Archive for March 2005

What should we look for in choosing a quality school?

Test scores and statistics offer only one small measure of an effective educational process.

Here are five indicators of a good school:

Parent involvement: Parents volunteer in the classrooms, on curriculum committees, on the PTA and at fund-raisers.

Teacher enthusiasm: Teachers go the extra mile, depend on experience but aren’t afraid to try a new approach, respond to students individually and work to meet their needs. A good teacher nurtures a love of learning in her classroom every day.

High standards: Children are expected to work to their highest potential and are given the help they need to reach it.

Community support: Schools have the political and financial backing of everyone, and have business "partners" who provide added money and opportunities for students. Innovative administrators Schools combine the best of the old ways with newer materials and methods to help all children succeed.

Seattle Times School Guide

Home Improvements Don't All Pay Off

Generally speaking, there are two ways to go when you are thinking about home improvements. Either you splurge for something purely for the sybaritic pleasure of having it -- that Italian marble bathroom you've dreamed about; that skylight that your spouse has been hinting at for the last six years -- or you take a pragmatic approach, putting in such amenities as a new kitchen or a redwood deck because you want to increase your home's market value.
Don't ever expect to score on both counts. "Just because you pour $20,000 into your home doesn't mean that your house is worth $20,000 more," says Frank Dell'Accio, a real estate broker in Lindenhurst, N.Y. "I had a guy who invested $100,000 in a $130,000 home after he lived there for four years. He put it on the market at $225,000. He was offered $170,000." His mistake: spending money on amenities that were only peripheral to the value of the house. "He wanted phones in the bathroom," says Dell'Accio, "but [who else is] going to pay for them?" This section details those improvements that pay off more often than not. We also point out those that rarely make a difference when it comes time to sell your home.
Time and time again, repainting proves to be the most basic, and the most bankable, of fix-ups. There's almost nothing a coat of paint won't fix, at least if you plan to sell within a year or two. "People don't like buying other people's problems," says Rhode Island broker William Eccleston, "and a coat of paint can cover a lot of problems." According to the National Association of Realtors, professionally painting the exterior of a house costs an average of $3,250 and recoups 81% of its cost. "A clean, neat, orderly fresh coat of paint, that's what sells," says New Jersey broker Steve Krawse. "In the short term, changing floors, cabinetry, fixtures and sinks only counts when your house is so functionally outdated that a $4,000 investment adds $14,000 to the value. Most of the time, you're better off fixing the cracked front steps and painting the front door."
Even a few basic improvements to your kitchen can pay handsome dividends, says real estate agent Michael Murphy in his book, How to Sell Your Home in Good or Bad Times. Murphy writes: "For most buyers, [the kitchen] is the heart of the house. Paint, wallpaper, even refloor the room if necessary. Consider sanding, staining or painting dingy-looking cabinets. Replace old cabinet hardware -- a low-cost improvement that makes a big difference in appearance."
According to a recent survey done by Remodeling magazine, the average spent on a major kitchen remodeling job in the U.S. is $21,262; refinishing an outdated one averaged $8,507. The all-out kitchen makeover nationally recouped 90% of its cost, the more moderate overhaul was valued at 94%.
Creating New Space
As a rule, improvements that increase the functional space of a home hold their value longer than ones that just make a house function better. Converting an attic into a bedroom suite, for example, usually costs about $22,840 but returns about 84% of its cost at resale time, even five years later. Waterproofing a basement for storage, a job that costs about $3,000, recoups more than 100% of its cost when the house goes on the market.
An Extra Bathroom
Adding an extra bathroom with all the trimmings -- marble vanity top, molded sink, bathtub with shower and ceramic tile -- all but pays for itself. At a cost of around $15,000 a full bath recoups at least 90% of its price tag. A second bath adds more value than a third and if you have natural light, all the better.
Redwood Decks
Installing a redwood deck may be the most cost-efficient way to add square footage to your house, and of all the outdoor home improvements except painting, it may be the most reliable value. Decks average $4,000 to $7,000 and generally recoup about half their value. That may not sound like much, but other touted outdoor improvements fare even worse.
New Windows
Even energy-efficient windows and doors are sluggish performers. According to data from the National Association of Realtors, an $8,000 to $12,000 investment in windows and doors will return only 36% to 53% of its cost, while $1,280 worth of caulking and insulation will recoup 71%. If your windows are old and leaky, by all means replace them. The savings on your utility bill might make up for the spotty resale value. "A good window arrangement, as long as they're standard, will make money back, says William Eccleston, a broker in Coventry, R.I. But, he warns, "as soon as you get into customizing, with fancy shapes, bays and bows you can't see from the street, you're throwing money down the drain."
Lower-priced, standard, double-hung windows -- about $200 a pop -- are usually the best bet. But that depends on the neighborhood. In more expensive enclaves, sharp-eyed buyers may spot cheaper windows as an underimprovement. "The higher the price, the more buyers begin looking at the ticket for the brand name," says New Jersey broker Frank Dell'Accio. "At $150,000, people ask, 'Are the windows Thermopane?' At $300,000, they start saying, 'Oh, by the way, are they Andersen?'"
Swimming Pools
It is commonly agreed that a swimming pool has no resale value at all. "I've had clients spend $300,000 and fill in the pool," says one agent. The main reason pools repel more prospective buyers than they attract is that they require expensive upkeep. Running a close second is the fear of liability: Pool accidents are a quick way to end up the subject of a negligence suit.
Manicured Gardens
Fancy gardens -- which will require time and money to tend -- usually won't add to the offering price. "Landscaping is for your own enjoyment," says New Jersey agent Frank Dell'Accio. "It may be a $40,000 investment, but there's no way it'll add $40,000 to the value of your house." The same goes for expensive fences and stone walls. They look nice, but buyers don't pay up for them.
Basic Improvements
Unfortunately, the worst-performing home improvements, as far as resale value is concerned, are the invisible ones that have the most value for you as a homeowner. Adding a new plumbing system, a radon-mitigation rig or a new septic tank just doesn't come back to the bottom line. So, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.


Long- and Short-Term Rates Rise This Week

McLean, VA - Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE) today released the results of its Primary Mortgage Market Survey in which the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 6.01 percent, with an average 0.7 points, for the week ending March 24, 2005, up from last week when it averaged 5.95 percent. Last year at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 5.40 percent. The average for the 15-year FRM this week is 5.56 percent, with an average 0.7 points, up from last week when it averaged 5.47 percent. A year ago, the 15-year FRM averaged 4.70 percent. Five-Year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 5.35 percent this week, with an average 0.7 points, up from 5.31 last week. There is no annual historical information for last year since Freddie Mac only began tracking this mortgage rate at the start of this year. One-year Treasury-indexed adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 4.24 percent this week, with an average 0.8 point, up from last week when it averaged 4.20 percent. At this time last year, the one-year ARM averaged 3.36 percent.

Real Estate Blogs

Getting things set up for the news.

A friend forword me an e-mail with someone wanting information about real estate. I figured this created an opportunity for me to give people and insight about buying their first home.

I'll be putting up information about financing, buying process, unexpected expenses and answering other questions that persons might have.

Thank you for your time and I appreciate any help or comments can give me.

Lonnie Snyder