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Welcome to our blog! Here you will find posts about can't miss properties, local events, and more! Here at Maple and Main Realty we pride ourselves on our knowledge of the Northampton area. Feel free to leave a comment, we would love to hear from you! If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact us

Perennials to Avoid!

As a novice gardener, I love this time of year in  Western MA. There are so many beautiful plants blooming in every yard and garden that I pass on my daily walks. Peony, Iris and Lilac season are behind us, and soon we will find ourselves in the dog days of summer, where we tend to see less of an array of colorful perennials blooming (but this can be helped by planting annuals!)

When we moved to our new-ish house in Florence MA, we hired a local gardener to create a pollinator bed in front of our house. It is fun to watch the different plants come and go - and think about what we want to move, or add. This is the third year that the bed has had time to establish itself and this is the second summer that I find myself sitting on my front porch watching the Lily of the Valley and False Sunflower take over! This year, I have vowed to document each phase of the garden, and move (or REMOVE) the plants that I don't enjoy - or ones that take over the garden. I found this relevant article on BHG.com about alternative choices to common perennials (that cause trouble).

6 Pretty but Troublesome Perennials Never to Plant in Your Garden

Sure, these species may have lovely flowers or intriguing foliage, but they also have less desirable attributes that will have you regretting the day you tucked them in the ground.

By Megan Hughes 

August 25, 2020

6 Pretty but Troublesome Perennials Never to Plant in Your Garden

Sure, these species may have lovely flowers or intriguing foliage, but they also have less desirable attributes that will have you regretting the day you tucked them in the ground.

Share: 6 Pretty but Troublesome Perennials Never to Plant in Your Garden

In my garden, I have a few of what I call perennial troublemakers. They're the ones that turned out to have a dark side lurking beyond the promises of prolific summer blooms or the ability to tolerate the harshest heat and drought without missing a beat. In truth, their nonstop flowers result in tons of seeds that go everywhere, or their toughness is actually thanks to rampant growth that threatens to smother every living thing in a 10-foot radius. It feels like an endless struggle to keep them contained, leaving me wondering why I ever planted them in the first place. Save yourself from all these frustrations by banning these problematic perennials from your garden. Plus, I've got suggestions for much better-behaved look-alikes you can grow instead.

lily of the valley convallaria majalis

Credit: Dean Schoeppner 

Lily-of-the-Valley

Yeah, I know, this one is a classic garden plant beloved for its perfume-rich, white bell-like flowers in early spring and ability to thrive in dry shade where not much else will grow. But I've come to really dislike lily-of-the-valleybecause, a year or two after planting, it starts to spread like wild, choking out nearby plants. Once it's established, reining in this aggressive spreader requires relentless vigilance.

Plant This Instead: Though its flowers aren't fragrant, ajuga also can grow in shady spots similar to lily-of-the-valley, but won't take over the garden.

perennial bachelor's button in garden

Credit: Kritsada Panichgul 

Perennial Bachelor's Button

A catalog description focused on a parade of spring and summer flowers and easy care can beguile those who have never grown perennial bachelor’s button (Centauria spp). But ask anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of growing this plant and you’ll get an earful about its hyper-reseeding nature. The first year you’ll have one clump of it and the next year your garden is inundated with 15 clumps. Beware, perennial bachelor’s button also goes by names like mountain bluet, corn flower, and basket flower, but all are bad news.

Plant This Instead: For early summer color, plant well-behaved, pollinator favorite penstemon instead of perennial bachelor’s button.

chameleon plant houttuynia cordata

Credit: Dean Schoeppner 

Chameleon Plant

Heart-shape leaves decorated with splashes of white, green, pink, and yellow easily dazzle those unfamiliar with chameleon plant(Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'). But that admiration will quickly turn to dismay when this vigorous perennial begins spreading everywhere. Plus, once it's sunk its tenacious roots into your garden, it's nearly impossible to get rid of. Even herbicides don't slow it down much so please don't fall for its cute, colorful leaves if you see it in the garden center.

Plant This Instead: There are many other well-behaved groundcover plants like creeping thymeoregano, or barrenwort that won't give you a decade-long headache like chameleon plant will.

alyssum saxatile basket of gold

Credit: Denny Schrock 

Yellow Alyssum

Blooming in early spring when we are most craving color after a long, drab winter, yellow alyssum, also called basket-of-gold, is a welcome sight in the garden. But once you get near enough to detect the flowers' fragrance, or perhaps more accurately their odor, you may end up backing away quickly. If you don't find the stinky blooms as offputting as I do, this plant actually is a tidy, drought-tolerant groundcover.

Plant This Instead: If you want early color with a more pleasing scent, opt for the delightful perfume of miniature daffodils.

tuscan sun false sunflower bloom detail

Credit: Jacob Fox 

False Sunflower

Don’t be fooled by false sunflower. Its garden behavior is nothing like true members of the sunflower family. False sunflower spreads aggressively by underground roots to form large colonies of plants. It will grow right over and through nearby perennials and shrubs, making it especially tough to evict without harming the plants it has engulfed.

Plant This Instead: Consider growing perennial sunflower, such as ‘Maximillian,’ for similar pollinator-friendly flowers on plants that aren't bent on taking over the world.

purple loosestrife in garden

Credit: Kim Cornelison 

Purple Loosestrife

This perennial has a rap sheet. It's listed as a noxious weed in many states because it overtakes wetlands and crowds out native species. Purple loosestrife is quickly recognizable, thanks to its upright purple flower spikes that bloom from midsummer through fall. Although it's banned from sale in many states, it still makes its way into gardens. Uninformed friends sometimes offer a clump or two from their garden. This is one gift to refuse. And then kindly fill in your friend on its invasive nature.

