly basis, to maintain coverage.

Well Water and Septic Inspections

If the home is on a well water system it’s important to have the water tested for bacteria and contaminants. You and your family will be drinking and bathing in the homes water, so it’s important to know. For homes on a municipal water system, this is purely optional.

Homes that are on well systems are often on septic for waste water as well. A complete inspection can uncover costly (and gross) problems. Also, homeowners rarely remember to have their septics serviced, so this is a nice time to have it pumped as well. Having it pumped also allows for a more-thorough inspection of the working condition of the system.

Radon Inspection

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from certain types of rock. While we each come into contact with radon on a constant basis, the issue is when levels of radon become too high and are trapped in a living space (like your house). The scientific community is a bit mixed up on the severity of radon, but it can be a problem in any type of home. Consistent contact with high levels of radon gas has been linked to issues like lung cancer and more specific information can be found on the EPA website.

Additional areas of concern

There are some additional items that are outside the scope of your general home inspection that may be important for you to take a look at. The most-common areas in my experience are swimming pools and fireplaces, though I would include any other miscellaneous area of concern. Have a tree that is hanging precariously over the garage? Call a tree specialist. Planning to put up a fence or a pool in the future? Have a survey done. Need your new home to have a koi pond? Call your koi specialist.

… No seriously, that’s a thing.

Financing Requirements

If you’ll be securing a mortgage to purchase a new home it’s important to have the loan underwritten within the due diligence period. If something happens and the loan is not approved, a buyer would want to know prior to the close of due diligence. Also included in this process is a bank appraisal, meaning that the lender will send out a 3rd party appraiser to ascertain whether or not the home is “worth” what the bank is being asked to lend on it. If the appraiser reports that the home is valued at less than the contract price then the bank will only fund up to the appraisal price, the buyer will be on the hook to make up the difference in cash or a compromise will need to be reached with the seller to lower the price to appraised value. There are many caveats to this process, so look for a more-detailed post soon.

Have additional questions on the Due Diligence process? Something I missed? Reach out to me directly and I’ll help however I can!

Hardly Simple

It’s been a long time coming… Ok, it’s been almost 4 years to be exact. While I’ve been feeling paralyzed by both fear and planning tasks, I finally have a general plan for how my home renovation is going to go.

I envy those who can immediately renovate their space and call a contractor to do all of the work. While I know the stress that goes into working with renovations and outside contractors, the idea of calling someone for help and not explaining to them that I want them to teach me something sounds downright dreamy.

Meanwhile, I’m over here, googling the simplest thing for months and asking the most frowned upon questions of the construction people around me. It’s been cringe-worthy. The questions have been dumb, and some of the answers have been too. I have to keep reminding myself that everyone has to start somewhere and everyone sucks at the beginning.

It’s still a hard pill to swallow.

So I remind myself again and again of a quote from Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer at Facebook:

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Well… I’d renovate a little condo in Charlotte, NC. I’d ask all of the dumb questions and I’d make it through this entire process with all fingers and toes still intact, because that’s always a concern with power tools.

Counseling, Advising and Real Estate

Over the past few weeks I’ve noticed a trend of clients not wanting to “bother” their Realtor and it caused me to pause for a moment.

I absolutely love what I do, to the point that I will talk to anyone, anytime, about their real estate journey. Have a question? I’m happy to hear it, whether it’s 9pm on a Friday night or 6am on a Tuesday morning. I can’t guarantee an instant response of course (I’m only human), but I don’t view it as a bother for someone to reach out to me. Honestly, I prefer the social interaction and the excuse to hear about how you’re doing.

Real estate isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle and my clients, friends, family, all cross paths regardless of what day or time it may be. If you really enjoy something, I can tell you that it doesn’t feel like work. I’m thrilled to hear from you. I’m excited to answer your questions. I’m 1,000% happy to help you find your next home, help with design ideas, call vendors and to be the person you lean on through the stressful moments and the happy ones.

A physical move is an emotional transition and it can be difficult, and stressful, and yet joyful all at the same time. There are a full range of emotions that you will go through, and all of them are normal. All of us need someone in our corner to celebrate with, vent to, cry to and yes, occasionally mediate tough conversations with.

Growth can hurt, so don’t hurt alone. And remember: you are never a bother. Ever.

Housing Supply, Housing Demand and “The Corona”

The biggest unknown in any economic model is how we the consumers will act, and this rings true for Charlotte real estate as well. I had someone tell me that the “bottom fell out” of our real estate market and I had to take a step back to regroup before responding.

What market indicators were they looking at? Well, it turns out that they were looking at the economic indicator that reigns supreme above all others… their own gut feeling. No one feels comfy making large decisions in the midst of a global pandemic and yes, based on the Charlotte Region Weekly Market Activity Report from our local Realtor® association there have been some slowdowns. However, these slowdowns aren’t necessarily what you might think.

Pre-Corona Armageddon 2020 there was no disputing that the Charlotte real estate market is highly sought-after. There are tons of people moving here for all different reasons each and every day, and we have a booming economy and our job market is top-notch for people in professional industries. There’s so much opportunity here that we have to bring in job applicants from other cities and states because prior to the pandemic we had extremely low unemployment numbers for those working in traditional desk jobs. (No, the same cannot be said for those working in trades, customer service and labor positions, but the affordable housing crisis is a blog post for another day.)

Our biggest issue within Charlotte’s real estate market is and has been a supply problem. We have tons of qualified people and not enough housing to ensure that even the majority of buyers can find a suitable home. This in-turn drives up the prices for the homes that are available and creates the chaos and bidding wars we’ve seen for the last few years.

The changes that have been felt in our market are honestly, more of the same old story: too many buyers and not enough houses. Based on the Weekly Market Activity data the market is slowing down from the perspective of less homes are being listed for sale. So, in an already jammed up market people who would sell are afraid to sell. However, those that do venture into listing are being rewarded by receiving a higher percentage of their listing price at closing and their home being on the market an average of 38 days, that’s 19.1% LESS time than last year when the average days on market was 47 days.

If you’re looking to sell just remember: To the victor goes the spoils.  Get out there and get listed. If you’re a buyer waiting for the true “bottom” to fall out, it appears that you’ll be waiting a little longer than what a globally-debilitating economic crisis can offer up to impact our Charlotte slice of heaven.