Blog :: 2015

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

How To Keep Holiday Spending Under Wraps (wink, wink)

Over lunch with my husband today, I subtly mentioned to him that the credit card bill next month might be a bit higher than usual. Instead of being disgruntled, the way he can be when I don't forewarn him of such things, he said "thank you for letting me know". I was glad to have gotten that piece of news off of my chest, but I am still feeling a bit anxious about the spending that I have done, and inevitably do this time of year. I came home to a text from my sister saying "I'm scared of what my credit card bill will look like for this month!". 'Tis the season.

Living in Northampton, MA, there are so many wonderful sales at open studios of local artists and artisans this time of year, as well as home-based sales, and the generally great stuff you can find at our array of local shops. Add to that the overall charm of our New England city, all dressed up in her holiday finest - it's hard to resist the urge to shop til you drop, as the saying goes.

I came across this article a week ago. one my go-to blog site, Apartment Therapy, with some sound advice about how to stay on top of spending over the holidays. Read on!

 

How to Avoid a Major Financial Hangover After The Holidays

by Dabne Frake


It’s not too late to ensure you make it through the holidays without going into serious debt. Even if you waded through the 5am crowds on Black Friday, the gift-buying season is in full swing, with plenty of time to say to yourself, “Oh, I just know Dabney would love that [insert item here]. I should just get it for her.” While I appreciate the thought, I’d much rather see you be free and clear of financial worry and set yourself up for budget-happy 2016.

1. Set a Budget
If you already budget, you’re probably in good shape. You know how much you have to spend this month and have planned for it. For the rest of you, take a minute to look at your bank accounts and figure out how much you have that can go towards gifts. And then stick to it.

2. Pay With Cash
Resist the urge to whip out your credit card at checkout register. Using cash makes you more aware of what you’re spending. And if you don’t have the cash on hand, then you can’t buy whatever it is you have your eye on.

3. Use Up Those Gift Cards
If you tend to accumulate gift cards, this is a good way to use them. They might come from actual presents you’ve been given, but we often get free gift cards as rewards for other purchases. Shop throughout the year using these bonus windfalls, and you'll have less to buy in December.

4. Don’t Buy For Absolutely Everyone.... or Yourself
A lot of overspending comes from getting everyone you know a little something, along with splurging on yourself whenever you come across a good deal. Pare down your holiday gift list by focusing on those people you care about the most, and leave off all those random people with whom you don't have a real connection. (Note: By this I don't mean you shouldn't buy gifts through programs like Toys for Tots....)

5. Start Saving for Next Christmas…Now
Set up an automatic savings account (Like Capital One 360) and have $10 slide out of your account every week and into a safe place where you won’t think about it our touch it for another twelve months. By next December, you’ll have roughly $500 to put towards presents.

6. Regift
This might be controversial, but sometimes it just makes sense. If you are gifted things you have no use for, pass them on to others who you might be genuinely happy to get them. Doing so reduces clutter in your own household, and saves you from having to buy more gifts. If you're unsure, check out our guide to regifting, and see what others had to say in the comments.

7. Make Your Gifts
Homemade gifts are way to make the holidays meaningful, and ease pressure on the wallet. Start with our Homemade Holidays gift ideas, and get to making!
 

(Image credits: Ashley Poskin)

 

Buying or Selling a Home In Today's Market

Local, Northampton MA, finance writer, Ilana Polyak, recently wrote the following article for CNBC.com, and interviewed our very own co-owner/manager of Maple and Main Realty LLCJulie Held for the article! Although real estate transactions are handled differently from region to region - this article has many salient points for local buyers and sellers alike. Read on for some solid advice on buying or selling a home!

Buying and selling a home: What you need to know

There have been rumblings for years from the Federal Reserve that interest rates are going to rise. But so far that hasn't quelled homebuying activity. Median existing single-family homes clocked in at $229,400 in the second quarter of 2015, up from $177,000 in 2012, a rise of more than 29 percent.


