Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What Happens at Settlement?

Honestly, very little. Mainly you sign your life away to the bank that gave you the purchase money. But having a good settlement attorney can certainly make your life--and your home purchase--a lot easier. Here's a good article from the Post.

Buyers have the right to choose the transaction's settlement attorney, who represents neither the purchaser nor the seller. (I know, it's a little weird...the attorney represents the transaction itself.) I know in some states it's common for buyers and/or sellers to hire their own attorneys, but I haven't been to one yet in this area where that's been the case.

A good agent should have relationships with one or more reliable settlement attorneys. And yes, there are often "relationships" between the large brokerages and settlement firms, as noted in this article. I wish I knew more about the fee sharing -- I know I don't see a dime of it, and I'd be crazy to risk a good client relationship over something like that anyway. Who wants to work hard for months on a deal only to risk having it blow up at settlement?? I recommend settlement attorneys based on their thoroughness, reliability, and availability to answer questions along the way, (and of course fees.)

You designate your choice of settlement attorney when you write the offer, though, so it pays to be educated on this topic earlier than later in your home-buying process. And, as always, it helps to be working with an agent you trust who can recommend qualified people for your "team."

Saturday, July 7, 2007

How Low? It Depends...

Finally, a (mostly) balanced article from the WP: How Low Will It Go? Well, Where Do You Live?

Though the first half of the article (the 'above the fold' part) describes a Manassas homeowner who has lost $200K since buying last year, the article goes on to describe the stark differences between that Manassas market and the closer in areas which are seeing increases.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange started trading a new instrument that is essentially a futures contract on the residential housing market. That index is predicting a 4% decline in the Washington area. Moody's Economy.com is predicting a 6-7% decline through the end of '08. But neither index makes a distinction by neighborhood, and as anyone who lives here can tell you, there is a world of difference between living in Manassas and living in Arlington.

The article also points to GMU's Center for Regional Analysis, which I've discussed several times in this blog, as well as my first-time home buyer classes, before. They think the national forecasters underestimate the strength of local employment, and they are predicting a 2% increase this year, then 4-5% in 2008. Who's right? Time will tell.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Burglary Prevention

I often get asked questions about crime (which I usually can't answer -- see "What Realty Agents Can't Tell You" entry from April 2007). I did come across this helpful graphic "Anatomy of a Burglary" in today's Washington Post. Pretty interesting stuff. Some good tips on where NOT to keep your valuables. In this season of vacations where homes are left empty for a week or more, it's worth being smart about.

Here are some more tips from Arlington County:

Before you leave...

* Make sure your home looks lived in, not empty: stop mail and cancel all deliveries or ask a friend to make daily collections. Hide empty garbage cans. Leave shades and blinds in normal positions. Put an automatic timer on several lights and the radio. Have a neighbor keep your property maintained.
* Leave a key to a trusted neighbor.
* Store valuables in a safe deposit box.
* Tell a neighbor you trust your departure and return dates. Supply an itinerary with phone numbers where you can be reached in an emergency.
* Ask police to make extra checks at your residence.
* Lock all windows and doors. Double check basement and garage doors before you leave.

On a related note, and relevant to your homeowner's insurance, it's always worth keeping a detailed record of your assets, in case they are stolen. You should include the brand, model, purchase price, and age. Another good idea is to take some quick digital pictures around the house of items that are likely to be stolen in the event of a break-in and email them to yourself for archiving.