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5 Common Closing Day Surprises and How to Deal

by Lisa Kaplan

5 Common Closing Day Surprises and How to Deal

I was thrilled when the sellers accepted my offer on a tear-down lot in McLean, VA, the perfect place to build my own “Downton Abbey”–style manor. And the deal went forward without a hitch—that is, until closing day.

Soon after I arrived at the title company’s office on the big day, my real estate agent sheepishly handed me a set of 40-year-old covenants that restricted what I could build on the site. Looking back, I know that I should have smiled politely at the six people gathered and suggested we reconvene later after I’d studied this giant wrench in my plans. But I didn’t want to inconvenience everyone, so I closed the deal.

It was an agita-inducing mistake. Even though those covenants didn’t derail my dream home’s construction, they caused me constant anxiety.

This is not just a concern for those building a home from scratch: For many home buyers, closing day is daunting, and coping with last-minute surprises can be tricky. Some problems are minor and easy to solve; others can wreck a deal. So which are which? Let’s take a look.

Ugly walk-through revelations

The dreaded walk-through is the top reason for surprises on closing day, and for good reason: This final inspection of the home happens the day before your settlement—or even the morning of—so there’s little time to prepare for whatever problems might pop up.

Who knows? A sudden storm could have poured water into the basement, or now that the furniture is all gone, cracks in walls or other flaws may be exposed.

How bad is it? If the problem is serious, like flooding, you should definitely proceed with caution. To avoid this snafu, make sure to inspect a home as thoroughly as possible before your final walk-through to avoid last-minute surprises.

Don’t be shy about asking for another look-see after a big storm to vet for dampness or flooding. But a last-minute discovery of a problem is not necessarily a deal breaker. Just ask the seller to cover the cost of those repairs, and put the funds in escrow. Be sure to come with estimates from professionals on how much those fix-its will cost.

What stays, what goes

Another common issue that crops up during the walk-through is misunderstandings about which items get transferred with the sale. For instance, maybe you loved the seller’s antique stove, ceiling fan, or other household item and assumed it would stay—but you find out the sellers took it with them.

How bad is it? Unless you’re really attached to the item, you may want to let this one slide if you want this deal to go through. The easiest way to avoid these misunderstandings is to delineate in a contract what remains in the house or must be moved out, says Ben Niernberg, executive vice president of business development at Northbrook, IL–basedProper Title, LLC.

“Be very detailed on what’s staying and going,” he says. “Washer, dryer, ceiling fans, fixtures, appliances—be diligent during your initial inspection.” Also, make sure the contract reflects your expectations.

Credit challenges

Even though you were probably approved for a mortgage a month or so earlier, even small changes in your financial picture since then can affect your credit score and create problems up to the moment you close on the property. Changing jobs, applying for a credit card, falling behind in paying bills, even sudden infusions of cash can red-flag your deal.

How bad is it? Pretty bad. If a lender withdraws the offer, you won’t be able to close until you secure another mortgage, which could take weeks. Or, if the lender wants to increase your interest rate, as it usually does in these situations, then you’ll have to decide if you can still afford the purchase.

To head this issue off at the pass, contact your lender the day before closing to discuss and solve any issues that may have turned up. Also, try to avoid making any sudden financial moves in the weeks leading up to the close, like quitting your job or receiving a $10,000 “gift” from a family member to help out with home buying—that could, ironically, throw a wrench into the process.

Money transfer misunderstandings

On closing day, the chief order of business is to transfer funds. Some financial institutions and title companies prefer cashier’s or certified checks; others want funds to be transferred electronically. Show up with the wrong paperwork or account numbers, and you’ll be left scrambling.

How bad is it? This misunderstanding should be nothing more than a speed bump. To avoid it, ask your agent and lender before closing what form of payment is required. Also bring your checkbook to pay for small items that might crop up, like an unpaid electric bill.


Title trouble

A title company—which confirms details about your property such as past ownership, liens, and the aforementioned covenants—could bring up issues on closing day. If that happens to you, don’t be afraid to step back and insist on taking time to digest any details, problems, or stipulations attached to the property.

How bad is it? It depends on what the search turns up. Some problems, like tax liens or a claim on the property from a relative or co-owner, can postpone a closing. Other things, like the covenants I mentioned above, or unpaid HOA dues, may be surprises but not deal breakers. But any and all title defects must be fixed before you can close on the property. It may be frustrating, but when you leap into homeownership, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

(By Lisa Kaplan.  Lisa Kaplan Gordon is an award-winning freelancer who's written about real estate and home improvement for, Yahoo, AOL, Popular Mechanics, and HouseLogic.)

Financing Your First Investment Property by Gerri Detweiler (

by by Gerri Detweiler (


(Very interesting article!  Investing in Real Estate is a great way to diversify your portfolio.  Call me to discuss my experiences...David DiGioia (704) 506-6434)

When it comes to buying a real estate investment property, the first deal is the hardest. I know this from personal experience. I kept talking about buying a rental property for several years until my husband finally took the initiative, found a property, and made me buy it. From a hotel room in Texas, where I was staying on business, I nervously signed a contract and committed myself to buying a “bread and butter” house in Florida. Thanks to rising real estate values, the house has appreciated substantially…leaving me to wish I had bought ten more!


