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Real Estate Guide: Part 2

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Helpful Real Estate Tips

By Vicky Katz Whitaker
Copley News Service

DON’T BE A VICTIM

Freddie Mac is turning to YouTube, a video-sharing Internet site, to educate homeowners about the dangers of losing their dwellings in foreclosure scams. Freddie Mac, one of the largest U.S. investors in residential mortgages, recently produced a two-minute video to dramatize some of the deceptive practices that are used to commit foreclosure fraud.

The cautionary tale begins with the question, “Are you the potential victim of a foreclosure scam?” It features an actor playing a foreclosure consultant who offers to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments. The problem is that the “consultant” has no intention of paying off debts or renegotiating the terms of delinquent mortgages. Instead, he pockets the homeowners’ money.

Dishonest foreclosure consultants often charge large upfront fees and do little or nothing to renegotiate loans. They sometimes ask homeowners to sign over the deeds to their homes on the false promise that they can continue living there as renters and eventually regain ownership.

“If you’re having mortgage trouble, talk to your lender,” the narrator of the video states. “Avoid foreclosure heroes who want the deed to your house. They may be trying to steal your home, even if they promise to rent it back to you.”

Because foreclosure fraud reports are rising, “we are using every communication channel out there to warn borrowers about these fraudsters and urge borrowers to call their lenders when they fall behind on their mortgage,” says Ingrid Beckles, Freddie Mac’s vice president of servicing and asset management.

The video can be found online at youtube.com/AvoidFraud.

GET IT SOLD

Designer Sabrina Soto, star of the HGTV series Get It Sold, knows a thing or two about staging your home to attract buyers and bring in quick offers. Here are 10 of her best staging tricks and tips for getting your home off the market fast.

• Make room for the buyers. You always want at least three feet of walk space so buyers can walk around freely. Take out unnecessary furniture to free up space.

• Never have more than two kitchen appliances on your countertops. You don’t want to hide them.

• Remove any area rugs on top of your carpets; buyers sometimes assume you are hiding a stain.

• Make sure to remove all papers and photos from the refrigerator.

• Turn on all lights for the open house, even if it’s during the day. Also make sure your shades or blinds are open. The more light, the better.

• Do not cook anything in the house a few hours before a showing and do not smoke indoors while your house is on the market.

• Closets should always look spacious. Pack up seasonal clothing and organize the rest. Your never want your closets to look full, so less is more.

• Fresh flowers displayed at the open house make your home feel inviting.

• Make sure your bills are hidden and not in the mail tray and cleaning supplies are put away. It may seem silly, but you don’t want buyers to think your home is expensive or difficult to maintain. Give them a sense of harmony during a showing.

• Change out dated light fixtures. They don’t have to be expensive, and will give your entire house an updated look.

WOMEN RULE

Recognizing that women exert strong influence over most home purchases, author Tara-Nicholle Nelson has written a book designed to guide them through the house-hunting process.

“Women hold the purse strings when it comes to these major home-buying decisions, and this book will make them better educated, more confident consumers,” says Nelson, the author of Trillion Dollar Women (BuilderBooks.com, $24.95).

According to a recent Harvard University study, women control 91 percent of home buying or remodeling decisions. Nelson, an attorney and a real estate investor, holds a master’s degree in psychology. She says women think about housing in different ways than men.

Men tend to focus on one goal at a time, but women approach the search for a home like putting together a complex puzzle. Every aspect of the dwelling matters to them. She compares it to sorting through information while surfing the Internet.

“I have done a fairly extensive amount of research into the psychology of how women think about purchases,” Nelson says. “Women have a hypertext mind. You click on one thing in their head and all these other things open up. Women take a 360-degree perspective on how every single element of the home will affect everyone in their lives.”

A half-century ago, married women typically accompanied their husbands to view model homes and focused their attention primarily on kitchens and family rooms, Nelson says. Today they are involved in all aspects of home buying and remodeling.

Although it was written for female consumers, the book could be a resource for housing professionals, she adds.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

Disneyland is bringing back its House of the Future with a decidedly present-day bent. Taylor Morrison, a noted home builder, is constructing a $15 million, 5,000-square-foot house inside Tomorrowland’s Innoventions building, original home to the Carousel of Progress show.

But unlike Monsanto’s all-plastic, futuristic house that graced the entrance to Tomorrowland from 1957 to 1967, the “Innoventions Dream Home” will carry a contemporary design inside the wood-and-steel structure when it opens in May.

And the contents, from Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and software maker LifeWare, are mostly available currently, just over the horizon, or as Disney spokesman Dave Miller says, with “Disney magic thrown in.”

“Our goal is for the guests to walk in and feel exactly like [this is] the home they or their neighbors could own,” Miller says.

Under a five-year agreement with the corporate sponsors, the Dream Home for a family of six (Disney cast members plus an offstage dog) will display how the real world will interact with the digital universe by means of wireless connections and TV screens.

Visitors will be able to test some of the systems and walk away with a password key that allows them to design their own dream home using the high-tech products.

“One of the things that’s really critical in the concept is that we keep it updated and fresh,” Miller says. “We’ve built in cycle time to update the software and modifications as we move forward in the project to ensure we keep it fresh and up-to-date.”

For a look back at the 1950s House of the Future, visit yesterland.com/futurehouse.html or check out an online clip from a vintage Monsanto movie about the house at David Oneal’s Extinct Attractions Club website.  

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Foreclosure Fraud
Scams target vulnerable homeowners, offer false hope

Your mortgage payment is overdue—really overdue. You think nobody knows it, but you’re wrong. Scam operators, calling themselves “foreclosure rescue consultants,” are about to knock on your door, contact you by phone, or inundate you with advertisements for their services. If you take the bait, it could cost you a lot more than your home, legal and home mortgage experts warn.