Plant This Instead: For a long-lasting punch of purple in the garden, plant native purple coneflower or blazing star instead of purple loosestrife.

Selling Your Home in a Seller's Market

We are in the midst of an intense seller's market here in Northampton (and, apparently, throughout the country) - with limited inventory for sale, and numerous buyers vying for those few properties. While this situation can certainly be both stressful and disappointing to buyers, it can also be challenging to sellers for various reasons. To follow is a reposted article from the New York Times, which gives sound advice about navigating the seller's market from a seller's perspective. Another invaluable first step is to connect with a local realtor who knows the market well, to assist you with the process of selling your home.

Selling Your Home in a Seller’s Market

Sorting through multiple bids can be harder than it seems. Choosing the highest offer isn’t always the smart way to go.

Credit...The Heads of State

By Daniel Bortz

April 23, 2021

By the time they got the last offer, Quinn and Daryn Shapurji had received 54 bids on their four-bedroom, single-family house in Fishers, Ind., in just three days. Ms. Shapurji said they felt totally overwhelmed — and a bit melancholy.

“We felt bad that we had to say no to so many people, because we got a lot of beautiful letters from buyers saying how much they loved our house and why they wanted to live in the area,” said Ms. Shapurji, 32, a closing coordinator for a home builder. “Some buyers had already struck out on five or six homes.”

Chris Dossman, the couple’s real estate agent, suggested they take a cash offer that was $25,000 above their home’s list price of $220,000. “It wasn’t the highest offer they received, but the cash buyer waived the appraisal, so we knew that we weren’t going to have an issue with the home closing from a financing perspective,” said Ms. Dossman, an agent with Century 21 Scheetz based in Indianapolis.

“Fifty-four offers is by far the highest number of offers that I’ve ever received for a listing,” added Ms. Dossman, who has been an agent for 15 years.

The Shapurjis, who closed their deal in mid-March, are far from alone when it comes to getting flooded with offers in today’s supercharged real estate market. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of offers written by Redfin agents in March faced bidding wars, marking the 11th straight month where more than half of Redfin offers encountered competition, according to the online brokerage. Salt Lake City, Pittsburgh, and Boise, Idaho, were the most competitive markets of the 24 metropolitan areas that the company analyzed.

Despite a recent uptick in mortgage rates, an acute shortage of homes for sale nationwide has created a home-buying frenzy. “Higher mortgage rates haven’t slowed down competition yet,” said Daryl Fairweather, Redfin’s chief economist. “In fact, the interest rate increase from 2.67 percent at the end of 2020 to 3.09 percent now is just enough to fuel more bidding wars as folks rush to buy while rates are still low,” she said, referring to the rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage in mid-March. “It will take a bigger rate increase to really move the needle on bidding wars and cool things down.”

“We’re seeing an inventory crisis,” said Katie Wethman, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate agent at Keller Williams Realty. Indeed, total home supply at the end of March sat at only 1.07 million units, down 28.2 percent from a year ago, according to a report from the National Association of Realtors. The association’s data also found that homes typically sold in a record-low time of just 18 days in March, down from a 29-day average in March 2020.

“The market is completely lopsided right now in favor of sellers,” said Seth Lejeune, a real estate agent at RE/MAX Homepoint in Royersford, Pa. “Some homes are selling within hours and with multiple offers.”

Still, sellers face a challenge: “Getting inundated with offers can be overwhelming, and it can make it harder for sellers to choose the best offer,” said Alicia Stoughton, a real estate agent and designer at Keller Williams Advisors in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Why? Because “the highest offer isn’t always the best offer,” Ms. Stoughton said.

Here are the factors sellers should consider, in addition to purchase price, when evaluating multiple offers.

Payment Method

“Cash is king,” according to Nancy Newquist-Nolan, a real estate agent at Coldwell Banker in Santa Barbara, Calif. “I often recommend sellers take a cash offer, even if it’s not the highest offer.”

Choosing a cash buyer has several benefits for sellers. A cash offer means the buyer won’t have to face any trouble getting approved for a mortgage; it enables the buyer to waive a potentially deal-breaking home appraisal; and cash transactions allow for shorter closings periods, Ms. Newquist-Nolan. (Cash sales can take as little as 14 days, while mortgage closings usually take 30 to 60 days.) That may explain why a cash offer quadruples a home buyer’s chances of winning a bidding war, a new Redfin report found.

“In some cases buyers are taking money out of their retirement plans or borrowing from family to make a cash offer,” said Gary Metchnek, a real estate agent at Edina Realty in Minneapolis-St. Paul, who recently sold a home that received 13 offers.

Still, mortgage buyers aren’t completely out of the running, said Ms. Wethman. “If you’re confident in the buyer’s lender and their ability to get approved for a mortgage, there’s not a lot of risk taking an offer from a buyer who’s getting a loan,” she said. Her advice to sellers? “Do your due diligence on the lender who is providing the funds,” she recommends.

This is a step where sellers can lean on their listing agent, Ms. Newquist-Nolan said. “I call up the lender and ask how qualified the buyer is for their loan,” she said. Moreover, “some lenders are notorious for dragging their feet and missing key deadlines.”

(Many brokers prefer deals with buyers who work with a local lender like a regional credit union, instead of a big bank or a national website. This is because loan officers at local lenders are typically more accessible on nights and weekends, which can be important in this fast-moving market when a buyer might need a preapproval letter that lists a property’s address on short notice.)

Offers from conventional loan borrowers are also more attractive than loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Lejeune said. “F.H.A. and V.A. loans are pretty much dead on arrival right now, because their appraisals have more restrictions and they might require the seller to make home repairs before their home can be sold,” he said.

Pam and Richard O’Bryant can attest to that. The couple, who sold their three-bedroom, single-family house in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, in March after receiving nine offers, struggled to buy a home in Northern Virginia, using a V.A. loan.