I know that financing your first investment property can be daunting. It scared me — and I have a mortgage broker’s license, for heaven’s sake! But as they say, it’s usually the things we don’t do that we regret later in life. So if concerns about financing your first property are stopping you from getting started, here are some tips:

Check your credit early for mistakes and items you may need to address. Once you review your credit report, do not take any drastic action without first consulting with an expert. In particular, don’t close old accounts or pay off collection accounts right before trying to get a loan. Either action may hurt your credit score rather than help it.

If you are not eligible for a loan based on your credit or other qualifications, look for an investor partner to go in on the property with you. There are many others out there wishing they owned more real estate who lack the time and/or expertise to find and buy property. There are also “hard money” or private loans for good deals. The interest rates are high but can be worth it if you can refinance or sell the property in a relatively short period of time.

Decide What You Are Buying

All things being equal, second homes may offer better financing, but it will depend on where the property is located and what you intend to do with it. Talk with your tax advisor about how you plan to use the property to decide whether it would be better to buy a second home or an investment property. I am not a fan of stretching the truth on applications. If you are buying an investment property, call it what it is. Whatever you do, don’t buy a property where someone talks you into saying you will live in it when you won’t. There are illegal scams that solicit “straw buyers,” and these can get you into hot water.

Understand the Numbers

Investors have different goals. Some want to buy a rehab property, fix it up, and sell it quickly for a big profit. Others specialize in pre-construction, which means they put a contract on a home or condo in a development before it is built and then sell it for a profit, sometimes before they complete the purchase! Others will buy a home they can rent out, and are happy to break even or make just a little money each month, expecting appreciation to be the pay off. Still others want to buy a vacation home in an area they want to visit. They may use it from time to time and rent it out the rest of the year for a profit. Whichever approach you decide to take, make sure you understand the numbers, including the cost of financing, a down payment, advisor fees, repairs, etc. Be realistic about whether you can afford to make the mortgage payments for as long as it may take to find a buyer or a tenant.

Now that you see the possibilities, here are the steps you will want to take to make things move smoothly:

1. Gather Your Paperwork

Be prepared to provide copies of: two month’s worth of your bank statements, investment account, and retirement account statements (all pages; not Internet statements); the last two pay stubs if you have a regular paycheck job; driver’s license and Social Security card; and bankruptcy, divorce or separation papers, if applicable. If you are self-employed, you may be asked for some or all of the following: business license or occupational license, letter from your CPA establishing two years’ self-employment, last two year’s tax returns, business bank statements, and/or business financial statements.

2. Assemble Your Team

You will want an accountant who understands investment property tax strategies; a realtor or real estate attorney who can help you make sure you use the properly worded contract and include the right contingencies; a mortgage professional with experience in investment properties; an attorney who understands asset protection to help you form the right structure for holding your investment property (often a limited liability company or LLC); and an experienced insurance agent. I strongly believe all of these professionals should invest in real estate themselves since investment property transactions have special nuances.

Advisors with investment property experience can help identify potential problems before they happen. One of the big ones: holding investment property in your own name, warns Rich Dad Advisor Garrett Sutton, an attorney and author of Own Your Own Corporation (Warner) How to Use Limited Liability Companies and Limited Partnerships (SuccessDNA). By doing so, you expose your real estate and personal assets if a lawsuit arises.

3. Get Pre-Approved

Before you start house-hunting, get pre-approved for a loan through a mortgage broker or lender, and request it in writing. That piece of paper can be very helpful when you negotiate the purchase of a property since it gives the buyer greater assurance that you won’t tie up the deal and not qualify.

Now it’s time to dive in! You’ve heard of “analysis paralysis?” It’s a disease I, and many other would-be investors, suffer from. Fortunately, I have a spouse who drags me out of it from time to time. While you don’t want to dive in blindly, if you have done your homework and have found a good deal, at some point you have to just go for it. If you can’t seem to take the plunge, ask financial advisors to help you make progress, get involved with your local real estate investment club, or find an investor who can act as a sounding board.

“The biggest deadly deal disaster of all is hiding behind analysis because you are afraid to pull the trigger on the deal,” warns Peter Conti, author of The Real Estate Fast Track: How to Build a $5,000 to $50,000 per Month Real Estate Cash Flow. “At a certain point as an investor you will need to step forward in the deal and commit.”

You’re Cleaning Your House Wrong! Here’s Why By Jamie Wiebe

by By Jamie Wiebe

It’s that special time again. Time to throw open the windows, bust out a mountain of cleaning supplies, blast some Beyoncé, get into a zone, and start working on making your home spick and span.

But hold on, hasty home cleaner: Before you get started, we need to tell you how to clean. Yes, we really do. You probably think you know all there is to know—after all, you’ve been doing this all your adult life, right? But it turns out that creating a gorgeous, dust- and grime-free space is a lot trickier than it looks, especially if you’re not hip to professional cleaners’ sneakiest tactics.

So we did the dirty work for you. Here, we’ve rounded up eight ways you’ve been tackling spring-cleaning all wrong, according to the pros—and how to do it right.

