Saturday, November 28, 2009

San Antonio - A City of Sharing at Thanksgiving

In retrospect, it was a usual Thanksgiving Day in San Antonio.  Across the city, families gathered to cook, eat, watch football, and visit with their loved ones.  And as usual, there were two wonderful programs at work in San Antonio to help those who might not have that Ozzie and Harriet Thanksgiving Day experience.

Raul Jiminez Thanksgiving Dinner
First is the annual Raul Jiminez Thanksgiving Dinner.  The dinner began as an annual affair in 1972 when restauranteur Raul Jiminez served 200 Senior Citizens in the parking lot of his Ft. Worth  factory.  Several years later he moved the dinner to San Antonio, his home and headquarters of his business.  Over the years it has grown, and now feeds 25,000 diners, both seniors and anyone needing a Thanksgiving dinner.  This year was the 30th anniversary, and the work is carried on by the late Jiminez's daughter, Patricia Jiminez, along with about 400 volunteers, mostly from the San Antonio area.  Their motto is that no one is turned away, and everyone is welcome.  Taking place at the San Antonio Convention Center downtown, they served about 450 turkeys with about 1800 pounds of dressing.

Operation Homecoming
The second program that highlights the generosity of the San Antonio residents is the Operation Homecoming which is now in its 35th year, and one of the largest and oldest programs in the United States of it's kind.  Operation Homecoming places thousands of local airmen and soldiers from Lackland Air Force Base and Fort Sam Houston (Army) into local homes for Thanksgiving Day.  The troops are picked up by their host families early in the day, and become family for a day!  They enjoy Thanksgiving dinner, a little football, and a chance to get to see a little more of San Antonio, before being returned to the base or fort in the early evening.  We've hosted several years in the past and found it a most rewarding experience meeting young men and women from all over the US who are very grateful to be in a home when they are away from home.

San Antonio is truly a wonderful place to live!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

San Antonio Unaffected by the Recession?

Some US cities with stable housing and diversified employment have been virtually untouched by the current recession.  In these cities, home prices have not fluctuated wildly, and that spared them from the devastating effects of lost jobs and foreclosures.  To identify these cities, Forbes magazine ranked the 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas by employment rates, the conventional home mortgage price index, and the average days on the market for properties currently for sale, and this is the list they came up with:
  1. Omaha/Council Bluffs, Neb.
  2. San Antonio, Texas
  3. Austin - Round Rock, Texas
  4. Pittsburgh, Pa
  5. Harrisburg - Carlisle, Pa
  6. Dallas - Ft. Worth, Texas
  7. Rochester, NY
  8. Houston, Texas
  9. Raleigh - Cary, NC
  10. Baton Rouge, La
So the San Antonio real estate market has defiitely slowed during this recession, but we have fared very well compared with other areas of the country.  Texas in general ranks high, with four major metropolitan areas in the top 10 of the Forbes list. 

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sellers, Your Kitchen IS the Heart of Your Home!

An appealing, workable kitchen is near the top of most buyers' list of priorities when house-hunting.  It is the room that gets the most scrutiny, and can make or break a sale.  So what can you do if you don't have the open kitchen, the stainless appliances or the granite countertops?  These 10 tips should get you started.

  1. Avoid clutter!  Clean the counters of small appliances and other things to maximize the appearance of limited workspace.
  2. Check the area around your sink, and put away soaps, cleansers, etc.
  3. Sinks, appliances and counters should be sparkling clean.  (Yes, clean the oven!)
  4. Clean off the top of the refrigerator.  Put items that need to be stored there in baskets or bowls to neaten up.
  5. Stage the kitchen with an open cookbook, or a colorful fruit basket.
  6. Create aromas that remind the buyers of a kitchen: cookies baking, bread baking or fruit pies baking.
  7. During the hot summer, display a bowl of lemons or limes for their pleasant aroma.
  8. Clean and organize all the kitchen storage areas so the areas appear larger.
  9. Look critically at your kitchen window treatments and clean or update.
  10. Set the table with bright placemats and a nice centerpiece.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Buyers, San Antonio Home Foundations Require Special Care!

Clay Soil
If you're about to purchase a home in San Antonio, you should know that our local soils are not the best for keeping a foundation from moving.  We have expansive clay soil, which means that the soil expands or contracts as it's moisture content changes.  So during our recent 20 month drought, the soils contracted, or shrank, and then in October - November when we got over 11" of rain, the soils swelled. 