They lost bids on four homes, despite bidding about 10 percent above the asking price on each of them, before finally purchasing a three-bedroom rowhouse in Alexandria, Va., an estate sale that will need about $125,000 to $150,000 in renovations.

“I’m not sure if I’m more relieved or excited to have finally gotten a house in today’s market,” Ms. O’Bryant said. “We really wanted to capitalize on today’s interest rates and are looking forward to creating a fabulous home.”

Ms. Stoughton said sellers who haven’t yet purchased their next home should strongly consider buyers who will offer a rent-back agreement. “Most buyers in our market right now are throwing in a free rent-back,” she said. “Usually sellers pay the buyer to rent back their home.”

Contingencies

“Right now, sellers are in the position where they can direct buyers to have as few contingencies as possible,” Ms. Newquist-Nolan, the California broker, said. That’s a smart move, she said, because fewer contingencies means fewer opportunities when a transaction might fall through.

Take home inspections for example. From September 2020 through February 2021, 13.2 percent of winning Redfin offers had waived the inspection contingency, up from 7.3 percent a year ago, the brokerage reports. (Such a contingency would allow buyers to pull out of a deal if an inspection uncovered unexpected repair issues.) “Most buyers are waiving home inspections right now in our area,” Ms. Wethman said. “Pre-offer inspections have become the norm.”

Most sellers are now open to allowing buyers to bring in a home inspector before they make an offer on a home. A pre-offer inspection that finds few problems could give a buyer the confidence to waive an inspection contingency, which subsequently might make the buyer’s offer a more appealing choice for the seller.

Buyers are also finding ways to waive home appraisal contingencies, in an effort to make their bid more attractive to a seller. (Appraisal contingencies allow buyers to terminate a contract if an appraisal comes in lower than their offer price.)

“Some buyers who are putting down 20 percent are agreeing to reduce their down payment to pay the difference if there’s an appraisal gap,” Ms. Wethman said. For example, in a deal where a buyer is offering $300,000 for a home, and has a 20 percent down payment, if the house is appraised at $270,000, the buyer could drop their down payment to 10 percent, and use that 10 percent in cash to make up the appraisal shortfall.

Comparing Apples to Apples

The best approach that sellers can take when weighing offers, Mr. Lejeune said, is to compare them side-by-side.

His strategy: “I present offers to my clients in an Excel spreadsheet that specifics the offer price, loan amount, type of loan, contingencies, and other important metrics,” he said. “It’s basically a cheat sheet for sellers.”

Ms. Dossman is also a fan of presenting offers in a spreadsheet. As she puts it, “You want to have all the information in front of you when you’re making a decision.”

Many buyers attach personal letters with their offers to try to sway the sellers in their favor. But some real estate agents don’t even show sellers these letters when they present offers to avoid the possibility of unlawful bias against a buyer. But Ms. Dossman said she will share letters after vetting them to make sure there isn’t any information that could raise the potential for fair housing violations.

For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.

A version of this article appears in print on April 25, 2021, Section RE, Page 7 of the New York edition with the headline: Selling Your Home in a Sellers’ Market.

DIY while Hunkering Down - Pandemic Activities for Homeowners

For my 16-year-old daughter's birthday last month, I turned two of her embroidery projects (new COVID hobby) into decor for her bedroom, as a present to her (a pillow and a wall hanging). She was thrilled! Both of us have been spending time, while hunkering down, working on crafts, bedroom redecorating (in her case) organizing and decluttering (in my case) and repainting (in my case). It isn't surprising that many of us, while stuck inside with only virtual social lives, have turned to DIY projects to improve our homes (and expend creative energy). This article in the New York Times by Ronda Kaysen describes some really interesting and impressive DIY projects completed in the greater New York area. So, whether you are a Northampton area homeowner interested in readying your home for the market, or someone who just wants to put some creative energy into making your home the most comfortable and functional place it can be - this article may be of interest. And, speaking of Northampton Area Homeowners - NOW is a GREAT time to have one of our agents come give you an opinion of market value for your home! It is a buzzing seller's market out there!

Extreme D.I.Y. for Home Decor

Since they have spent so much time at home in the last year, some homeowners have taken craft and design projects to a new level.

Jen Rondeau didn’t set out to turn her laundry room into a psychedelic disco lounge, but now that it looks like one, she’s very pleased with herself.

It all started in early January as demand for the homemade masks she had been selling since last spring dwindled and Ms. Rondeau, an artist and musician, found herself without a creative outlet. So she turned her attention to the gray utilitarian room in the basement of her West Orange, N.J. home.

Over three days, she painted an abstract midcentury design along one wall, a bold mix of red, blues, pinks and oranges. Smitten with the results, she extended the design on the opposite side, set an orange chair in the corner and set up a disco light machine that plays a flashing light sequence in time with whatever music she pumps through her Bluetooth speaker.

“I had a lot of energy that I needed to put into something,” said Ms. Rondeau, 43, who lives in the four-bedroom ranch-style house with her husband, Paul Rondeau, 42, a freelance cinematographer, and their two young sons. Now that the laundry room is painted, “I want to be in there,” she said. “It makes me happy.”

Miss going to the movies? There’s no time like the present to turn the basement into a home theater with a full concession stand. No room for a soaker tub in a tiny bathroom? No matter. Install one in the bedroom instead. Do the children have cabin fever? There’s no time like the present to bring an ice-skating rink to the front yard.

For these homeowners, pandemic do-it-yourself projects have been liberating, tapping unrealized artistic talents, or honing ones they’ve nurtured for years. Their homes have become not just a space they want to occupy, but one they can mold to their creative vision.