1. Dry mopping

What’s the best way to get all the dirt and crumbs out of the way before you wash down the kitchen or bathroom floor? Dry mopping (aka “dust mopping”) might seem to make sense, but you’re better off busting out the Hoover. Trust the pros on this one.

Vacuuming removes two times more debris, says cleaning expert Donna Smallin Kuper. And you want as much debris as possible out of the way—otherwise it will just get spread all over your kitchen when you wet mop. And that will make getting rid of it the next time even harder.

2. Not emptying the vacuum receptacle

Before you dig out the vacuum for your spring-cleaning escapades, get rid of the evidence from the last time you cleaned. All of it. If your dust buster’s canister or bag is more than half-full, empty it before you start sucking.

A too-full vacuum makes a much less efficient cleaner, meaning you might have to go over your living room two or three times just to remove your dog’s latest layer of hair. Emptying the bag at the start (or if it gets too full midcleaning) means much less work for you.

3. Going rogue

Cleaning might not seem like a science, but it’s certainly simpler if you treat it like one. If your lemon floor cleaner says you need only 1 tablespoon per gallon, follow that instruction. You’d be amazed (or perhaps not) how many people think more is always better.

“If more worked better, they would recommend more,” Smallin Kuper says. After all, it’s in their interest to sell more product. So why would they tell you to save when they could tell you to splurge? Because their stuff is made to work a certain way.

Pay attention when you read (not skim) the manufacturer’s instructions, and follow them closely to save yourself time, sanity, and money.

4. Using paper towels and rags

Ditch the paper towels—and don’t use rags in their place.

Microfiber cloths are far more effective at removing dirt and grime than cotton cloths, and you can pick up these miracle workers in every shape and form—including gloves that fit over your hand for easy general-purpose dusting to varieties specifically designed for cleaning electronics or wood floors.

As a bonus, microfiber clothes catch dirt and dust (and even bacteria!)between their superthin threads, letting you clean most surfaces without the need for chemical cleaners. Of course, heavy-duty stains may require some additional work, but as a general rule you’ll be cutting costs in your cleaning cabinet.

5. Not wiping down your light bulbs

Cleaning your old bulbs isn’t just an aesthetic- or allergen-related requirement. It actually helps you keep your home cheery and bright—and your electricity bill under control.

Dirty light bulbs emit 20% less light than clean bulbs, Smallin Kuper says. And that’s not just wasted light—it’s wasted energy.

Before cleaning, make sure the lights are turned off (no shocking surprises here). Use a dry microfiber cloth to clean off your bulbs—water or cleaning sprays can affect the electronics—and enjoy the sudden rush of brighter light when you flip the switch.

6. Storing things in cardboard boxes

Boxing up your seasonal odds and ends? While it might be tempting to use the pile of leftover moving boxes accumulating in your garage, you need to a trip to the store.

One cleaning mistake Smallin Kuper frequently sees is “storing things in cardboard boxes in the basement, attic, or garage instead of waterproof, insect-proof plastic bins.” Mold, termites, or just dampness after a rainy spring can damage your precious belongings. Pick up some heavy-duty plastic boxes instead.

7. Not decluttering first

We see you eyeing that dust rag. Wait! If there’s still a layer of clutter around your home, don’t even think about cleaning.

If you don’t pick up things first, you’ll be making multiple passes through a room, putting toys on the couch to clean the floor, pushing them in the corner to clean the couch, then realizing the dirty toys left another layer of dust, which requires another quick cycle.

Make sure there’s nothing out that shouldn’t be visible. Only then do you have our permission to start cleaning.

8. Spraying the glass

Cleaning glass-framed artwork or mirrors? Here’s a less-than-obvious tip: Make sure you’re spraying your cleaner onto the cloth, not the glass itself.

“The cleaner can drip or spread into the frame and damage the artwork,” Smallin Kuper says.

We’re sure you’re quick with your hands, but it’s better to be safe than sorry—especially when it comes to high-value artwork.

You’re forgiven if nothing makes you like cleaning. But with some help from the pros to smooth out the onerous process, hopefully you can start having a little bit of fun while you’re ditching the dust.

We’ve all had that crazily obsessive-compulsive neighbor who keeps his property in pristine, showroom condition, keeps a stern eye on the whole street, and never hesitates to walk over and scold you about your broken shutters while you’re trying to drag groceries in from the car.

Maybe you’ve wondered what happened to cause your neighbor to get so uptight in the first place. Our guess: He’s tried to sell a house before. And he got burned by the comps.

When you’re getting ready to put your house up for sale, your Realtor® will likely run a comparable market analysis (or CMAs, aka “comps”). Comps are usually a good thing—the information can really help you price your house right.

But what happens when good comps go bad?

How comps work

First, a little background. To find a comp, a Realtor looks at homes in your area comparable to yours that sold recently. So if you have a three-bedroom, the Realtor will probably come back with the three-bedroom one block over that sold last month. She’ll be armed with the sold price, the list price, and other salient facts.

In theory, all that info can be used to decide a good list price for your house. But the reality is that collecting methods might not be perfect.

“Don’t believe the hype that all CMAs are created equal,” says Aaron Seekford, a real estate broker in Arlington, VA.

