Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Car Insurance that Covers Your Dog, Too

Early each morning, I pack up my dogs, Bobby and Tennessee, and drive a few miles to a scenic country road, where we walk along quiet vistas of open meadows and wooded streams, serenaded by occasional turkey calls and seasonal birdsong.  It's our tranquil time together, and we all look forward to it.

But I found myself wondering what would happen if our peaceful morning ritual were to be shattered by a collision with a car or a school bus.  I hope that never happens, of course, but I was pleased to learn that here in Massachusetts, there are at least two insurance companies that will reimburse medical (or even burial) costs for canine or feline passengers who are injured in vehicular accidents.

Progressive has been offering this coverage at no charge for more than five years.  It will pay up to $1000 toward veterinary costs if your dog or cat sustains injuries during a car accident, fire, or theft.

Arbella Mutual, based in Quincy, MA, offers Massachusetts drivers an optional pet coverage rider that pays up to $500 towards vet bills for a dog or cat who is hurt in a crash.  In contrast to Progressive, Arbella Mutual charges a nominal $20 annual fee for this additional protection.

My current insurer doesn't offer this option, at any price, and I think I owe it to Bobby and Tennessee to switch to a company that does.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Conquering Winter with an Electric Snow Blower

I admit it.  I hate winter.  And the truth is, I'm afraid of it.  I panic at the sight of a snowflake.  I tremble at the hint of flurries, and I manically monitor AccuWeather forecasts for weeks in advance, dreading snow and ice that may never come.  I'm a winter wimp.

My winter dread has been fueled by a lack of proper equipment to tame the snow when it eventually arrives, as it inevitably does.  My longtime plow guy and I parted ways a ew years ago when he charged me for plowing the driveway after I had already shoveled the whole thing myself.  I was able to skip along relatively unscathed during last year's relatively modest storms, but I'm afraid I'd allowed myself to become too complacent.  I was completely unprepared when two significant snowstorms hit right after Christmas.  It took me two days to dig down to the end of my 100' driveway, and I admitted defeat.  I needed help.

It came in the guide of the Greenworks 20-inch 12 amp (Electric) Snow Thrower.  It was everything I wanted:  lightweight, inexpensive (I paid $150 on Amazon, with free shipping), and best of all:  it didn't require gasoline or oil.  You just plug it in.  It arrived a few days after New Year's, and sat in its box until today, when I had to tackle the task of assembling it after a 5" snowfall.  I've never been very good at that, but it basically came down to fitting a few metal pieces together and tightening some screws.  In 15 minutes, I was good to go.

I'm laughing at myself as I write this, incredulous that I've been inspired to write about a snow blower.  That might seem silly, but to me, it's nothing short of liberation.  That nifty little green machine cleaned my driveway down to the blacktop with minimal effort in about 90 minutes. With the Greenworks in my arsenal, I'm not trapped anymore, and winter suddenly seems a lot less daunting.  I'm free, at last.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Did Buyers Purchase Homes "On Sale"?

Coldwell Banker's 10-Day Fall Home Sale Event is now history. In order to participate, sellers whose homes were priced at $750,000 or under were asked to reduce their prices by 5%, while those tagged at $750,000 or more had to slash 10% from their asking price.

The interesting part of the promotion was that it modeled itself on department store sales by trying to sell houses like were linens marked down at Macy's, "for a limited time only." We don't see that approach too often, and I applaud Coldwell Banker for stepping out of the box to try something new.

It will be interesting to see how many buyers took advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, but in at least one case, the marketing strategy seems to have paid big dividends.

215 Monument Street in Concord, a 17-room mansion on 3.5 acres abutting the idyllic Estabrook Woods, was originally listed by Coldwell Banker in April, 2006 for the heady price of $5,250,000. By March of this year, the asking price had ebbed down to $3,975,000, without any takers. And by the time the owners decided to participate in the 10-Day Sale Event by reducing their price to $3,600,000, this stately home had been on the market for more than 900 days.
But then, voila!

Apparently the "limited time only" $3.6 million price tag was irresistible, because on Sunday, October 19th, the last day of the sale, this home was finally put "under agreement," signalling that a buyer had taken the bait. The property is currently assessed at more than $4.3 million, so it looks like the new owner got a great deal.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What Sellers Need to Know

In a perceptive article entitled Be It Ever So Illogical: Homeowners Who Won't Cut the Price, writer David Leonhardt accurately captures the sentiment of many would-be home sellers here in Massachusetts who can't quite bring themselves to accept the painful reality of declining prices, coupled with the phenomenon of skeptical buyers who are determined not to overpay for a home, even when they love it.

And, as Leonhardt explains, "there is no asset more conducive to hopeful overvaluation. That means real estate slumps tend to grind on for years, until sellers submit to reality and reduce their prices." There's just no way around it.