“I’m seeing a lot more color, a lot more of a sense of adventure in décor choices. People are like, ‘I don’t have anywhere else to go, I might as well look at something interesting while I’m home,’” said Ingrid Fetell Lee, a designer and the author of “Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness.”

Leanne Ford, an interior designer and a star of the HGTV show “Home Again with the Fords,” sees this as a moment for homeowners to relinquish some of their pre-pandemic expectations. What’s the point of a guest room if you have no guests? “We don’t need to decorate how we were living a year ago, we need to decorate for how we’re living now,” she said.

 

 

It's a SELLER'S MARKET out there!!!

IT'S A GREAT TIME TO SELL YOUR HOME!

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

 

The COVID-19 pandemic has, among other things, created a backlog of home buyers, eager to move out of urban areas, and into more remote towns and cities. Northampton and it's environs is a highly desirable place to live in a *normal* year; but during a pandemic such as this, we are even more popular than ever! With people relegated to spending most of their time at home these days, there is a premium on home ownership in a small town or city such as Northampton, and it's neighboring communities

We realtors at Maple and Main Realty are seeing houses receive multiple offers, some of them with cash buyers, on houses not only in Northampton, Easthampton and Amherst - but also in Holyoke, the Hilltowns and even farther afield than that! If you have been contemplating listing your home (or land) for sale - we are happy to come give you our opinion of market value, and advise you about all manner of things related to listing your home. It doesn't cost anything to have the initial conversation. In fact, we don't receive any payment (commission) until your house has actually sold! So whether you choose to list your home right away, or you decide to wait until next year -- having the initial conversation with an experienced realtor is a great first step towards making the decision to sell your home. And, once it is listed, we take over to get your house sold! Contact us today to set up an appointment for a comparative market analysis and opinion of market value.

 

News Updates from Stowe Farm Community in Colrain, MA!

Hello Readers. We are excited to share with you some updates from our new(ish) land listings at Stowe Farm Community in beautiful Colrain, MA! This unique intentional community has something for everyone! Read on, and reach out if you have questions. Link at end of blog post. In the meanwhile, stay healthy and wear your mask!

 

 

Stowe Farm Community
is a rural cohousing neighborhood nestled
in the beautiful hills of Colrain, Massachusetts.

 

GEESE, LUMBER, GARDENS, PIGS, BORSCHT

 

Quarantine Goslings

Sebastapol goslings helped us through the pandemic. Read our friend Martha's story of how they came into all of our lives and hearts...  Goslings

Milling Lumber Locally

Kai (above) is self appointed project manager of the milled lumber. This lumber is from Michael and Betsy's managed woodlot and from the border with our neighbor, Lynn. It was milled using a portable bandsaw sawmill owned and operated by our neighbor, Matt Gancz. The portable sawmill was built by a Menonite craftsman in the Midwest. Read more and see video: local mill

 

Butterfly Garden

At age 11, Harley was the youngest member of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Lepidopterists' Society. Now she works at the local butterfly conservatory and has created a beautiful butterfly garden in her own backyard at Stowe Farm. Read more: Family in the garden

How to Outsmart the Pigs!

Haynes is always trying to outsmart pigs, this time with some success. The challenge was to provide a  continuous source of water, on gravity pressure, that is relatively impervious to pig fascination and abuse. Pigs are strong and curious; they like to rub up against anything new or just anything that has edges. Their curiosity often leads them to get their snouts underneath a new object and try to flip it up, sometimes bending or breaking it. Read more: Outsmarting pigs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nourishment for mama to be

Nothing is better than nourishing a mama who was eating for two except cooking for the new family! Recipes: Borscht and Dumplings

Judy with her mama goats, bucklings, and doelings.
See our animal photo album: Stowe Farm animal pics

The pandemic has increased interest in the value of living in community. We have asked Julie Starr, of Maple and Main Realty, to help us manage sales of the building lots.
We recommend that you email us first about the community aspects of living at Stowe Farm, then we will connect you with Julie about purchasing a building lot, or give you information about the house for sale.

Please visit our websiteFacebookInstagram, and Pinterest. Stowe Farm Community is scheduling distanced outside visits and tours. Email us for more information.

It's OK to Get Outside, If You Take Proper Precautions

Hello Friends of Maple and Main Realty! We hope you are finding some silver linings in this surreal moment in history. Time in the garden, clearing out your basement, reading a good book, time with your nuclear family, zoom calls with loved ones, walks with dogs? Real Estate IS still happening, but inventory is limited, since any seller who lives in their house is unlikely to open it to the public at this time. We are still seeing empty houses and new construction coming on the market. Clients are relying more on video tours of homes vs. in person visits - though those, too, can happen! All buyers must wear masks and gloves and showings are staggered so that only one party is in the house at a time. 

On another note, since public parks are in MA closed due to the pandemic, people are looking for other ways to get outside. There are numerous conservation areas with walking paths to explore here in Western MA. This article from MassLive highlights a one mile walking path in the Silvio Conti Wildlfe Refuge in Hadley. There is also a link to other areas to explore at the end of the article. 

 

social distancing sign in a park 

 

Got cabin fever? Walk this Silvio Conte refuge trail

by Steve Smith

HADLEY — Visitors to the Fort River division of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge can observe wildlife, get an education in the environment or simply enjoy the trail.

Conte represented Massachusetts’ 1st District for 32 years. An avid sportsman, environmentalist and fisherman, the Pittsfield native introduced the federal legislation that created the refuge to preserve and protect the Connecticut River watershed. The refuge is comprised of nearly 40,000 acres within parts of Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and New Hampshire.The Fort River division of the Conte refuge is named after the body of water that flows through it. Fort River is the longest free-flowing tributary to the Connecticut River in Massachusetts.