When comps work—and when they don’t

If you’re lucky enough to be living in an eerily perfect place that reeks of the 1998 classic “Pleasantville,” you probably won’t run into any trouble. Congrats! But if your hood is unusual or a little rough around the edges—or your home is a one-of-a-kind, and maybe not in a great way—comps might send you traveling down the wrong road.

Price your home too high due to those inflated comps, then it simply might not sell. Your Realtor can drop the listing price—again and again, if necessary—but then buyers might wonder if something’s wrong with the place. Price it too low, and your home will probably get snapped up right away—but you’ll walk away with less than you could have netted. Either way, it’s a bummer.

So you need to know the different comp-skewing dangers and how to deal with them.

So what are the trouble areas?

Living adjacent to crime or run-down areas: In my area people like to say there aren’t really bad neighborhoods, just bad streets. And it’s true. I live on a great block, but the people living two blocks over aren’t as lucky—and the houses there sell for much cheaper.

Having the best house on the block is rarely a good thing (we’ve talked about it before), and this is especially true in those up-and-coming areas. You just know you have what it takes to turn the nabe around, but you might pay for it with a bad comp.

“Most pros will adjust the analysis by pointing out the lower-priced homes and tax values,” Seekford says. But the only real way to tell how a neighborhood works is in person. “[They] would have to drive by the surrounding neighborhood, looking at the higher sales on your street versus the other blocks.”

Your Realtor should do this. But if you think she hasn’t, flag it.

The other house was next to a toxic waste site: OK, hopefully your house isn’t anywhere near a federal Superfund site, but you get the idea. What happens if the comp house sold for dirt-cheap because it was next door to something awful?

“ON CMAs, I often like to include a section of what I call ‘Other’—like if the home is located next to a mill or waste treatment plant,” Seekford says.

When you’re looking at your comps, make sure they factor in all the nearby things—good and bad.

The comps were based on number of bedrooms, but not square footage: When running comps, the number of bedrooms and baths definitely comes into play. After all, your two-bedroom isn’t the same as the five-bedroom down the block.

But the number of rooms shouldn’t be the only thing that matters. If your home has two master suites and the comparable home has two impossibly tiny rooms, that should be taken into consideration.

“Price per square foot is another excellent tool in pricing,” says Joshua Jarvis, founder of Jarvis Team Realty in Duluth, GA.

Square footage is especially important if you live in an older, less planned community. “It helps in neighborhoods where you can’t find the exact same floor plan,” he says.

No one has sold a home in your neighborhood yet: If you’re the first to sell in a newly developed neighborhood—or your area is coming out of a housing slump—and you’re the first seller out of the gate, that might be bad news for your comps.

“Some sellers are held hostage because no one [else] has sold their home,” Jarvis says. “It’s a weird standoff where the first one that sells loses but blazes a trail for others.”

So you can at least pat yourself on the back for helping out your neighbors, right?

What if your comps don’t measure up?

The information you get should be thorough, but what if the prices seem skewed, or you get the feeling your Realtor isn’t pulling the right comps?

“Challenge it,” Seekford says.

While not all Realtors are going to have an “Other” section, they should include information on location and surroundings, the pricing should make sense, and the Realtor should be able to tell you why she included what she did.

But don’t expect her to give you the green light to ask for loads of money just because your neighbors are living in squalor. Remember: Your Realtor wants to help you get your house sold, but she also has ethics to consider.

“A real estate professional will comment that your street warrants a higher value, but we as Realtors are under a strict code of ethics that do not allow us to comment on neighborhood demographic,” Seekford says.

But if you think that isn’t the problem—and more investigative work should have been done—ask for it. Your Realtor can run the comps again.


We, at Realty Executives Unlimited, will complete a FREE CMA (Comparative Market Analysis) for you!  We also go to bat for you with the appraisal company to advocate strongly on your behalf.  Call David and Nancy to schedule a time for your free evaluation...(704) 506-6434.


Budding Signs of a Crazy Spring Buying Season By Jonathan Smoke

by By Jonathan Smoke

It’s a season of changes—signs of spring are all around (hey, is that actually a mosquitoin our kitchen?), and we’re quickly going from the slowest time of the year for real estate to the busiest. As we close the books on March 2016, here’s a look at the key trends setting the stage for a crazy spring buying season.

First things first: The economy remains strong. After a turbulent start to the year, the financial markets shook it off and ended the quarter up. Meanwhile, 215,000 jobs were created in March, capping off a strong first quarter for employment and labor force participation growth.

After taking a dip in February, consumer confidence mostly recovered in March and remains near multiyear highs. The number of consumers who say they plan to purchase a home is at its highest point in eight years, reflecting that strong confidence but also significant pent-up demand for home purchases that were delayed or unresolved in 2015.

Unfortunately for those buyers, there still aren’t enough homes—whether newly constructed or preowned.

Listings have grown in February and March, but demand is growing even more quickly, so homes are selling much more quickly. The median age of inventory declined 19 days from February to March. And, nope, this isn’t a California-only phenomenon. Markets such as Rochester, MN; Madison, WI; Durham, NC; and Boston saw their median age of inventory decline by a month!

