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October Real Estate Statistics for Billings, MT

Posted by Laure & Steve | on Tuesday, December 29th, 2009 at 1:39 pm
Category: Housing Market.
Tags: , , , , ,

Please follow the links to the statistics for October 2009. As you can see we are still behind last year in number of homes sold and dollar volume. However for September, October and November we had more units close than we did last year. This could be attributed to the first home buyer tax credit and the new tax credit for move up buyers. The full picture on that won’t become apparent until the tax credits expire next year. Hopefully by then the economy will be closer to recovery.

Handout October 2009

MLS Area Charts October 2009

MLS Statistics October 2009

Closed Units by Month – 2007-2009

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Owning a Home Has Its Benefits

Posted by Laure & Steve | on Monday, December 14th, 2009 at 12:40 pm
Category: Buy House.
Tags: , , , , ,

Opportunity is knocking for those considering homeownership for the first time. Historically low interest rates, lower home prices in most markets and the first-time homebuyer tax credit – part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – brought first-timers to the market in droves throughout the year.

In fact, these consumers represented about half of home sales logged during 2009, according to the National Association of REALTORS®, a significant increase from historic levels. And the favorable conditions that prompted many of these first-time buyers are likely to continue. President Obama in early November signed into law a five-month extension of the first-time homebuyer tax credit of up to $8,000, as well as a new tax credit of up to $6,500 for existing homeowners who want to purchase a home to be their primary residence (see your real estate professional and tax advisor for details). Both credits will be available through April 30, 2010.

Today’s opportunities aside, here are eight time-honored reasons why those considering homeownership for the first time should make their move.

1. Pride of Ownership

Owning your own home adds to your own sense of self-esteem and personal pride. The satisfaction that comes from feeling connected to the land you occupy and the home in which you live is ages-old.

2. Security of Tenancy

With homeownership comes stability. When renting, you never know when you may have to move because of new ownership, rent increases or other changes. As a homeowner, you decide when and if you want to move.

3. Privacy

While there are usually some limits on the access landlords have to property, almost all landlords can access your property for necessary inspections and maintenance. For many renters, this lack of privacy is a significant discomfort. Homeowners on the other hand generally have much stronger property rights and experience an increase in perceived and actual privacy.

4. Decorating

Homeowners are free to decorate, remodel and accessorize a home any way they want. Not only do you have the right to make improvements, but the value of those improvements becomes yours as well. Having your living space and exteriors just the way you want them can significantly increase your satisfaction with your living environment.

5. Financial Predictability

When you buy a home with a fixed-rate mortgage, you have more predictability over future housing costs. Because your interest rate never changes, the amount of your payment never changes. Financial planning and credit are more easily managed with a fixed-rate mortgage compared to renting.

6. Building Equity

When you own your own home, you pay rent to yourself instead of a landlord. Most homeowners pay for their purchase by obtaining a mortgage. As you pay off that mortgage, your equity builds and you gain an increasingly larger share in a valuable asset. Over time, that asset can work for you in many ways, such as home equity lines of credit. And of course, a home is a wonderful asset to pass along in an estate.

7. Investment Appreciation

There are certainly no guarantees of property value appreciation. In the long-term, however, real estate valuations almost always increase. This means that when you decide to sell your home, its value may be significantly higher than when you purchased it. The difference in value is called appreciation. You can reinvest that appreciation in other real estate or you may wish to downsize and keep the value of that appreciation for retirement or other purposes.

8. Tax Benefits

In the United States, the cost of home mortgage interest and property taxes are usually tax-deductible. Depending on your circumstances, thousands of dollars in taxes can be saved each year. These tax savings are not limited to federal taxes either. Many states and localities either base their tax system on the federal system or offer similar incentives to homeownership. Some additional benefits are designed specifically for first-time homebuyers. (See your tax advisor for additional information.)

If you still have doubts, contact us. We can answer questions you may have about homeownership and explain the buying process to you.

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Billings Real Estate: Should I Take My Home Off the Market During the Holidays?

Posted by Laure & Steve | on Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009 at 12:51 pm
Category: Selling Your Home.
Tags: , , , ,

When you look at your calendar you may find the months already overloaded with seasonal obligations — shopping, entertaining, children’s pageants, charity work, decorating the house, and so much more. If you are also trying to sell your home, you are under extra pressure to keep your home in “showing” condition. And that could be the last thing you need before the holiday spirit is broken.

It is understandable why you would be tempted to take your home off the market during the holidays. And the list of justifications is long. If you are too busy, buyers may be also, and you may find your efforts unrewarded with not enough showings. And what if you do get an offer? You may be faced with the possibility of packing and moving during the busiest time of the year. Besides, you can give your house a rest, and it will have better momentum after the holidays. Better to just pack it in and start fresh in January, right?