Phillip Spears | Getty Images

In some markets, such as New York and San Francisco, prices have climbed much faster than the national averages, due to a supply-and-demand imbalance. That means buyers must do their due diligence and be in good financial shape before showing up at an open house; otherwise, it's likely they'll lose out to others more prepared to make a solid offer.

To navigate this often complicated and stressful process, here's what both buyers and sellers need to know about homebuying.


For buyers ...

Are you mortgage-ready? Banks' willingness to lend money ebbs and flows with the economy, said Las Vegas Realtor Linda Rheinberger, regional vice president of the National Association of Realtors.

"The pendulum is swinging," she said.

To be sure, borrowers with a credit score of 760 or higher (850 is the highest score) get the best interest rates. On a $300,000 mortgage, top borrowers would pay about $100 less per month than those with a score between 660 and 679, according to Fair Isaac, a credit score company.

If your credit score isn't up to snuff, take some time to fix it before you start home shopping.

"You can turn your credit around in six months," said Linda Ferrari, a Los Angeles real estate broker and author of "The Big Score: Getting It and Keeping It." "If there are a lot of challenges," she added, "it might take a year."
Start by getting a copy of your credit report, Ferrari said. First, look for any errors and correct them. Second, pay down some debt. You can improve your score quickly by keeping the amount of money you owe to less than 25 percent of the credit you have available. That could boost your score by 25 points, Ferrari said.

Preapproval: a must-have. In a hot real estate market, a mortgage preapproval can make all the difference between winning a bid or not.

"If there are multiple buyers, you want the seller to know that you know what it takes to get this deal done," said Jeff Goodman, a New York-based real estate agent with Halstead Property.

And if yours is the only offer on the table, a preapproval might help you snag a property for less than asking price, Goodman said. It signals that you've done most of the legwork already and there aren't likely to be delays.

"In real estate, time kills deals," he said.

What's more, preapproval tells you how much you can borrow, explained Julie Held, co-owner and broker of Maple and Main Realty in Northampton, Mass.. "Otherwise, you may be looking at completely the wrong price range," she said.
It's important to know the difference between preapproval and prequalification, which people often use interchangeably. They're different. Prequalification is an estimate of how much you can borrow. A prequalification may or may not affect your credit. It all depends on whether a lender checks credit reports during this stage and how often you apply.

Preapproval goes a step further and analyzes your creditworthiness. After that, all that's left for the lender is to evaluate the property you wish to buy.

Down payments and closing costs. How much to put down for a down payment varies by market and by property type.

"Twenty percent is ideal in order to avoid private mortgage insurance," Held said. Private mortgage insurance, which runs about 1 percent to 2 percent of your loan amount, will be tacked on to your monthly mortgage if you have less than 20 percent equity in your home.

First-time homebuyers under certain income thresholds can get a loan through the Federal Housing Authority for as little as 3.5 percent down. FHA will insure mortgages made through FHA-approved lenders.

FHA loan limits vary based by region. In the Bay Area and New York City, for example, the limit is $625,000 for single-family homes. Meanwhile, it is $271,050 for most counties in Alabama.

However, not all sellers will want to accept an FHA offer, because they worry that the appraisal might take longer and the inspections will be more rigorous. "The truth is, if you go in with 20 percent down and a preapproval, you're going to get the home instead of someone with 3.5 percent down and FHA financing," Ferrari said.

After the down payment, you'll still need to have cash on hand for closing costs, which typically run 1 percent to 3 percent of the purchase price. In addition to fees paid to the bank, you'll also need to pay for an inspection, property taxes and title insurance. Some lenders may roll up closing costs into your mortgage.

Remember to budget for your move, too. Along with direct moving costs, you'll probably be running out to a hardware store every few days for something new to feather your nest with.

For sellers ...