Too Much Rain
The swelling of the soil can cause a foundation to rise, and then fall again when the soil dries out.  The key to keeping the foundation healthy is to keep the moisture content evenly distributed around all sides of the home.  That means, when it rains, the water needs to drain AWAY from the slab, not towards the slab.  You never want to allow water to puddle anywhere around your foundation.  Adding gutters is one way to aid in proper drainage.

Not Enough Rain
It also means that during dry times you need to add moisture to the soil around the perimeter of your home to equalize the moisture that's underneath the slab where it does not dry out as fast. A sign that the soil is too dry is that it will start to pull away from the foundation. Recommendations are for at least 1" per week around all 4 sides of your home, and lots of folks in San Antonio use the soaker hoses to accomplish this if they do not have a sprinkler system. 

San Antonio homes that have concrete foundations are carefully engineered to endure our less than desirable soil, but without proper care, it can cost thousands of dollars to get broken slabs repaired.  Ask your home inspector to show you any areas of concern on the foundation when you are considering a home purchase.

Monday, November 16, 2009

San Antonio gets $20 Million Boost over the Weekend

The second annual Rock 'N' Roll Marathon in San Antonio took place yesterday, and by all accounts, was a rousing success.  There were more than 32,000 registered for the marathon and half marathon, and nearly 3/4 of those were from outside our area, some from around the world.   In fact, the winners were from Kenya, and Russia.  Also, this was a remarkable increase of over 2,000 from last year's inaugural race. 

City officials estimate the visitors spent more than $20,000,000 on hotels, restaurants, transportation and souvenirs while in town.  Not bad for one weekend! 

San Antonio continues to weather the economic storms with our strong tourism business, and our military presence.  So, what does this have to do with real estate in San Antonio?  A lot of folks in town make their living supporting the tourism industry,  and therefore can afford to buy homes, and make payments on those homes, so our foreclosure rates are very low compared to a lot of places.  Our numerous military homeowners do not live in fear of being laid off as many do in private business, so they are free to purchase homes or "move up" to nicer homes.  San Antonio's economic mix of military and tourism is working very well during this troubling time.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head -- The End of the Drought in San Antonio

After enduring an almost two year drought, the rains came to San Antonio in October and early November.  We've picked up about 11 inches of rain in the last few weeks, and our "dead" grass and landscape plantings are coming back to life.  It feels almost like Spring with our wetter weather and cooler temperatures. 

San Antonio's drinking water supply is mainly from the Edwards Aquifer, an enormous underground cavern that holds millions of gallons of water that has been filtered through the layers of limestone beneath our soil.  When the area is suffering through a drought, the level of the water in the aquifer goes down, and we are put on watering restrictions until the levels come back up. 

This week we saw the last restriction lifted and we now have the ability to water our yards when we want to, as long as it is within 8 pm at night until 10 am in the mornings. Previously we were limited further with less hours, and we could only water one day per week. We almost reached the next level where we would have been able to water only one day every two weeks.  That doesn't sound too bad until you realize we had about 60 days this summer where our temperatures topped out over 100 degrees, and at the same time had virtually NO RAIN. Some homeowners lost not only plants and shrubs, but also large trees due to lack of water.

So, things are looking up... more chances for rain this weekend!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Five Home Staging Myths

Are you selling your home?  You are obviously still the owner until the house sells, but when it is listed, it becomes "inventory" and should be viewed as a house and not a home.  You've probably heard about staging your home to make it more attractive to buyers.  There are professional home stagers in San Antonio you can hire, and even if you don't hire a pro, you can get great staging hints from your Realtor.  But today we'll talk about the 5 biggest myths surrounding staging a home for sale.

  • I don't need to stage my home, buyers can see past my stuff.  Actually, NO they can't.  Most buyers cannot imagine their stuff in a home that is cluttered with the seller's possessions.  We tell our sellers that every box of clutter they remove from the home puts $$ back into their pockets at closing.

  • The original (and expensive) features of my home add value.  Those 30 year old drapes and 20 year old wallpapers do not add value to today's buyers.  If a home is not vintage, meaning it is less than 50 years old, and it has not been updated, then the buyers won't pay for dated fixtures, even if they were expensive "in their day".
  • My home isn't expensive enough to pay for staging. On the contrary, all homes need to present themselves in the best way possible. Take a look at your competition in the price bracket, and figure out what you need to do to make your home stand out. Staging can be just as important in a smaller home as it is in a larger home.
  • Empty rooms look bigger.  Not usually!  When you are trying to sell an empty home, it is very hard to help buyers see how a room is used, and what fits in that room.  A few rented or borrowed pieces of furniture can define a space for the buyer.  Conversely, in a really large open room, buyers can sometimes have a problem when a room is empty because the room looks TOO large!
  • "It's really a bedroom, but we're using it as a gym."  If it's a three bedroom home, but only two rooms have beds, buyers will sometimes question whether the third room would work as a bedroom or not.  For the sake of the time you have your home on the market, put the gym out in the garage, and give the bedroom it's real purpose. 