Even though prices are coming down, it appears that they haven't declined enough to stimulate risk-averse buyers. The Warren Group reported yesterday that Bay State single family home sales dropped 19% in February 2008 from what they were in February 2007, when the slowdown had already begun in earnest. This slide was coupled with an 8.8% drop in the median single family home price here, which Warren described as the largest monthly decline in 18 years.

And so it looks like the stalemate may continue for a while longer, unfortunately, until someone blinks.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Neighborhood Environmental Reports: The Next Frontier

With all the emphasis on ensuring that the homes they wish to purchase offer clean potable water, low levels of radon, and mold-free spaces , buyers have paid somewhat less attention to the areas immediately beyond the boundaries of their new address.

Yet the presence of nearby environmental hazards can pose health threats that are equal or greater than those to be found within a home's four walls.

In the past, it required hours and hours of painstaking research to track down potential issues that might adversely impact a home's air and water. The good news for buyers and sellers alike is that it's now possible to obtain a comprehensive "home health report" from home inspectors and real estate agents who have been certified by Environmental Data Resources (EDR) to provide Neighborhood Environmental Reports, each customized to a specific property.

Each Neighborhood Environmental Report segregates the known current or past environmental issues into two categories: those within a radius of 300 feet (approximately six acres) of a property, and those beyond that circle, up to a distance of about one mile away. It includes information about the location and status of leaking oil storage tanks, landfills, hazardous waste sites, EPA priority cleanup sites, and areas of accidential toxic contamination from fuel spills or industrial leakage.

In many cases, the reports reveal that previous problem sites have been satisfactorily resolved and do not pose a present danger. In other cases, it may be possible to implement precautions or other protective measures to mitigate any risks.

But the important thing is that the EDR "NERs" arm a consumer with the data she needs to make an informed choice about whether to purchase a particular property.

As a recently certified EDR provider, I can now offer Neighborhood Environmental Reports to real estate agents, buyers, sellers, and anyone else who would like to have this information about their property. Please contact me if you're interested.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Advice for Choosing a Home When You're SAD

I was out showing homes this morning, almost giddy to be able to spend time driving around in the unrelenting streams of sunlight. I'm one of those people who really suffer during the New England winters, and I've realized that my moods are affected less by the cold temperatures than by the dreary unending grayness that tends to set in around this time in February.

My client and I looked at a selection of smallish homes in Acton, Harvard and Stow. While all of the homes were modestly priced (for this area), and none of them could be described as "fancy," there were a few that made us feel like whistling and clicking our heels, and a few that made us want to scamper out the door as quickly as we possibly could.

What was the difference? In a word, "light." And for people like me who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, the abundance or scarcity of life-sustaining light in a house may outweigh other salient characteristics when it comes to deciding whether that's the place you'll want to call "home."

We noticed that it wasn't just the size of the windows that made the difference. Equally important was the way in which each house was sited, and in what direction it faced. Homes that are shrouded by trees may reap some cooling benefits during the summer, but in winter, these places can bring you down even on a bright day.

So my advice to buyers who are light-sensitive is to be sure that you visit a home during both morning and afternoon hours before you make an offer. For example, kitchens that are bathed in morning sun may become dungeon-like after 3pm. There are always things you can do to compensate, of course (such as adding mirrors or skylights or painting dark woodwork with lighter-hued colors), but take the time to investigate before you purchase, so you won't find yourself in a funk when February comes next year.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Market Madness in Bolton, Mass

Lest anyone think that the pain in the real estate market is being borne solely by sub-prime buyers in the lower echelons of the market, there is ample evidence in some upscale country towns that this is not the case.

This morning's MLS updates brought the news that an 18-month-old home in the young, up-and-coming Northwoods subdivision has been listed for $950,000, with the unusual disclaimer, "Please save everyone's time; price is nonnegotiable." What makes this case so interesting is that the current owners purchased the 6000-square-foot residence (new) for $1,082,000 in June of 2006 and purportedly poured another $200,000 into it for custom upgrades, including a fully finished lower level. The property is currently assessed for $1,036,900, and ominously, the sale is "subject to bank approval."

The market has not been kind to these sellers. They first listed their home in August, 2007, for $1,250,000, and subsequently reduced it to $1.1 million in October, finally taking it off the market just before Christmas.

There are currently 47 MLS-listed homes on the market in Bolton today, with an average asking price of $833,409. Twelve of these (about 25%) are priced at $900,000 or more. Only one home in the entire town is under contract, that that one is priced much more modestly, under $500,000.

The town's current absorption rate suggests that these upper echelon homes could linger on the market for as long two years. In the last six months, 35 MLS-listed homes were sold in Bolton, with an average sale price of $619,511. Only three of these homes were priced over $900,000, including one in the same Northwoods neighborhood, which closed in December at a reported price of $912,000, excluding buyer-paid upgrades.