Watch the taxes. The federal allowance for how much profit you can get without paying capital gains tax is pretty high — $250,000 for singles and $500,000 for couples. To walk away without paying the capital gains tax, you must have lived in the home two out of the last five years.

But that doesn't mean you won't pay taxes on the sale of your home. Most states and municipalities also levy a transfer tax.

In some parts of Nevada, where Rheinberger of the National Association of Realtors works, that amounts to just a few dollars per $1,000 of the sale price. But in the Bay Area, where Linnette Edwards is an associate broker with Better Homes & Gardens, it runs to $15 per $1,000.

"On a million-dollar home, you're talking about $15,000," Edwards said.

In New York City, there's also a mansion tax — 1 percent of the sale price of properties that sell over $1 million.

Depending on the market, sellers might be able to negotiate this tax and get the buyer to shoulder some of this responsibility, said Edwards. But most of the time, this is the seller's responsibility.

Timing is everything — hopefully. Then there are those times when you're both a buyer and a seller. Sometimes you get the timing down just right. But if not, you could end up owning two properties at once or having a gap between selling and buying.

Contingency. If you're a seller in a hot market, you might have some leverage to push the closing date of the property you're selling to one that makes it convenient for you.
 

Goodman, the New York City broker, tells of a Harlem townhouse whose owner needed six months to clear out a lifetime of papers and mementos.

"The buyers weren't thrilled," he said. "But they got the property, even though they bid $40,000 less than someone because they were willing to wait."
Bridge loan. When you have children and pets, not to mention piles of laundry lying around, it can be nearly impossible to make your home ready for showings at a moment's notice. Families, said Goodman, often prefer to sell their home after they've moved out.

In this case, if you don't have the income to pay two mortgages at once, a bridge loan may be the answer. A bridge loan, also known as gap financing or interim financing, is a short-term loan — usually up to one year — that is backed by some form of real estate. Most borrowers take the bridge loan against their current property to finance the purchase of the new property.

Interest rates are high, however. Expect to pay about two percentage points more for a bridge loan than a conventional mortgage.

— By Ilana Polyak, special to CNBC.com

 

Keeping Your Home Uncluttered

Having moved into our new home just over a year ago, we are finally getting close to feeling "moved in" to our new space. We downsized by 30% from our previous house in, and we sold, or gave away a large amount of our belongings before moving into this new home. Our goal is to live in an uncluttered space from here on out. It turns out this is much easier said than done. It's not only the accumulation of stuff that can lead to clutter, but how you live in your space from day to day. More to the point, it's about getting into the habit of putting things in their proper place as you move through your day, each day.

I spent time this past week sifting through the remains of our packed boxes, and getting rid of clothes and toys that the kids have outgrown. I usually donate these items to the Hartsprings Foundation in Springfield, MA, who will come pick up gently used clothes, games, toys, linens, furniture, etc. I sorted through the piles on our coffee table and other surfaces, and spent some time rearranging our living room. I find this room to be a challenge because it's a large open space, connected to the kitchen and entryway. I want it to feel cozy, not cavernous (or cluttered and messy). Once I had the furniture arranged to my liking, and had gotten rid of the accumulated clutter - I felt much better! A friend of mine, who works as a professional organizer, once told me that the key to organization is not just that everything has it's place, but that you have to go through your drawers, cabinets, toiletries, closets and file cabinets (etc) a few times a year to keep things organized! I was reminded of this during my cleaning/organizing frenzy.

I came across this blog post on the Apartment Therapy website, which gives tips about how to keep a small living space uncluttered. The truth is, I think it applies to homes of all sizes. I also think that in setting expectations for your family members, that they should follow the same rules of putting things in their proper place as they go, everyone in the household feels more comfortable, and knows where to look for things at any moment! Read on for these simple words of wisdom.

 

10 Everyday Habits to Make Any Small Space Dweller Happier at Home

 

Alana's Brooklyn Railroad

 

There are plenty of habits everyone should adopt to keep a home reasonably clean and tidy. Here are ten worth practicing in any size home, but especially vital for people living in small spaces when even a small amount of clutter can make your home look and feel messy.