Buyers need to be able to picture themselves living in your home, so the house needs to look like they could bring all their stuff and move right in.  Staging simply means improving your home's appearance in order to appeal to the widest segment of the potential buyers.  The way you decorate your home to SELL may be quite different from the way you decorate to DWELL!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Buyers, Are You Ready to Buy a Home?

With the incentives offered by our government, in San Antonio we've seen a lot of younger, first time buyers out looking for a home to purchase.  Some have found their dream home and are enjoying their new lives as homeowners.  Others have decided they were just not ready to make such a big decision, even with the incentive dangled in front of them.  So, how do you know if you are ready for home ownership or not?  One way is to prepare!  Here are 10 guidlines to follow before jumping into action:

  1. Decide what you can afford.  Generally, you can afford a home equal in value to between 2 and 3 times your gross income.
  2. Develop your home wish list.  Then, prioritize the features on your list.
  3. Select where you want to live.  Decide on three or four neighborhoods you'd like to live in, taking into account the distance from work, recreational facilities, schools, etc.
  4. Start saving.  Do you have enough money saved to qualify for a mortgage and cover your down payment and closing costs?  Closing costs average between 2 and 7 percent of the home's price.
  5. Get your credit in order.  Obtain a copy of your credit report to make sure it is accurate, and to correct any errors immediately.  A credit report provides a history of your credit, bad debts, and any late or slow payments.
  6. Determine your mortgage qualifications.  Talk to a lender to find out how much mortgage you can qualify for, and what type of mortgage is best for your particular situation.
  7. Get pre-approved.  Organize the documents the lender will need for the pre-approval.  Such things as W-2's, copies of pay stubs, account numbers, and bank statements are usually required.
  8. Look for other sources of help with the down payment.  If you are short of cash for the closing costs, check to see if you qualify for any special mortgage or down payment assistance program.  Or, if you have an IRA account, you can use the money you've saved to buy your first home without paying a penalty for early withdrawl.  Also, ask family members for assistance to get you going.
  9. Calculate the costs of homeownership.  This should include property taxes, insurance, maintenance and utilities, and HOA feew, if applicable.
  10. Contact a Realtor.  An experienced Realtor can help make your purchase a smooth process from start to finish.
Coming Soon in San Antonio....
This Friday, November 6 at 6:00 p.m. - 11 p.m.
And Saturday, November 7 from noon - 11 p.m.
And Sunday, November 8 from noon - 6 p.m.

The St. George Maronite Catholic Community will host a Lebanese Festival to share the beautiful heritage of the Lebanese tradition with San Antonio and surrounding communities at-large. This promises to be a fun-filled family cultural celebration showcasing the Lebanese of San Antonio and the rich heritage that has been preserved since the Lebanese first immigrated in the 1880’s. Visitors will enjoy authentic Lebanese food, indoor stage performances by the Lebanese dance troupe, learn how to Dabke (the traditional folk dance of Lebanon), enjoy Friday and Saturday evening performances featuring a live band and so much more! New this year…. Relax in our ‘Oasis section’ featuring Lebanese hors d’ oeuvres and imported beer and wine!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sellers, can a home be TOO clean?

In short, no.  If your home is on the market, it should be CLEAN!  A home that is clean and neat on the interior sells faster and for more money than a home that is not.  And that's the plain and simple truth.  So if you are selling your home, don't forget...
  • Clean light switch plates and trim around the doors.

  • Clean carpets and remove all spots (or replace).

  • Get rid of cobwebs and dust in corners, ceilings, baseboards and around light fixtures.

  • Wipe hand prints off walls, doors and mirrors.

  • Make sure tile and vinyl floors are washed and shiny clean.

  • Kitchen counters and sink should be clean and clear.

  • Bathroom sinks, counters and toilet should be clean and smell fresh.

  •  Re-caulk around bathtubs, re-grout showers as necessary to look clean.

  • Clean windows and make them sparkle! (Open the drapes and let the light in.)

  • Clean the stove and oven.  Buyers don't want to clean up your mess! 

If you've done all these items, and you still have a little time and energy left, look at your closets and garage.  The more you straighten them, the better a buyer can picture their own things in your house.  To get top dollar for your home, cleanliness is godliness!