Information about property in foreclosure or pre-foreclosure (where a homeowner falls behind in mortgage payments) is a matter of public record. Once difficult and time-consuming to compile and access, foreclosure and pre-foreclosure lists are now available online. While these services are of great value to individuals, institutions and industries with a legitimate need for the information, it has also made it easy for scam artists to target homeowners about to lose their homes.

There are several types of foreclosure “rescue” scams, says the nonprofit Boston-based National Consumer Law Center, which developed a consumer guide on the subject, “Dreams Foreclosed: The Rampant Theft of Americans’ Homes Through Equity Stopping Foreclosure ‘Rescue’ Scams.” The most common are:

• Phantom help: In exchange for a high fee that must be paid in advance, the “rescuer” makes a few perfunctory telephone calls and fills out paperwork that homeowners could have done themselves. Instead of vigorously working on behalf of the client, the scammer “essentially abandons the homeowner to a fate that might well have been prevented with better intervention,” the NCLC says.

•   Bailout: Homeowners transfer title to their house to the “rescuer” after being assured that they can continue to live in their home, paying rent until they can buy it back in a few years. “Homeowners are sometimes told that surrendering title is necessary so that someone with a better credit rating can secure new financing to prevent the loss of the home. But the terms of these deals are almost invariably so onerous that the buyback becomes impossible,” the NCLC says.

• Bait and switch: Targeting homeowners in pre-foreclosure, the “rescuer” offers to get them a new loan to make their mortgage current. Stressed-out homeowners believe they’re putting their signatures on a loan document, more often than not, one with blank sections that can be altered later to make it appear that the scammer now owns the home.

If you’re headed into foreclosure, you can avoid becoming a scam victim by:

• Learning more about the foreclosure process, including deadlines for responding to documents from the court and lenders.

• Fending off high-pressure tactics designed to make you immediately sign a contract or hand the “rescuer” a quitclaim deed to your home. Talk to your lawyer first.

• Paying the lender directly even if the scammer promises to pass payments along to the bank or mortgage company.

The NCLC consumer guide is available online at www.consumerlaw.org.  

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Aging in Place

shower
A curbless shower increases bathroom accessibility without that institutional feel.

Baby boomers find the best is yet to be — at home

By Tim Torres
Copley News Service

Go west, young man, and grow with the nation, it was once said. But where do we go when our pioneer days are behind us and we start thinking of the trail’s end? Enough of all this moving around… it’s better to age in place.

To some extent, and not a big surprise, that’s true in today’s home market: People—mostly baby boomers—are trading in their “McMansions” for smaller, single-level homes to grow old in.  That’s something to consider if you’re going to be selling your home soon or are thinking about buying a new one.

According to an AARP survey, more than 80 percent of respondents age 45 and older said they would like to stay where they are for as long as possible, and 70 percent of those able to make changes have made at least one modification to make their homes easier to live in.

If you take a look at most senior communities around the nation, most of these upscale planned communities primarily offer single-family homes that either incorporate “universal design” or are ready to have it brought in, says Victor Regnier, professor of architecture and gerontology at University of Southern California. People are thinking about safety and accessibility: “That is probably the first thing they think about, and they don’t want a two-story house.”

Research varies in all of this, he says. Some baby boomers are keeping their large homes and are ready to install elevators, for instance. “This generation has the resources and they are willing to pay for what they want,” Regnier says. Others are ready to trade down and take it easy.

One thing for certain is that universal design, or accessible design, makes life a lot easier for seniors and the wheelchair-bound by incorporating design elements such as grab bars in the bathroom, non-slip floors in the kitchen, or “eye level” stoves and microwaves.

“In the age 50-plus segment of home buyers, there is more demand for universal design,” says Richard Duncan, executive director of housing works of the Universal Design Institute in Florida.

But think a bit before you tear out your custom shower for a roll-in, wheelchair-accessible type. “Universal design can be a two-edged sword,” Regnier says. It can make your home look “institutional.” It might be better to add some elements, such as a non-slip floor, but point out where other elements can be installed quickly, such as identifying anchor points for a grab bar in the bathroom. “You could spend a lot of money and it might not really be that helpful.”

Or even better, advises Duncan, is to wait until a home remodeling comes around so you can incorporate universal design into it. “Then, you can then add these features for little or no cost.”

Both experts say universal design is the smart way to go no matter your age. “It’s good for everyone,” says Regnier. “I don’t care if you’re 12 or 82.”

Two schools of thought are going on with the aging baby boomers, he says. The younger boomers, say from early 50s to late 60s, “think they will never get old.” They are determined to stay in their home until the end and are embracing accessible design.

The older segment, “those north of 75, often recognize how vulnerable they are,” Regnier says. This group realizes no matter what they do, they may need to move one day to get personal care in assisted living or a nursing environment.

Maybe one day America will copy the European model, where housing is not only built for aging in place, but also incorporates “care and repair” programs that allow older people to stay in their homes until they die, he says.

These programs combine home assessment and repair with home-delivered personal and health care. Thus residents can truly age in place without worrying about moving as they become more frail and unable to take care of themselves.

UNIVERSAL APPEAL

Some areas to look at if you want to add universal design to your home:

• The bathroom, called the most dangerous room in the house for seniors, needs grab-bar anchor points, a curbless shower and maybe a “step-in” tub.

• The house needs at least one entrance that is step-free.

• The microwave should be counter level.

• Think pocket doors wherever practical, and make sure they have a high quality double-roller suspension.

• A front-loading and front-control washer and dryer make clothes transfer easy.

• Doorknobs and faucet handles should be lever type.

• Non-slip flooring where possible.

• Light switches and thermostat should be easily reached.

• Add lots of lighting, especially in stairways.

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