1. Make your bed each morning. In a small room, the bed may take up half the space or more so if it's not made it will look unkempt even if everything else is in order.

2. Take care of your dishes as soon as you're done with them. If you have a dishwasher, put them in it. If you don't, try to wash them right away or, at the very least put them in the sink. Keeping counters clear in a small kitchen is key.

3. Process your paper mail each day. Small space living is a constant fight against "piles". Try to deal with your mail soon after you bring it in—recycle, file, shred, etc.—so you don't end up with even a small pile (which is always a slippery slope).

4. Digitize as much as you can. If you have a piece of paper that *might* be important, but you're not sure—take a photo of it and then recycle it.

5. Straighten as you go. Get in the habit of straightening and returning things to their homes as you walk around your home. Gabbing on the phone? This is an ideal time to do some straightening.


Christina's Sunny South Austin Digs

6. Put your coat and bag away as soon as you get home. Don't drape them on a chair or leave them on a table. As my husband likes to say "don't put it down, put it away."

7. Deal with in-store or online returns as soon as you can. Don't let boxes or packages or items clutter up your space and don't take the risk that you will lose receipts and other documentation.

8. Break down unwanted cardboard boxes immediately and take them outside to recycle as soon as you can.

9. Cook from your pantry. How many half boxes of pasta are in your cabinet? Or cans of beans you bought for a recipe and never used? Be vigilant about using stuff up before your cabinets are a complete jumble.

10. Put your clothes away each night before bed. Don't let them accumulate at the end of your bed, on a chair or, the worst, on the floor.

Do you have any useful habits in your small home to defend against clutter and mess?

(Image credits: Sherrie and Oliver ; Kate Bowie Carruth )

 

Keeping Up with the Needs of your Home

It's hard to pinpoint the moment at which your newly renovated kitchen or bath starts to feel and look dated. As the months and years go by, something shifts. Is it that the paint has faded? Is it that the white square tile just isn't as timeless a choice as white subway tile would have been? Are you wishing you had chosen oil-rubbed bronze fixtures vs. chrome? Whatever the case may be, time does take it's toll on our homes - both stylistically and actually. As realtors, we are often pointing out to sellers, that when faced with what to focus on with regard to house updates for resale, it's the systems that should come first. Roofs, windows and trim, HVAC systems, gutter cleaning, moisture management in basements -- all of these items may be less compelling than a gorgeous bathroom renovation - but aesthetic choices are subjective. For instance, If you spend a lot of money on a kitchen renovation in lieu of replacing an aging roof or aging HVAC system - buyers may not like your design choices; they would therefore be less likely to buy your home than a home with a slightly dated kitchen but a new roof and updated HVAC system.  Giving a house or room a fresh coat of paint can liven up the space without spending a lot of money.

The following article from the Daily Hampshire Gazette gives sound advice about the "whens" and "whys" to start taking on home improvement projects in an aging home.

 

 

Living Smart: Projects for your home’s difficult teen years



As your house approaches 20 years old, consider steps to improve window efficiency. (Summer Galyan/Angie's List/TNS)

By Michele Dawson Angie’s List (TNS)
Thursday, November 5, 2015


When it comes to home improvement projects on your house that’s coming of age, there’s no denying that your roof, windows and air conditioning and heating units might be getting moody, temperamental or give you the silent treatment altogether.

As your home ages, it will require more upkeep and improvements. It’s especially important to stay on top of some of the more potentially troublesome elements of your home — ones that can cause you massive headaches and put a huge dent in your wallet.

Many changes both small and large can increase energy efficiency and cut down on electricity or gas bills, as well as increase home value if and when you plan to sell your house.