It certainly helps that buyers haven’t been battling the epic snows of last winter, but this early and rapid start to the spring buying season is also a result of consumers’ real sense of pent-up urgency about sealing the deal on a home. Plus, buyers are still enjoying the advantage of low mortgage rates.

The average 30-year fixed conforming rate ended March almost 40 basis points lower than the end of 2015. (A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.) The lower rate translates into more than 4% additional buying power and/or makes it easier for some buyers to qualify for a loan.

The latest signals from the Federal Reserve indicate a less aggressive stance on trying to increase interest rates in the near term, so rates may indeed stay low—under 4% on the 30-year—throughout the spring.

The tight supply conditions favor sellers, but we estimate that 80% of sellers also intend to buy. Under a sell-and-buy scenario, this is not the year to wait to list.

13 Things I Realized After I Bought My First House By

by by Kali Geldis and originally published on Credit.

As soon as my husband and I pulled up to see the house we’d eventually buy, it already had a good vibe to it. A blue house with a red door—just like the one I grew up in. It struck a sentimental note with me immediately.

After living in one-bedroom apartments for the past seven years, we were looking to finally make the move from renters to homeowners. It wasn’t a quick process—buying a house (and getting a mortgage) aren’t things that move quickly, generally. But once we moved in, we knew we had a long to-do list of things we wanted to accomplish to make this house ours. There were a few bumps along the road, though. Here are the sometimes costly, often annoying, and always informative things I learned from my first few months of homeownership.

1. Recycling & trash aren’t necessarily provided by your county/city

Once we moved in, we knew we had to set up all of our utilities. As apartment-dwellers though, we didn’t realize how many services aren’t included in some areas’ public works departments. In our area, trash and recycling were not provided gratis by the city or county—we had to pay the government to take our garbage away or hire a private service to do it instead. It’s not an incredibly expensive item to add to our budget, but it was definitely an expense we weren’t anticipating.

2. Get ready for higher utilities

The biggest apartment my husband and I had ever lived in was just about 900 square feet, and it was a garden apartment, so it remained pretty moderate temperature-wise throughout the year. Our utility bills were pretty low. That’s why our first bill for our considerably larger house came as a bit of a shock. We moved in the late fall, so we knew winter heating bills were ahead of us, but we weren’t expecting our first electric and water bill to be nearly three times what our apartment’s bill was.

After we got that bill, I had a much bigger appreciation for why my parents nagged my sisters and me about leaving the lights or TV on when we left a room. Kids, take it from me, parents just understand how expensive electricity is.

If you’re really worried about your bills, you can ask about budget billing or “levelized” payments. Those plans allow you to pay a similar amount each month, adjusted periodically depending on your use. We haven’t done that yet. I wanted to wait a year to see if it made sense—get a feel for how different every month can be and how we can just do a better job of being more efficient, too.

3. Air filters—you have to change them more often than you think

I’ve never had to own a heating and cooling system before, so maintenance was an expense I expected, but had no idea how to budget for. Air filters on your air-conditioning and heating units need to be changed every 4 to 6 weeks. We got that tip when we moved in and set reminders for ourselves so we won’t forget.

4. A big yard is beautiful, but hellish to maintain

I loved the big, open green space at our house when we bought it. Then, when we finally moved in, we had a yard fully covered in leaves, and the work began. That first weekend we were in our new house wasn’t actually spent inside the house. It was spent in the yard raking and leaf-blowing and collecting sticks that had fallen from our big oak trees. It was a two-day, two-person job, and, of course, the next weekend the yard was covered again. Maybe next year we’ll opt to get a lawn maintenance company to help with the workload, but it will all depend on the price.

5. Buy a snow shovel immediately

You never know when you’ll need it and don’t want to be without one when you get a foot of snow. Trust me. That storm in January that dumped a foot of snow on the Mid-Atlantic? Yeah, that hit us hard.

6. You’ll be going to home improvement stores a lot

We had one room we wanted to completely repaint and freshen up. It had dark, glossy, stained-wood built-in cabinets all along one wall, with trim and ceiling beams to match. The walls were a yellow-beige, and it was the one room that almost made us walk away from the house before we bought it. (It was literally marked “man cave” on our breaker box, as my husband discovered about a month after moving in.) We decided we wanted to paint all the trim, molding, paneling, built-ins, and beams white, and the walls and ceilings a light gray. It took four weekends of work to finish the whole project. But the real kicker was that it took probably a half-dozen trips to a home improvement store to finish the job.

Paintbrushes, dropcloths, caulk, more caulk (because we underestimated how much we’d need), liquid sandpaper, paint, more paint (because we didn’t like the samples we got the first time), gloves, rollers, paint trays, and even more paint (because we underestimated how much we’d need again). It was a lot of trips back and forth. Luckily, we have some supplies now so the next home improvement project will go more smoothly.

7. Gutters fill up quickly

Think your yard is bad? The gutters are worse. We swore up and down when we cleaned them up the first time, because we thought the previous owners had maybe neglected them for a while—they were filled to the brim with rotting leaves, twigs, and sludge. Then we lived in the house for another two months and realized that was just a year’s worth (maybe less) of buildup. We’ll be encountering the same horrible sludge next year.