It is a one-mile trail with wooden observation decks so visitors can pause and take a front-row seat to nature. It’s accessible. On the difficulty scale of easy to moderate to strenuous to you-need-to-give-up-all-desserts, this trail is a piece of cake. No hills. Wide, smooth paths. No roots to walk over. No tree limbs to block your way.

Before you go to the Fort River or any trail, here are some answers to questions you might have:

Is it safe to go outside?

Yes, as long as you practice social or physical distancing. By now, you know the drill. That means you must maintain at least six feet of distance from anyone you might meet outside.

Really? Won’t there by other people on the trail?

Yes, that’s possible. Maybe even likely. But imagine meeting a bear on the trail. Chances are he’s more afraid of you than you are of him, and he’ll move away. Be alert. If you hear people coming on the trail, move off the trail They’ll likely do the same. So no headphones. And if you see a lot of cars in the parking lot or lots of cars parked alongside the road next to the trail entrance, come back later or another day because the trail is probably too crowded.

Do I need to go by myself?

No. You should be safe with anyone in your immediate family. If you binged watched episodes of Tiger King on television or completed a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with the person during the days leading up to your cabin fever, it’s probably safe to bring them along.

How about Massachusetts state parks? Are they still open?

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is urging people to stay home as much as possible to avoid person-to-person contact, but he acknowledges individuals and families need to get outside to walk, hike, jog or bike. State parks and other natural resources managed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation are mostly open and accessible to the public. There is currently no vehicular access to the Quabbin Reservoir. Elsewhere, playgrounds, fitness areas, visitor centers and bathroom facilities are closed, as are coastal beach parking areas. Find the latest updates and restrictions at: mass.gov/orgs/department-of-conservation-recreation

Seeking an FHA Loan? You Have Options

With the warmer climes we have been experiencing, the spring real estate market won't be far off. Local housing prices being what they are, it can be challenging for first-time home buyers, and/or for buyers who don't have a large amount of money to use as a down-payment - to compete in this seller's market. Since you may be competing with other cash buyers, or buyers with more cash to put down -- now is a great time to connect with an experienced buyer's agent to help you navigate the process - including making introductions to experienced mortgage brokers and loan officers. The following article published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on 2/21/20, discusses the subtleties to seeking an FHA loan - which might be a great option for certain buyers.

 

Can’t find an affordable FHA-approved home? You have options

 

By KATE WOOD 

 

NerdWallet 

 

Americans took out nearly $150 billion in loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration to buy homes in 2018. Nearly 83% of those FHA borrowers were first-time home buyers, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

 

It’s unsurprising that FHA loans are especially popular with first-time home buyers, due to more lenient credit score and debt-to-income (DTI) requirements. But with scores of buyers searching for affordable entry-level housing, finding a place to call home can be a struggle.

 

In pricier markets, even the FHA’s 3.5% down payment option might bust your budget. Houses that have a low asking price but “need TLC” may not pass an FHA appraisal. And in highly competitive markets, it can be difficult to make an offer that gives you an edge on other home buyers.

 

What’s an FHA buyer to do? Here are three options.

 

Priced out? Look at FHA-approved condos 

 

If an FHA-approved single-family house would push your budget past its breaking point, consider making your starter home a condo.

 

As of October 2019, borrowers can get FHA loans for individual condo units without having to worry about whether the entire complex is FHA approved. John Graff, CEO of Los Angeles-based Ashby & Graff Real Estate, said via email that this change should increase the inventory of FHA-approved condos, offering a broader selection of affordable homes.

 

For example, in Denver, the 2020 FHA loan limit — the maximum loan amount the FHA will guarantee — is $575,000 for a single-family property across most of the metro area. Looking at 2019 data from the Denver Metro Association of Realtors, that’s enough to cover the steep average sale price of $515,149 for a single-family home. But buyers there could save substantially by looking at condos, which have an average sale price of $366,937.

 

You’ll want to budget for condo homeowner association fees as well as property taxes. But generally, opening up your search to include condos should bring you lower-priced options.

 

Found a fixer-upper? Get an FHA 203(k) loan 

 

In markets with older housing stock, passing an FHA appraisal could be a bigger obstacle than cost. Listing photos that make a low-priced house look like a charming fixer-upper can conceal major issues, Corning, New York, real estate agent Jennifer M. Baker noted in an email.

 

An appraiser’s key objective is ensuring the property is a sound investment for your lender. But an FHA appraisal isn’t just about value. To be eligible for an FHA loan, the home must also meet the FHA’s minimum property requirements by being “safe, sound and secure.” 

 

If you see potential in a house that won’t pass an FHA appraisal, an FHA 203(k) loan could help you afford the needed work. It has similar requirements to a regular FHA home loan, but the costs of renovating the property are rolled into the total mortgage amount, which is based on the “as is” appraisal and an estimate of the home’s value once the renovation is complete. Using a 203(k) might mean living in a rental a little bit longer — costs you can include in your new home loan — or in a construction zone. Either way, you’re turning a house into your home.

 

Facing stiff competition? Be flexible 

 

There are affordable homes out there, but with many buyers competing for them, it’s a seller’s market.

 

“When a home goes on the market up to about $250,000, we’ll see an actual race to get to that home,” says Michelle Sloan, broker and owner of Re/Max Time near Cincinnati. “We’ve seen up to 10 offers within 24 hours of a property being listed.” 

 

Though you can use strategies to make your offer more attractive — like being flexible on the closing date — you may also be able to find more options by changing your home search criteria.

 

A short commute may be a high priority, Sloan says, but allowing for a little added drive time could get you more potential properties. If you’re wedded to a particular location — for the schools, maybe — try to whittle down your wish list. Maybe three bedrooms will work instead of four.

 

An experienced buyer’s agent can help you weigh possible trade-offs, supply insight into your local market and encourage you throughout the process.