If your home’s age is in the double-digits, some of the home improvement projects on your to-do list will include:

Roof repairs, shingles and gutters


While staying on top of roof maintenance should take place regardless of the age of your home, it becomes even more important in the teen years. The National Roofing Contractors Association says you should examine the condition of the shingles. Any sign of blistering, buckling or curling means it’s time to replace them. You should also check the chimneys and pipes for wear or anything that seems to be coming apart. Also, check your gutters for any shingle granules. If you’re finding healthy amounts in the gutter, that means they’re not on the shingles and your roof is missing out on ultraviolet ray protection. If you find any of these problems, consider a roof repair by a licensed roofing contractor.

Gutter cleaning plays an important role in protecting your gutters, downspouts and foundation. Keep a clean gutter by regularly hiring a gutter cleaning company, and consider adding gutter guards to further protect them.

Window replacement and repair

As your windows age, they’re bound to lose the battle with draftiness or become stubborn and stick to their frames, and you’ll likely see your energy bill increase. Checking your windows for drafts and caulking is an easy solution that can be completed in a weekend and with minimal expense. Or you might consider new replacement windows with high energy efficiency. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says you’ll save 7 to 15 percent on your energy bill, and your home’s temperature will be consistent. No more drafts if you’re sitting by the window or rooms that feel too hot in the summer. A vinyl window overhaul can cost you upwards of $10,000 to $15,000. But the good news is that you’ll recover about 78 percent of that when you sell your home, according to Hanley Wood’s 2014 Cost vs. Value Report.

Heating and cooling

Life expectancy in HVAC units is typically 10 to 15 years. Units produced today are much more energy-efficient than the models just a decade ago. If you’re constantly calling an HVAC contractor, your unit is noisy, it’s humid inside your house, your energy bills are rising, or your unit’s SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) is less than 13, then it’s time to consider replacing your heating and cooling unit with a model that boasts higher energy efficiency. A licensed HVAC contractor can perform a load calculation that gets the most efficient model for your money.

Landscaping, tree service

When your house was new, the trees and landscape were so young and nonthreatening. As the years pass, the trees have matured and provide shade and beautiful aesthetics. But your gutters are getting clogged with leaves and you start to notice bumps and bulges in the path of tree roots, heading straight to your block patio. You’ll need to start cleaning those gutters more frequently. And if your tree roots are presenting problems, you can consider installing a barrier to the roots or dig and place pack material to discourage the roots.

A tree service professional can help ensure the best health for your trees by careful pruning and maintenance.

Painting and home décor


An easy way to help your home decor retain a youthful appearance is by livening it up with a new paint job. For both the interior and exterior, a fresh coat of paint can bring a crisp, clean, bold appearance. As walls get dingy and dirty, painting a room can do wonders. And introducing new colors can make a room or exterior of your house feel new again.

Staying in tune with your house during its tumultuous teen years is especially important if you plan on selling in the near future. Buyers tend to navigate toward homes that have been properly maintained and sport newer, more energy-efficient features. And exterior work such as regular tree service and fresh paint can increase curb appeal for a better home value.

 

Painting Hardwood Floors to Freshen a Room on a Budget

When we pulled up the old linoleum kitchen floor in our last house in Northampton - we were excited to see fir floors beneath, just waiting to be brought back to life. I had my heart set on red floors - somewhere between the color of cherries and blood. I went to many paint and hardware stores in the Pioneer Valley to look for the right color stain, but all I could find were barn reds, mahogany reds and auburns. I consulted woodworker friends and was pointed in the direction of aniline dyes.  I purchased red and black dye from a local woodworking store, and then set about mixing up just the right hue before staining our floors. I won't go into the gory details, it was a messy process with a lot of room for human error. I did wind up with the perfect color red stain, which also allowed the wood grain to show through. 

I have always been a fan of painted wood floors. The right paint job on a floor can give a room so much personality, as well as a fresh new look - without spending a great deal of money. Whether you are interested in creating a pattern on the floor, adding a pop of color, or going with a lighter neutral, a painted floor can be a wonderful way to change up the look of your space.