8. Make sure your home inspector looks at the outside of the house, too

Our home inspector did a great job, pointing out some potential trouble spots. One in particular was a tree that looked like it was distressed. We were able to get a credit for the tree, and about a month ago called a tree trimming service to have the tree taken down. The problem? Our credit would cover only half of the cost of removing the whole tree. We opted to remove the branches that looked dead and maybe revisit it next year when we could see if that had fixed the problem or if the whole tree needed to go.

It was a lesson learned though. If our inspector hadn’t done a really thorough job and taken a look at the yard and other parts of the exterior of the house (often this is not required in an inspection), then we could have had a big problem the next time we had a major storm.

9. Don’t buy furniture just to fill space

I already knew that new homeowners often overextend themselves when they first buy a house by opening new credit cards and buying tons of furniture to fill the space—it’s an effect of working in personal finance. But what I didn’t realize is how strong the urge is to buy, buy, buy. You want to welcome friends and family into your home as soon as you buy it. You want them to get a sense for where you’ve settled down. But that urge can blind you to the fact that the dining room table you desperately want is out of your budget right now. Trust me—I knew better and still was tempted to splurge unnecessarily.

10. The first time you make a fire in your fireplace, make sure you own a fire extinguisher

There are tons of YouTube videos that can help you figure out how to operate your fireplace. Be sure to look through them before you attempt it. After successfully making a fire in our fireplace for the first time (without incident), my husband and I both realized we hadn’t bought a fire extinguisher yet. It could have been a disaster; though, luckily it wasn’t. We bought one the next day.

11. The local library has a wealth of resources for home and lawn care advice

I know nothing about gardening. My mother and mother-in-law both have green thumbs, but now I have to put to the test whether that trait is genetic. I started by going on Pinterest to find some information on composting and other gardening basics, but the best resource I found was the local library. Here’s why.

Every gardening book will tell you that lawn care and plant selection are dependent on knowing your environment. I found that our local library had at least a dozen books on the local climate and what grows best in the state. I don’t have the results of my efforts yet, but I would highly recommend hitting up your local library before you start a gardening project—it’s free (just remember to return your books on time).

12. My credit score improved once we got a mortgage

When I first applied for a mortgage, my credit score took a small hit because of the inquiry on my report. (I check my credit scores for free on every month so I was able to see the impact almost immediately.) But, just a few months later, my scores are the highest they’ve ever been. Adding an installment loan to my credit history and a positive payment history has improved my score by more than 25 points already, and I’m just a few months into homeownership. I would never recommend buying a home just to improve your credit, but I was surprised by how much it impacted me.

13. Renting is so much easier

There are a lot of things I learned in just my first few months of homeownership, but the overarching lesson is that renting is way, way easier. There are so many things you don’t have to worry about when you rent. But—and this is a big “but”—it’s not nearly as rewarding as figuring out how to tackle the new challenges of owning a home. I was so proud of my work when I shoveled a foot of snow from my driveway. I looked at my yard and felt accomplished when we cleared out all the leaves that first weekend. I still look at the repainted room we’ve now settled into and marvel at all the work it took and how great it looks now. Plus, I’m building equity in my house—this is an investment for us as well. We plan to be here for a while (even though our closing attorney said we’d be back in 6 to 7 years ready for a new place). In the meantime, I plan to keep challenging myself with new projects. 

This article was written by Kali Geldis and originally published on

In real estate, the importance of being earnest is measured not by a handshake and a “Sure, we’ll buy your house,” but cold hard cash—aka earnest money. That’s the deposit that you, dear home buyer, put down once you agree to purchase a place (typically 1% of the home’s price) and that you stand to lose if you back out of the deal for no good reason.

While this safeguard serves to keep fickle buyers from changing their minds unnecessarily, there are plenty of times when you can—and should—bail with your earnest money firmly in hand.

Here are six good reasons to walk away that won’t force you to forfeit this chunk of money.

1. The house was appraised for less than expected

One surefire way to get your earnest money back is to have an appraisal contingency. Your lender will want to have the property appraised to see if it’s really worth what you agreed to pay for it. If the estimate is lower, the lender will loan only up to the lower amount—which means it’s up to you to cover the difference. But with an appraisal contingency, “the buyer only has to buy the home at the appraised value,” says Joshua Jarvis, a Realtor® in Atlanta.

An appraisal contingency gives you leverage to ask the seller to lower the price or to sweeten the deal by, say, paying your closing costs. But if no agreement is reached, then you can take your earnest deposit and skedaddle.

2. Your financing fell through

If you can’t find a lender who will loan you money within a certain amount of time, a financing contingency allows you to get your money back. Normally you have to be flat-out denied financing by the lender in order to get a refund; in other words, you can’t bail scot-free because you didn’t like the interest rates offered.

A typical time frame to find financing is “often two weeks from date of the approved contract,” says Doris Phillips, a Realtor and broker with Lake Homes Realty in Pelham, AL.