 

You may not get the first home you submit an offer for — or even the fifth — but “keep looking,” Sloan recommends. “There is a home out there for everyone!”

Thriving Arts Scene in Western MA!

As an ex-New Yorker and realtor, I have a natural affinity for old mill buildings and factories. It's so exciting to see the development of our local mill buildings, such as those in Holyoke and Easthampton, where new businesses are growing and thriving. Recent years have seen development further south in Springfield, with the creation of the MGM complex; not to mention preexisting venues such at the Springfield Symphony Hall and the Majestic Theatre. We are lucky to live in an area with a wide array of cultural and sporting events to take advantage of. The following piece from MassLive goes into greater detail about our local arts and entertainment growth.

 

The Gateway City Arts Complex in Holyoke (Don Treeger / The Republican)By George Lenker | Special to The Republican

Western Massachusetts arts scene thrives with ‘amazing venues’

While it may still be too early to make any final assessment, there seems to be a growing sentiment among Western Massachusetts’ arts and entertainment promoters that MGM Springfield has not had the negative effect on neighboring entertainment venues that was once feared.

Now entering its third year, the casino resort draws approximately 15,000 visitors daily, but those entertainment dollars don’t seem to be coming largely out of the pockets of other arts and entertainment venues.

“I haven’t seen any downside from MGM Springfield. Our number of shows and tickets sold in the region has increased every year and I expect that trend to continue in 2020,” says John Sanders, a partner and talent buyer for Dan Smalls Presents, an agency that books shows up and down the Pioneer Valley. “I’d actually like to be doing more in Springfield at Symphony Hall and hope to be able to develop a working relationship with MGM to do that.”

Jim Neill, marketing director of Northampton’s multi-venue Iron Horse Entertainment Group, agrees about MGM Springfield not having much of a negative effect.

“They are one more player at the table for some of the same shows everyone else is vying for, so sometimes a show we’d have done will go their way. But in many cases they are doing shows that wouldn’t make sense for us anyway,” Neill says. “After all the anticipation about the casino, the reality is that it hasn’t had a major impact on us.”

MGM itself seems to be doing just fine, as well.

Michael Mathis, former president of MGM Springfield, said 2020 looks bright for the casino. Part of its success, Mathis said, comes from customer feedback.

“Shortly after we opened, we launched a ‘You Said We Did’ campaign, where we solicited customer feedback and then worked to implement their suggestions. This is common practice in the industry,” Mathis said. “We opened a new VIP Lounge based on conversations with our guests. Most recently, we started construction on a new VIP parking area on the second floor of the garage.”

For Danny Eaton, director of the Majestic Theater across the river in West Springfield, the casino has served as a corporate sponsor, so there has been no downside for him.

“For the two years they were under construction, they were a corporate sponsor. Then, once open, for the next five years they (agreed to continue) with their corporate sponsorship but also buy the house for one performance of each of our five plays,” Eaton says. “So, the MGM impact has been and continues to be a benefit to us.”

In general, Eaton says his subscription-based theater has held steady and actually saw an uptick over the past year. “I certainly attribute it to the mix of plays we offer each year; that’s pretty much held true over the years,” he adds.

Neill says the challenges for Iron Horse in the arts and entertainment market remain the same.

“Competing promoters, getting attention as a secondary market and building new acts. Balancing the more adventurous booking with time-tested favorites,” he says. “Staying passionate about the music is the easy part. There are so many talented artists out there, old and new, and we always have our ears to the ground. We’re always planting seeds that will grow into tomorrow’s staples.”

Neill adds that he was excited about the prospects in 2020. “Our spring calendar is packed. We’re beyond thrilled to have Courtney Barnett playing the Iron Horse on her small club tour. Also at the Horse we’ve got Nada Surf, Dar Williams, KT Tunstall, Altan, Lunasa, Loudon, Holly Near, and prog legends Nektar, to name a handful,” he said. “At the Calvin we have Kamasi Washington, Gaelic Storm, the High Kings, comedian Nate Bergatze, a Guster show March 28 that’s almost sold out already.”

Sanders says he, too, is hopeful about the coming year as Dan Smalls Presents (DSP) represents sustainable growth.

“My work with DSP started five years ago and our growth, I believe, has been pretty organic,” he says. “I moved to Northampton and started promoting shows in Western Massachusetts – oh boy, 20 years ago – so my relationships run pretty deep. There was a need to create new opportunities for touring artists to perform in the region, and we’ve developed great partnerships with a few amazing venues in the valley.”

Along with looking to bring some shows to Springfield Symphony Hall, Sanders says Dan Smalls Presents is also planning on expanding its usage in venues it already employs.

“We did six incredible shows at the Pines (Theater in Look Park, Northampton) in 2019 and will likely at least double that amount in 2020,” he says. “I’m very excited to be working with the team at Look Park to be bringing back live music to this amazing spot. We’ll start rolling out the shows later this month, and I hope the valley will be as excited as I am about the lineup we have this summer.”

One venue Sanders already works with, Holyoke’s Gateway City Arts, has been growing and expanding since beginning in 2011. Gateway City Arts co-director Vitek Kruta says 2019 was great in terms of finalizing and completing the venue’s construction phase.

“We now arrived at the turning point. We also created very successful relationships with (Dan Smalls Presents), Signature Sounds and few other promoters,” Kruta says. “We updated our sound system to state-of-the-art quality with help of Klondike Sound so we can not only assure best quality entertainment but also to attract bands who require that level of quality.”

Kruta saw last year as a year of completion. Along with creating a small works gallery now featuring regularly changing shows, the venue also now has a new bar-restaurant called Judd’s, featuring Czech-American cuisine, a theater, a tap room, a music hall, and woodworking and ceramic shops for use by members.