But wait! Most top Realtors agree that taking your home off the market during the Christmas season is a mistake. The house surely isn’t going to sell off the market! What is the advantage of that? So you’re busy. Let your Realtor do the work. You can leave in the morning, go to work, go shopping, and let your Realtor take care of things.

The holidays are a wonderful selling period. Why? Because most people take off work sometime during the season. The husband and wife are both off and want to see houses. Most agents like the holidays because the buyers have more time, and they can look at homes together.

Before you take your home off the market, consider the following points:

Although buyer activity may appear to slow down, the buyers who are actively looking during the holidays are that much more serious. Agents believe the home market is no more affected at Christmas than during other “busy” periods. If that were so, the market would shut down throughout the year as families concentrate on spring weddings, June graduations, summer vacations, and autumn back-to-school activities.

Many buyers deliberately choose to shop for a home after the busy spring and summer rush. They know that it will be easier to look, and that negotiations will be less stressful. They may not have children, or they may have grown children, so moving to accommodate the school year isn’t a consideration. Finding the right home at the right price, however, is.

Relocating families often don’t have a choice when they can leave for their new destination. Although 68% of transferring families have children, many families have to transfer during the middle of the school year. These families are that much more motivated to get their families settled in before either the January semester begins, or to arrange for the move during spring break in March. If you sign a contract by New Year’s Eve, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

At Christmas time, our culture focuses on family and the home. Preparing for the indoor activities of winter is one of the most enjoyable periods of family life. Allowing buyers to view your home during this most hospitable of seasons lets them better picture their own family life in the attractive environment you have created.

When is your home ever more beautiful and inviting? You have cleaned and decorated, and your home looks like a picture postcard. If the results are good enough for family and friends, they will surely be good enough to impress your buyers. Get the family team on board to do a five-minute blitz pick-up every morning to keep holiday messes to a minimum.

With many motivated buyers in the marketplace, you may find you have more showings than you would if you sold your home during a busier time of the year.

If you do get a contract, you can arrange the terms to suit your needs. If moving during the holidays isn’t an option, you can put in the closing date of your choice. Most people can close 30 to 60 days after a contract is written, so there is plenty of time. Possession and closings are very negotiable.

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Before You Buy Real Estate Check for Restrictive Covenants

Posted by Laure & Steve | on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 at 6:32 pm
Category: Buy House.
Tags: , , ,

You’ve just toured the home of your dreams and are ready to make an offer. You can already envision upgrades you would like make: a pool in the back yard, window shutters and a black picket fence to match. You’re even excited that your boat will fit in the driveway. Yet, what you may not be aware of is that there are restrictions that dictate what can and cannot be done to or on the property.

Homebuyers, especially first-timers, may not think of asking about restrictive covenants, yet when you purchase property governed by restrictive covenants, you are consenting to abide by those provisions.

A restrictive covenant, which is a type of deed restriction, regulates a group of new and existing homes or building lots. Developers use them to preserve a development or subdivision as a model community and control its use and appearance. Buyers agree to the sometimes-rigid restrictions in order to maintain the aesthetic standard set by the developer and to safeguard the value of their homes.

Restrictive covenants should not be confused with local zoning and government regulations. Some covenants and zoning regulations overlap; for instance, either can limit the height of a building. But, restrictive covenants tend to exert greater control over a homeowner’s lifestyle. In addition to standard clauses, which may stipulate a home’s minimum size, height, architectural style, and color schemes, covenants often ban practices that could be regarded as aesthetically objectionable–such as parking RVs, boats and non-running vehicles on the property.

Covenants may additionally regulate grass height; window treatments; holiday decorations; walls, fences and hedges; as well as pets–some limit number and type of pets allowed. Very often, owners are required to make repairs within a specified number of days of the initial notification. Depending on a community’s location and other unique features, restrictions may be applied to the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers and removal of dirt and trees. Owners can be prohibited from installing solar panels, building an enclosed patio or adding a swimming pool. Restrictive covenants can also prevent owners from renting the home or operating a home business, including music lessons and daycare. Condo and townhouse owners sometimes face even more rigid restrictions.

What happens when a violation occurs? It’s up to the homeowner’s association or individual property owners to enforce a covenant. Local authorities cannot enforce contractual agreements. Instead, it’s likely that a committee would review the complaint, then notify the homeowner. If the homeowner ignores the initial notice, he or she might receive a notice from an attorney. Legal action would be a last resort.