3. Your other house didn’t sell

It’s hard to buy a home if all your money’s tied up in your old one—which is why many buyers in this all-too-common scenario have a sale contingency in their contract: They will buy the new place only if they can unload their old digs within a specific amount of time. How much time that is depends on how quickly homes move in your market, so consult your Realtor for more specifics. But the nice thing is, as long as you’ve got this contingency in place, if your old home doesn’t sell, you can back out of your new purchase without losing anything but time.

4. You find out the home has a major flaw

Please, Mr. 

Most sales are contingent on a home inspection—that’s where an inspector checks out the house, soup to nuts, and identifies any problems. While many flaws can be fixed and the deal can go through, there are some doozies that should give you major pause. They include a history of problems with mold, foundation, electrical, pollution, and flooding. If your home inspection unearths these problems, you can either negotiate to pay a lower price (since you’ll have to pay for repairs) or abort the mission and take your earnest money with you.

Also keep in mind that sellers are legally required to reveal certain flaws (which vary by state) in a disclosure document. So if you find out a seller has tried to cover something up—and that something is big—it is typically well within your rights to take your earnest money and run.

5. The house isn’t finished

Sounds weird, right? But it’s something you should keep an eye out for if you’re buying a new build.

“Builders are notorious for not delivering a finished product, and the buyer has every right not to close for what they are paying for,” Jarvis says. “I had one where the builder wanted the buyer to close even with an unsafe deck.” In that instance, the buyer would have been able to back out and get the earnest money back, but eventually the construction company fixed the problem (after firing the deck builder).

6. The seller backs out

This may be a no-brainer but just in case you’re wondering: You’re entitled to your earnest money “if the seller backs out for whatever reason,” says Lynn Windle, a Realtor in Plano, TX. Perhaps the most common scenario for this is when you’ve got a sale contingency, but while you’re waiting to sell your home the sellers decide to take another offer. But sellers can bail for all kinds of reasons, and whatever they are, rest assured, your earnest money is all yours.

Keep in mind, though, that it all depends on your contract: If it says your earnest money is nonrefundable, then you’re probably not getting it back without a lawsuit.  If it is refundable, you’ll then need to get a release of contract and disbursement of earnest money form signed by all parties.

Lake Norman area considered for future hotels by Carrie C. Causey

by Carrie C. Causey

This graphic shows the site plan for a potential hotel located on West Catawba Avenue between Mariner Cove Drive and Waterview Drive in Cornelius. / Courtesy of Town of Cornelius

(Realty Executives Unlimited recently saw this article.  It is important to know what zoning boards and companies are planning so the community can make their voices known.  We, as local homeowners and business owners, are against this project.)


Two Lake Norman towns reportedly have hotels considering opening in the area to fill the needs for the growing number of residents, tourists and area events.

Learn more
about projects

Want to know more about upcoming development, neighborhoods and businesses coming to the area?

View the planning department project listings online.

• Cornelius:

• Davidson:

• Huntersville:


Cornelius and Davidson have both had prospective businesses contact them, though no official paperwork has been submitted in either case and nothing has been approved.

In Cornelius, discussions are on the table for a possible lake-front hotel with 304 rooms, plus a two-story convention center space and a full-service restaurant to be located off West Catawba Avenue behind Mariner Cove Drive. Preliminary site plans from property owner Sreeramulu Nara and his architect were discussed at a March 8 pre-development review committee meeting.

Cornelius Planning Director Wayne Herron started the group as a way for potential developers to present their ideas to a board in an unofficial capacity to get feedback prior to spending time and money pursuing it further or filing a formal application.

“The committee thought it was a great idea and a great location,” Herron said. “The only discussion was a change in the number of stories.”

Original plans have the hotel as 14 stories, though committee members thought it may be easier to sell to nearby residents keeping it closer to six. However, Herron said the group felt the possible change in height shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for developers when looking for prospective hotel chains.

“It’s going to be hard to sell and a hard buy for neighbors any way they do it,” Herron said.

While the concept was favorable to the committee, it could be a ways off before any official documents are submitted until more due diligence is done. Even then, it could take several months for the rezoning from its current residential classification and other approvals to take place.

“There are several legal issues,” Herron said. “They are going to meet with an attorney to see what legal hurdles they could have with the neighbors, meet with Charlotte Water to see about pumping water or water and sewer and to meet with Duke Power. Anytime there is non-residential on the lake, Duke has to get involved. They also want to have discussions with the neighborhood because they don’t want to be adversarial.”

Herron said overall, the town is excited about the potential for lake-front hotel and convention space.

In Davidson, one company is looking at a possible new hotel at the corner of Griffith Street and Davidsons Gateway Drive near Woodie’s Auto Service, according to a press release from N.C. Broker and Realtor Robert Tremblay, citing Martin Kerr of Martin Kerr and Associates.

A local hotel developer with existing properties in the Lake Norman and Charlotte areas seeks to build an upscale, recognized internationally brand hotel, with approximately 120 rooms plus a meeting space, enhanced technology package, pool and full-service restaurant, according to the release.

Since no documents have been submitted yet to the town, it isn’t considered an official project yet, but in general, Davidson staff have commented how a hotel could benefit the area. The addition of one has also been part of the potential plans for the Davidson Catalyst downtown upgrade and was previously listed as a possible business for Circles at 30.