As for his outlook for 2020, Kruta says, “Holyoke is a home to lots of artists and amazing talent. In the past few years, some artists unfortunately moved away or passed away, and the scene was kind of quiet. But it is slowly coming back and we are going to see more activities this year.”

Over in Easthampton, Rachel Phillips, the chair of Easthampton’s Cultural Council, says 2019 was a great year of growth for her city as far as the arts, and she sees more of the same for this year.

“The city engaged in a series of facilitated community workshops, the Easthampton Futures Project, inviting community members to envision the next iteration of the arts and culture chapter of the city’s master plan,” Phillips says. “And, with more event venues like CitySpace on the horizon and our Millpond Live festival in August and September, 2020 should be yet another banner year for the city.”

De-Stress Your Home!

In the 14 years we have lived in Northampton, we have moved house three times.  This probably sounds like a lot (after our last move, it FELT like a lot) but the progression has made sense for our family over the course of time. We recently purchased and gut-renovated a late 1800's house in Florence Center. We moved in 11 months ago, and we can't imagine moving out any time soon. For one thing, we love our home. We worked with Workroom Design Studio in Florence to come up with the design concept (they are wonderful!). We put a lot of thought (and experience) into creating the spaces. For another, we love the location. However, I can still fall prey to that feeling of walking into my house and feeling stressed out. This usually has to do with the laundry list of items on my to-do list about the house and household. I was able to carve out a home office for myself, so I try to keep the to-do-list-related piles within those 4 walls. However, I'd hate to feel any less cozy and comfortable in our home. I came upon this article from Domino magazine, which makes some helpful suggestions about de-stressing your home.

Is Your Home Stressing You Out?

Four signs to look for—and how to fix them.

 

Published on January 31, 2020

home-making-you-anxious-dominoPin It
PHOTOGRAPHY BY AARON BENGOCHEA, HOME OF CAROL MILTIMORE

Have you ever walked inside your home at the end of the day—and been hit with a wave of anxiety? It’s as if the minute you close the door and take off your shoes, an accumulation of nerves begins to bubble within your chest and explode like a hot kettle on a stove. Sure, this could be the result of working long hours or not getting enough sleep, but there’s no doubt that our home environments also influence our well-being.

And as much as you may strive to keep your house in tip-top shape, you might live in a place that causes your worries to go into hyperdrive without you even realizing it. We turned to clinical psychologist and author of Joy From Fear Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., and Havenlyinterior designer Brady Burke to find out exactly how your space can impact your mental health. Below, find out how you can tackle these common triggers to make your home the sanctuary of your dreams.

Remember the last time you had an awful night’s rest because you were too hot or too cold? Or when your house felt stuffy? These little nuances can make you uncomfortable and negatively impact your mood, according to Manly. “Anxiety can surely be triggered if a home is too hot, too cold, or without adequate ventilation,” she says. “In fact, many people can’t sleep well if a bedroom window is not open, and yet others get anxious if the windows are not closed.” Figure out what works for you, and stick to it.

Clutter is taking over

When things are out of order, it’s impossible to relax after a long day—especially when you know you need to do that ever-growing batch of laundry that’s been tucked in the corner. “Clutter is a telltale sign that your home is working against you and not with you,” says Burke. “If your home is disorganized and disheveled, try rethinking your layout and give all your belongings a home.” That doesn’t mean that you have to go full minimalist: Burke adds that personal touches like artwork and decor go a long way to making a tidy home even more comfortable. 

Your work life and personal life are blurred together

According to Manly, if you do business from home, you should set up shop in a specific area where you’re normally already active. “When work is confined to one space, work time and rest time can be more clearly delineated,” she says. 

If you don’t have the room to create a designated office area in your home, whatever you do, refrain from bringing you laptop to bed. This can disrupt the only peaceful environment in your home. “In order to allow the mind to ‘turn off’ and allow for restful sleep, it’s essential that phones and computers be kept as far away from the bedroom as possible,” Manly adds.  

Sunshine is important in a home for way more than just aesthetic reasons—the vitamin D it supplies you with also helps reduce depression and anxiety. “Natural light is a mood elevator and improves one’s quality of life,” says Manly. If your apartment errs on the dark side, consider adding lamps so you don’t have to rely on unflattering overheads.

 

 

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    Time To Declutter!

    This time of year, we tend to spend more time inside of our homes than out. It's harder to avoid noticing the clutter that inevitably builds up when we are looking at it day in and day out. For many people, figuring out how to lessen the clutter (and maintain systems of organization) is an overwhelming concept. Luckily, there are a number of talented people in the Northampton area who specialize in helping people let go of unnecessary clutter, and create organizational household systems. A recent article in the Daily Hampshire Gazette addresses the issue, and suggests local help. Read on!

    Photo Courtesy Jill Bromberg

    Clearing out the clutter: Valley home organizers help clients find some peace of mind 

    Staff Writer
    Published: 12/31/2019 12:25:06 PM

    It seems to be a universal problem: Americans have too much stuff.

    Take just a quick cruise around the web, and you can find references to article that cite some alarming and depressing statistics, such as that the average U.S. home contains 300,000 separate items; that about 10 percent of Americans rent offsite storage units, despite the typical house size tripling in the last 50-plus years; that the average American family spends over $1,700 a year on clothes.

    Don’t believe what you read on the internet? Well, consider what Kira Coopersmith, a professional organizer in Greenfield, says about the issue. She has worked with hundreds of clients in the last several years to declutter their homes and apartments or helped them downsize for a move.

    “A lot of us are drowning in stuff,” says Coopersmith. “People can’t deal with it, and it causes a lot of stress ... We’re a consumer society, and, in some cases, our things start taking over our lives.”