Before You Buy

While most homeowners enjoy the quality of life resulting from restrictive covenants, some covenants may prevent you from living the life you planned. Before committing yourself to a property, be certain you can live with all the restrictions.

  • Ask to see a copy of the restrictive covenants prior to taking a trip out to a property. You may be able to eliminate the house from your “To See” list.
  • If the sales professional didn’t have the document available initially, be certain to review a copy of the restrictive covenants prior to making an offer.
  • Or, make your offer contingent on your review and approval of the restrictive covenants.

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Billings Real Estate Market Statistics for October 2009

Posted by Laure & Steve | on Wednesday, November 18th, 2009 at 2:57 pm
Category: Housing Market.
Tags: , , , , ,

Here are the links to this months statistics reports. Our closed residential sales are only around 5% down from last year. That is good news. Let’s hope the trend continues for the rest of the year.

Handout October 2009

MLS Area Charts October 2009

MLS Statistics October 2009

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Renting vs Buying a Home in Billings MT

Posted by Laure & Steve | on Thursday, November 5th, 2009 at 6:53 pm
Category: Housing Market.
Tags: , , , , ,

Americans believe in the dream of homeownership. With all the foreclosures and bankruptcies taking place, however, is it cheaper for people to rent rather than buy?

When it comes to the decision of renting vs. buying, most people make the decision based upon a comparison of monthly payments. If their rent payment is less than the payment on a home, many decide that it’s cheaper to rent than to buy. This approach, however, fails to take into account a number of other factors that influence the total costs of homeownership, rather than just the monthly payments.

The first step for any person who is considering buying (or selling) a home is to talk to a tax professional. Each person’s tax situation is different. When you purchase a primary residence you can normally reduce your withholding taxes. That is because the interest on your mortgage is tax deductible.

One of the most compelling reasons to buy rather than to rent is to lock in a permanent monthly payment at today’s rates for the next 30 years. If possible, obtain a fixed-rate mortgage for 30 years. This means that your mortgage 20 years from now will be at the same rate as it is today. In contrast, rent payments tend to keep pace with inflation.

The current 10-year average inflation rate is 2.82 percent per year. (The average since 1913 is actually 3.41 percent a year). Assuming the inflation rate continues to average 2.82 percent per year, in 2019 your $1,000 mortgage payment would be the equivalent of $718 in today’s dollars. If your property value keeps pace with inflation, it would have increased in value by approximately 28 percent as well, making it worth $128,000. Furthermore, you would have paid down your loan for 10 years.

Assuming a 6 percent interest rate on a 30-year fully amortized fixed-rate loan, your balance on your original $100,000 loan would be $83,686. Consequently, your equity position after 10 years would be $16,314 ($100,000 minus $83,686) plus $28,000 in appreciation due to inflation, for a total of $44,314. (This calculation does not take into consideration any amount that you would have placed on the property as a downpayment.)

Of course, there are other costs of homeownership to consider, too, such as homeowners association dues, property taxes and utility bills.

Compare the above example to the costs of renting. If your rent payments kept pace with inflation of 2.82 percent per year, your rental costs over the same period would increase 28.2 percent ($1,282 per month vs. $1,000 today.)

Assuming a 2.82 percent inflation rate over the next 20 years, this example becomes even more compelling. Your monthly loan payment of $1,000 would be the same as $436 in today’s dollars. If your property value kept pace with inflation, it would now be worth approximately $156,000.

After 20 years, the balance on your $100,000 fixed-rate loan would be $54,359. Thus, your equity position would be $56,000 due to the inflation-related appreciation increase plus $45,641 in principal reduction, for a total equity position of $101,641.

In terms of rent 20 years from now, if it kept place with inflation you would be paying $1,564 per month. That’s an extra $6,768 per year more than your mortgage payments if you had locked in your 30-year fixed-rate loan at time of purchase.

The wild card in this entire discussion is inflation. Many experts are predicting that the only way our government can pay our debts is to print more money. The result will be increased inflation. Using the 10-year example from above, paying off a $1 billion loan after 10 years of inflation at 2.82 percent means that the real payoff amount is $718 million in today’s dollars.

For an individual, this may be the best reason to purchase real estate. If you hold your property for the long term, it will normally keep pace with inflation, creating additional wealth. When you rent, you pay off your landlord’s mortgage and make him or her wealthy. These are among the reasons that homeowneship remains an American ideal and the norm.

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Billings Real Market Statistics for September 2009

Posted by Laure & Steve | on Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 at 12:48 pm
Category: Housing Market.
Tags: , , , ,

I am a little late giving you the statistics this month.  They continue to look better each month.  It will be interesting what will happen if the $8,000 first time home buyer tax credit is not extended.

