Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Photos by Maddie...

So Maddie, my 12 year old, got an iPhone for Christmas and as much as I don't care for the games, texting and Instagram, I do LOVE the new hobby and talent she has discovered! I think she has a knack and eye for photography so I wanted to share a small sample of the photos she took over the weekend while spending time with her cousins...I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!!

Let the Sky Fall...

I'm guessing that's what quite a few folks were thinking when they received their tax re-evaluations.  For the most part, tax values across Forsyth county plummeted as a result of the mandatory county re-evaluation. The county cited foreclosures and the overall declining market as the driving force behind these new tax values.

Note, I keep saying TAX values.  These are not the market values of homes.  The market value is a simple equation.  It is the value that a buyer is willing to give and a seller is willing to take in the present market.  That takes into account inventory, condition, location and terms.  Tax values on the other hand are based on formulas and algorithms and tax assessors typically have never entered the property being assessed to view condition or true space.  Tax values are placed on the home for the sole purpose of collecting taxes on the real property.

Certainly you can challenge these values, but first you must assess WHY you want to challenge the value.  Is it because you WANT to pay more taxes? Is it because you don't fully understand market value vs. tax value? Was their a mistake on the tax record that you feel compelled to correct? Understanding why you challenge is the first step in figuring out IF you challenge.

If you would like to discuss your specific situation or have further questions, please don't hesitate to give me a call or shoot me an email and I'll do my best to advise a course of action that is best suited to your specific situation.

Just think, another type of TAX deadline is just around the corner...Until then...


Friday, March 01, 2013

Montana...Yes, it IS Big Sky Country...

Most of you who know me well, know that Jake and I just returned from Big Sky, Montana. We were given the opportunity by my sister's boyfriend, Chas.  His family friend has a beautiful home and we were invited to join them over the Valentine's Day weekend for a vacation that consisted of skiing, snowmobiling and taking in the beauty of the west.

I have never been out west, other than Las Vegas, which I don't really consider to be the out west I think of.  We arrived in Bozeman, MT on Wednesday and made our way to the house, which was nestled about a hour away between Bozeman and West Yellowstone. Not too much snow on the ground in the lowlands, but once we reached the house we were in for a real treat. I have never seen so much snow in my life!!

We skied three of the five days in Big Sky and experienced the changing weather that they are famous for.  The temps never really edged out of the 20's but we woke every morning to single digits and fresh powder.  There were cloudy, overcast days were it dusted snow throughout the day and then there were days that the locals called "bluebird" days where the sky was such a deep blue and clear that you felt as if you were just feet from outer space.  On the one "bluebird" day, we took the gondola to the top of Lone Peak, which soars just over 11,000 feet above sea level to take in the views.

 It was so surreal that I couldn't even get scared of how high up we really were.  Looking out over the 360 degree panoramic view was like looking at a map out of National Geographic.  I can now appreciate why it is featured in the book 1000 Places to See Before You Die.
One day out of the five, we snow-mobiled an entire day through Yellowstone.  We visited Old Faithful, numerous geysers, wildlife and SNOW!!  We traveled over 70 miles on the snow mobiles and learned so much about Yellowstone.  We were actually in two states that day, Wyoming, where over 90% of Yellowstone is located--as compared to Montana, where less than 3% of the park is situated.  It was approximately 15-20 degrees during the day but as we crossed the actual crust of the ancient volcano, which was a tundra-feeling area, the temps lowered and the winds increased, definitely bringing a serious chill!!
Around every bend there was an abundance of wildlife...we saw elk, a bald eagle, a couple of swan and tons of buffalo!  At several points during the trip the buffalo were on the road with us and towards the end of the trip they wouldn't move from the road and we had to wait for them to pass.  Our guide told us that since it was spring, the babies were a little feisty so be careful when we finally were able to pass because 1000 lbs of baby buffalo could create an issue if they landed in our laps!!
Jake and I both were a little underwhelmed with the notion of riding around Yellowstone to begin with, as we both thought it would basically be mountains and snow.  However, we both agreed that it was amazing and almost like a different planet given the activity of the geysers and the 3000 reported earthquakes per year!! We didn't experience one, or weren't aware of it if we did, but to think that kind of seismic activity takes place all the time is incredible and hard to even fathom.
The photo above actually shows the crater left by a large earthquake that occurred in the late 1800's and was followed by another in the 1950's...these pools of 200+ degree water and mesmerizing colors are abundant in Yellowstone.
The waterfall is a part of the RimFire basin...the water in this river is warmed by the addition of water from the geysers.  Further down the river, where the water is calm, it still does not freeze because of the warmed water and the amount of cyanide from the geysers, which actually contributes to the local herd of elk loosing their teeth prematurely.  Needless to say, you wouldn't drink the water out here regardless of how beautiful it looks!

It was an amazing trip and great opportunity to visit a part of our country that I probably would not have otherwise.  I am definitely a warm-weather kind of gal but can also deeply appreciate the beauty and diversity of all of God's amazing creation!

Housing Figures Increase In January/February...

As I write this post, we are awaiting the implications of sequestration and are learning that Americans took home the least amount of pay in years during the month of January BUT housing numbers are looking up.  What does it all mean and does anyone have a clue?  I am going with the emphatic "NO", but I'll still take a moment to pontificate on housing and related subjects.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported today that housing numbers were up 25% in January.  January typically being a slower month and not the usual beginning of the Spring market, what exactly does this indicate?  I will say that personally, I had a very strong January but it was on the heels of a strong 2012 4th quarter.  Rates are still low and buyers and sellers alike have a keen sense of awareness when it comes to their reasons to purchase real estate.  Still a great long term investment and the fact that everyone needs a roof over their head are but two of the compelling reasons to purchase a home.  Currently, we can deduct mortgage interest, but that may change if the President's wishes are full-filled and if our local NC legislature massages the tax code we might see additional fees and taxes on real estate and the actual transaction, making it less affordable for buyers and sellers to transact real estate. 

I personally believe that our local market has somewhat of a "bubble within a bubble" right now due to the visitation of an investment firm out of Malibu, CA who has entered our market after paying earlier visits to Raleigh and Charlotte.  This firm, American Homes for Rent, has been purchasing homes in newer subdivisions that are located within good school districts and are at or below market value. They are coming in with strong, cash offers, doing inspections, but requesting few repairs and are not conducting appraisals.  This has in turn, has allowed for sellers, previously held hostage by their home, to sell and purchase a new home that better suits their housing needs.  This injection of activity has been a huge boon to our market. I am not certain how many homes in the Winston-Salem area have been purchased, but I have had a handful myself, as have other agents in our office.  The News and Observer out of Raleigh, reported that American Homes for Rent, bought over 80 homes in the Raleigh area.

Upon researching the firm online, it appears that they do rent these homes nationwide and that this is part of an investment package that returns dividends to the investors of several funds.  It has also been reported that the group is having a hard time finding enough homes to meet the return promised.  That, I'm sure, is yet to be seen.

I have to speculate and wonder if this isn't the beginning of a low-income rental project that the government will put it's thumb in at some point, as it sounds just too good to be true.  I also wonder how this will effect our market and values long-term, given the fact that these rental properties will pepper neighborhoods that have struggled with foreclosures and property values.  Couple this with the recent tax re-evaluations and what you are left with are quite a few questions that remain unanswered.  I think that it's too early to be giddy about our market and signs of recovery but I am cautiously optimistic that this injection and spike of activity has been a refreshing start to what has been a sluggish past couple of 1st quarters.