    As Coopersmith sees it, many people may want to simplify their lives and get rid of a lot of excess possessions — clothes, toys, kitchenware, books, computer equipment, memorabilia and keepsakes — but lack the time and energy to do it.

    “In so many families, both parents are working, and they can make the bed, maybe vacuum the house once a week, and that’s about it,” she says. “They’re overwhelmed.”

    That’s one of the reasons Coopersmith — who previously lived in Belchertown and has also worked in the hotel business and in health insurance service and sales — likes her job. She enjoys helping people declutter their homes and find a little peace of mind.

    “This job really is about helping people make those decisions that will make their lives a little easier,” she says.

    Coopersmith and another professional organizer, Jill Bromberg of Montague, say they’ve worked with a variety of clients over the years. Some are older people or couples who are looking to move to a smaller place, but others come from many walks of life and have different problems they’re trying to solve.

    “That’s one of the things that’s most interesting about the job,” says Bromberg, who used to work with people with special needs and started her organizing business in 2012. “I think what we [organizers] can give is an objective perspective. I can guide people to making decisions on what they want to keep and what they can let go of. And I get a lot of satisfaction on making their lives a little more manageable.”

    ‘One in, one out’

    One big headache for a lot of people, Bromberg says, is clothing.

    “It has become so easy to shop online, and then you have these cheap fashion trends that are constantly changing, so things tend to pile up and just get added to the closet,” says Bromberg, whose business is called Serenity Home Organizing and Move Management. “It’s easy to find yourself with too much.”

    That’s especially true this time of year, Bromberg notes, with clothing a popular gift idea for many people. She recommends that people practice a “one in, one out” rule: If you get, say, a new sweater for Christmas or Hanukkah (or on some other occasion), think about giving an older one away to charity, or to a friend or work colleague.

    One could take the same approach for books. If you’re adding to your collection, take a bunch of older titles that you haven’t read in a long time (or maybe ever) and take them to a used book store for sale, or donate them to a book drop or “Free Little Library” in your neighborhood.

    “I always tell people to take pictures of some of these things they’re giving away, so they have a reference if they maybe want to find that book or item again,” says Bromberg.

    For professional organizers like Bromberg and Coopersmith, each decluttering or organizing job begins with an initial meeting with clients to assess their needs, get to know them a bit, and figure out a plan for action. Sometimes a job can take place over a long period. Coopersmith, for instance, says she has been working off and on for several months with a couple who have run a farm and business in Conway for many years and now have begun to downsize their affairs.

    On the other hand, Alex Milne — an independent scientist and researcher in Northampton who works with a variety of clients in bioacoustics, physical acoustics, wireless spectrum management and other technical fields — got in touch with Coopersmith to help organize his equipment. They met just twice, he says, but Coopersmith not only helped him get better organized: She showed considerable sensitivity and understanding in grasping the basics of what he did and what equipment he needed to keep, he adds.

    “I really found Kira to be an exceptionally compassionate human being,” says Milne. “I felt like I was becoming trapped with all these work items that were kind of overwhelming my home life … she learned about [the equipment], which she hadn’t seen before, and made good recommendations about handling it.”

    Coopersmith helped Milne organize his equipment by application: storing tools together that would be used for similar operations. For instance, Milne later stored together in one drawer all the items he needs to measure, form, cut or shape small thin metals into structures or components (with some exceptions).

    “She brought a level of sophistication to this that was really impressive,” said Milne. “This wasn’t something I’d been able to do on my own, but now I feel I’m in a better position for managing my stuff in the future.”

    For her part, Coopersmith says a big part of her job is to figure out which items her clients are emotionally attached to — a family heirloom, say — and which they might be persuaded to part with. “It’s not up to me to tell people what they should or shouldn’t keep, though I’ll clearly make recommendations,” she says. “If someone is super-attached to something — clothing or something they inherited from a parent — we’ll talk that through.”

    Other tricks of the trade

    Another bugaboo for many people is paper. “I’m amazed at how many people don’t have a basic filing system,” says Coopersmith, who works primarily with residential clients but has also helped small businesses improve their filing systems and overall paper management.

    “It is so easy to get buried by paper,” she says. “That’s something a fair number of people need help with — keeping and filing the important stuff in an organized way and learning to get rid of the junk quickly.”

    Wendy Sibbison of Greenfield, a retired lawyer, wanted a space in her home where she could write a book. She had a room in mind on her top floor, but, unfortunately, that spot “had become a dumping ground for years for paper and old files and who knows what else,” she says. “I just couldn’t deal with cleaning it out myself.”

    Sibbison previously had paid her adult daughter, who lives in Philadelphia, to help her declutter her home about four years ago and felt she couldn’t ask her for help again. So through the internet, she found Coopersmith’s business, called “Sensible Sort,” and hired her to tackle the mess in the third-floor room.

    “It was perfect,” says Sibbison. “I never felt rushed or upset [in getting rid of things], I had fun chatting with her, and, in the end, she took away 12 boxes of paper and other stuff.”

    That’s another service organizers such as Coopersmith and Bromberg provide: physically transporting excess material to a recycling center, a charity or some other destination of a client’s choice. Bromberg says she’ll always do that for elderly clients or those with physical limitations, but it’s also helpful for others.

    “It can be easy to put things in the back of your car and then somehow not get around to actually getting rid of something,” says Bromberg. “Clutter is often postponed decision-making, so if I can help people take that final step, I’ll do it.”

    And though this year’s big gift-giving season may already be past, Bromberg notes that in giving gifts in general, a future plan to reduce clutter — or at least keep it in check — is to rely less on physical items. Give someone a gift certificate to a restaurant or a concert, she suggests, or arrange for airline tickets for a vacation.

    “We can all use less stuff and less clutter in our lives,” she adds. “It’s just another way to simplify things and make life less stressful.”

    Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.