MLS Statistics September 2009

MLS Area Charts September 2009

Handout September 2009

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Time is Running out for the First Time Home Buyer in Billings MT

Posted by Laure & Steve | on Wednesday, October 21st, 2009 at 3:18 pm
Category: First Time Home-Buyers.
Tags: , , ,

The first time home buyer tax credit of $8,000 expires on November 30th.  Congress has been asked to extend the tax credit but it isn’t looking too likely at this time.

October is already here. If a first time home buyer wants to beat the deadline, how much time would be needed to close the deal?

Most lenders say they need a minimum of 30 days to close a loan and many will not guarantee that everything will be wrapped up by Nov. 30. Just to be safe, it’s best to get started as soon as possible with as much documentation as possible. The number of applicants will increase as the deadline for the tax credit approaches. FHA-insured loans can take even longer and everyone in the lending industry expects a late tax credit rush.

A crucial element in getting loans processed and closed in a timely matter is a complete file. If you have spent time only shopping for a home and not compiling your financial package, here is a list of the top five documents to immediately prepare for your lender:

1.     Copy of driver’s license and Social Security card

2.     Pay stubs (covering most recent 30 days)

3.     W-2 and 1099 statements for 2008 and 2007

4.     Copy of 2008 and 2007 federal tax returns with all schedules

5.     Bank statements for checking, savings, money market, CDs and IRAs (covering past two months) including account number and bank.

Often the initial underwriting loan review will trigger additional requirements needed from the borrower. With new rules now in play regarding appraisals and disclosures coupled with the overall tightening of underwriting guidelines, it will be key to start the loan process as soon as possible in case additional documentation or verification need to be met for final loan approval.

The bottom line is that if you want to buy a home utilizing the tax credit you need to hurry up and find a home and get everything to your lender as soon as possible.  So call your Lender and Realtor today!

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Billings MT Real Estate: Renovate For Less (Part 2)

Posted by Laure & Steve | on Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 at 11:20 am
Category: Home Improvement.
Tags: , , , ,

In The Bathroom

What you want – a new tub ($2,000 to $6,000).

Save by – lining the one you already have (approximately $1,000).

How it works.

Rather than tearing out your old tub you can have a new custom tub made to fit right over it (think of one paper cup nesting inside another one).  The installer takes exact measurements of your tub-and sometimes makes an impression of its shape with a paint-on-rubber mold.  A few weeks later he returns with a one-piece liner manufactured to a precise fit that’s made from the same acrylic used for new tubs.  He then bonds it in place over the old tub.

What to think about.

This process won’t get you a bigger tub or let you change the configuration of the room, but you also won’t have to go through a messy and disruptive construction project.

Who does the job?

Specialty companies, many of which are national chains (see,, and

An even lower cost option.

Have your chipped, pitted or rust-stained tub reglazed in the color of your choice ($400 to $700)

What you want - to replace outdated tile wainscot ($3,000 to $5,000).

Save by – installing wood bead board paneling right over the tile ($1,000 to $1,500).

How it works.

A tile wainscot (a half wall of tile) is a nice bathroom feature, but not if the tiles are bright pink or avocado green.  For an instant update a woodworker can glue bead board plywood over the tile and create a small shelf along the top, then paint the woodwork white.

What to think about.

Make sure the plywood that your contractor uses has fully rounded groves (or “beads”), rather than just a shallow suggestion of the shape, which is common with some cheaper products.

Who does the job?

A contractor, carpenter or experienced neighborhood handyman.

An even lower cost option.

Paint the tile white with a specialized epoxy coating available at ($68 per kit).

The Rest Of The House

What you want - a family room addition ($20,000 plus).

Save by – Knocking down an interior wall ($1,000 to $1,500).

How it works.

Instead of building a brand-new family room by adding on to your house’s current footprint, you can remove an interior kitchen wall to create an open floor plan among existing rooms. You go from having an undersized kitchen next to an undersized living room, dining room or back hall to having one generous multipurpose space.

What to think about.

If the wall is bearing (that is structural), you need to add a beam, raising the cost to around $4,000, and if it’s “wet” (that is contains plumbing), rerouting the pipes could be cost prohibitive.

Who does the job?

A general contractor and plumber, if needed.

An even lower cost option.

Rather than removing the wall entirely you can create a large opening in it, such as for a breakfast bar or pass-through.  That way you avoid potential structural and plumbing complications (about $700).

What you want - custom built-ins ($6,000 to $10, 000).

Save by - using and personalizing stock cabinetry ($3,000 to $4,000).

How it works.