“There is demonstrated need for hotel space in Davidson and the greater Lake Norman area. Anyone that wants to open a hotel needs to conduct and market study as a matter of practice. When we’ve seen them, the market studies indicate that there is indeed a demand for a hotel/hotels in Davidson and the Lake Norman area,” Economic Development Manager Kim Fleming said in an email, adding, “In addition to fulfilling a demand for rooms and meeting space for our local user groups, businesses and other institutions in Davidson and the surrounding area, a hotel would provide a good source of revenue for the town in the form of property, occupancy and food and beverage taxes.”

Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville have a total of 20 hotels, including one bed and breakfast, which account for 1,604 rooms, according to Travis Dancy, director of sales for Visit Lake Norman.

Dancy said a full-service hotel, offering meeting space and a food and beverage component, is especially desirable for the area.

Conservationists reorganize to adopt Lake Norman islands again BY JOE HABINA

by BY JOE HABINA Correspondent for Charlotte Observer

5 Things We Can Learn About Setting Up a Kitchen from This Diagram


What's the best way to set up a kitchen? If you've been cooking for any length of time, you've either figured this out for yourself, in your own kitchen — or you are still looking for that magic solution. This diagram might not be how your kitchen actually looks, but the way it divvies up the space is useful information for anykitchen. Here's what we can learn from it.

If you've ever planned out a kitchen, or even just read enough cooking blogs, you've no doubt heard of the kitchen work triangle (the idea that in an ideal kitchen, the line drawn between the refrigerator, range, and sink creates a triangle within which the cook can easily and efficiently move about).

But some say it's more useful nowadays, given the variety of kitchen sizes and arrangements, to think not in terms of a triangle, but in terms of work zones.You probably can't change the placement of the refrigerator, or where the sink is in your kitchen, but you can change your relation to these spaces and what you choose to store and set up in their vicinity.

Here are five things we learn from this diagram that you can apply to your kitchen — no matter its size or shape!

1. Divide your kitchen into five zones.

The basic work zones to think about in your kitchen are as follows:

  1. Consumables zoneThe area used to store most of your food. This may actually be split into two zones: one for your refrigerator (fresh food) and one for your pantry or food cabinets (dry goods, oils, etc.).
  2. Non-consumables zone: The area used to store everyday dishes, including plates, bowls, glasses, and silverware.
  3. Cleaning zone: The area that contains the sink and dishwasher (if you have one).
  4. Preparation zone: The area where most of your kitchen prep happens. This may be a stretch of countertop, or a kitchen island.
  5. Cooking zone: The area that contains the stovetop, oven, or range, and possibly the microwave.

Most kitchens can be divvied up into these areas. Even if you have a tiny apartment galley kitchen, you still probably have the essentials: a fridge (consumables zone), some cabinets (non-consumables zone), a sink (cleaning zone), a little countertop space (preparation zone), and a stove (cooking zone). Once you've mapped out your zones, you're ready for the next step.

2. Store items as close to their related zone as possible.

The point of dividing your kitchen into zones is so you can store things in the right place to improve your cooking flow! For example, knives, mixing bowls, chopping boards, spices, and other prep utensils should be stored where you do most of your prep work, in the preparation zone. Cooking utensils, pots, pans, and bakeware should be stored as close to or near the stove or oven, in the cooking zone.

3. Store your everyday dishes in the cabinet closest to the sink or dishwasher.

Digging into the details on this a little more, this diagram notes you should store your everyday dishes (the non-consumables) right next to the cleaning area, or where your sink and dishwasher are.

This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. What are you normally unloading from the dishwasher? All your everyday plates, glasses, and silverware! So whatever cabinet is closest to your dish rack or dishwasher, that's where you should store your dishes if possible.

4. Create prep space as close to the stove as possible.

Another thing we noticed in this diagram is how the prep area is situated next to the stove. We agree. In The Kitchn Cookbook, we note that one of the most important things in setting up a kitchen is to have adequate counter space close to the stove. Ideally you shouldn't have to take more than a few steps to put your prepped food into a pot on your stovetop, or in the oven.

If you don't have a lot of existing countertop space next to your stove, this is where you need to get creative! Whatever space you do have, clear it off and prioritize it as a prep space. Remove the microwave and move the fruit bowl! You need that space to chop vegetables or mix ingredients, so let it be just that.

When that's still not enough, you might consider adding a small kitchen island like IKEA's GROLAND island, an over-the-sink cutting board, or a burner cover— all of which are great, accessible choices when you need more workspace.

5. Just do your best!

Of course, keeping items precisely within their zone isn't always entirely possible if your kitchen is tiny and you need to, say, store your bakeware on top of the cabinets, or the only available pantry space is in a cabinet across the room from the fridge. But this idea of seeing your kitchen as a collection of zones and grouping things together by their purpose is something to work towards! There will always be exceptions unless you have a perfect kitchen. (Does anyone?)

What did you notice about this diagram? Have any other thoughts about the best way to set up, arrange, and organize a kitchen?

(Image credits: Winning Appliances)

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Photo of David DiGioia Real Estate
David DiGioia
Realty Executives Unlimited
17718 Kings Point Dr, Suite B
Cornelius NC 28031
Fax: (866)476-8652