Inexpensive kitchen cabinets stocked unassembled at home centers offer plenty of mix-and-match storage solutions to create terrific built-ins, from bookshelves to window seats to wet bars.  Manufacturers even provide trim pieces that give the modules a customized one-piece look.

What to think about.

Sales reps in the kitchen department can use computer software to help you design your built-in based on your space and their selection of cabinetry.  This service is usually provided at no extra charge.

Who does the job?

A contractor, carpenter or home-center installation crew.

An even lower cost option

If you are handy enough to do the cabinet assembly yourself you can reduce the installer’s labor fee.  Figure it’ll take you about 20 minutes to assemble each cabinet unit, after the first one, which may take 45 minutes (about $1, 0000).

What you want - new windows ($800 to $1,200 per window for a quality wood product, installed).

Save by – Having the existing windows “doctored” ($150 to $300 per window).

How it works.

A handyman frees the painted-shut upper sash and replaces old sash cords, broken panes, missing putty and old hardware.  He gets everything working like new and adds weather stripping to improve energy efficiency.

What to think about.

Old windows may never be as efficient as brand-new ones but you get to keep the character of the house’s original windows.  There are more cost effective ways to slash energy costs than replacement windows anyway, like adding attic and basement insulation and weatherizing windows and doors.

Who does the job?

A window installer, handyman or contractor.

An even lower cost option.

Do the job yourself.  Order the instructional DVD “How to Repair Old Windows” for $22 at ($8 to $15 per window in supplies).

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Billings MT Real Estate: Renovate For Less

Posted by Laure & Steve | on Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 at 12:34 pm
Category: Home Improvement.
Tags: , , , ,

Granite countertops in the kitchen.  A tub for the master bathroom.  A family-room addition off the living room.  Whatever home improvement you’re dreaming of, it probably feels like a fantasy right now.  Let’s face it; you’re not going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a renovation in this crazy economy.  Still, that doesn’t mean you have to live with an outdated or uncomfortable house, either.  Believe it or not, you can get granite countertops or other normally pricey upgrades for a couple of thousand dollars.  You just have to throw out the old rule book and use some innovative approaches.  Start with these ideas to save a whopping 50 to 75 percent on either popular home improvement projects.

In The Kitchen

What you want – new cabinets ($10,000 to $20,000).

Save by – refacing the old ones ($3,000 to $6,000).

How it works.

You keep your cabinets but update them with the fresh look of your choice, from Shaker to Mission to contemporary.  The installer applies wood veneer to the existing cabinets, replaces the doors and hardware and installs new drawer glides.  After you have chosen the color of your dreams the transformation is so complete that everyone will think you got new cabinets.

What to think about.

You can’t alter the kitchen layout or footprint without making a significant investment, so refacing makes sense only if you’re happy with the current configuration and the cabinets are in relatively good shape.

Who does the job?

Most kitchen renovation contractors and home centers offer refacing, or they can refer you to a specialist.

An even lower cost option.

Paint your old cabinets yourself and install new knobs and pulls ($100 to $300 in (supplies).

What you want – granite countertops ($6,000 to $8,000)

Save by – having granite tiles laid over the existing countertops ($2,000 to $3,000).

How it works.

Your existing countertops become the foundation for standard 12-by-12inch granite tiles laid edge to edge.  The tiler applies narrow color-matched grout lines so it looks like a solid slab of stone.

What to think about.

To make your stone tiles look like a single piece of granite, choose a stone with a uniform color pattern and use tiles rather than wood for the counter edges.

Who does the job?

A tile setter.

An even lower cost option.

Hire a local woodworker to make you simple maple countertops, which look upscale and wear well, despite their affordability ($600 to $1,000).

What you want – a new kitchen floor ($2,000 to $3,000 for ceramic tile).

Save by – exposing the wood floor that’s already there if your home is prewar ($700 to $1,000).

How it works.

Until the 1950s homebuilders often laid wooden floors throughout the entire house and then added linoleum just in the kitchen.  If you have an older home you might already “own” a new kitchen floor.  You can check by removing a corner tile or two.

What to think about.

Old flooring may contain asbestos, so the contractor should quarantine the work area and properly discard the old material.

Who does the job?

A contractor who specializes in floor refinishing.

An even lower cost option.

If you don’t have a hidden wood floor you can still get a similar look from laminate, a manufactured product that looks identical to real wood, stone or tile.  It snaps in place over any existing floor with nails or glue, an easy do-it-yourself job ($500 to ($700).

Tune in next week to find out how to renovate for less the rest of the house.

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Market Recap

  • Avg. Sales Price: $193,580

  • Avg. Days on Market: 74

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