The following article from the Associated Press provides food for thought about how to go about painting a hardwood floor.

Painting the hardwood: A creative Solution for Worn Floors

by Melissa Rayworth, Associated Press

(Photo: Karina Kaliwoda/Houzz.com/AP Photo)

 

Worn and faded hardwood floors can drag down the look of a room. But having scuffed floors sanded down and re-stained can be expensive and messy.

One alternative that's gaining popularity: painting older hardwood floors. You can add solid color, stripes, or any imaginable stenciled or hand-drawn patterns to a floor.

There's actually a long tradition of painted wooden floors in American homes, says Tom Silva, general contractor on the long-running PBS television series "This Old House." One hundred years ago, paint was considered a practical way to protect floors and add some beauty in the process.

In a survey done this month of more than 1,200 users on the home-improvement website Houzz.com, 15 percent said they're ready to make the leap to painting while 85 percent were still more comfortable with stained wood floors. But Houzz editor Sheila Schmitz says some of the site's members who have embraced painted floors have done so with real creativity.

"We've seen homeowners reinvent their floors with glossy white paint, oversize stripes, checkerboards with alternating natural and painted finishes, and even more fanciful shapes," Schmitz says.

It's a DIY project that requires effort but little experience.

So how do you do it, and what are some of the boldest, most interesting approaches you can take?

___

Prep smart

Fans of painted floors point out that the process is less labor-intensive than staining because you don't have to sand away every old scratch or stain. But that doesn't mean you can skip the step of prepping your floors.

Clean the floor well, says Silva, then scuff it with sandpaper just enough to create a slightly rough surface. That prep work is the key to making sure the first layer of paint or primer will adhere. Primer isn't required if the floor already has some finish on it. But putting down a few thin, clear coats of primer can make it easier if you decide years from now to remove the paint.

If you do prime the floor, use sandpaper to lightly scuff that clear coat after it dries to help subsequent painted coats adhere well.

Rich red paint on the hardwood floor brings warmth and color to this stylish, gender-neutral nursery. Painting hardwood floors can be an inexpensive and easy solution, especially in rooms where the floors has become worn and scuffed after many years of use. () (Photo: Holly Marder/Houzz.com/AP Photo)

___

Bold floor, neutral walls

Interior designer Camila Pavone was ahead of the trend in painting her kitchen floor in 2010. The room previously had green walls and a stained wood floor. Pavone switched the walls to a creamy white (she used Martha Stewart's "Glass of Milk") and covered the wood floor with jade green paint. She considered using marine paint but chose a formula called Break-Through!, which dries quickly and creates a harder surface than many other types of paint.

Five years later, Pavone is still thrilled with the result. The floors "always get a 'Wow' when new people come to my house," she says. "The only thing I didn't take into account was the wear and tear of two dogs and now two kids. The claws on the dogs do scratch the floors up a bit. But I try to pretend that if I saw that in a store display in Anthropologie, I would think it was fabulous. So I don't stress."

Because the kitchen is a high-traffic area, Pavone has repainted the floors once every two years to keep them looking shiny and scratch-free. But that work is relatively easy.

"It's a really fast project and normally only takes around two hours," she says. "I would totally do it again!"

 

Pick any pattern

Paint can also be perfect for entryways. Thick stripes, diamond or chevron patterns can make a small foyer seem bigger, drawing attention to an otherwise ignored space. Once the floor is cleaned and prepared, simply lay out your design with painters' tape. Be careful to measure the width of stripes or the angles of diamonds or chevrons to make sure you've laid the tape in the proper places.

Consider using large stencils to add a pattern to the floor of a larger space, like an enclosed porch. Or paint a brightly colored "rug" in the center of a room by first painting a solid rectangle, then adding a pattern once that solid coat is completely dry.

Another option: Coat the floor with a semi-transparent stain or paint that allows the grain of the wood to show through. Once it's dry, use painters' tape to create a border around the room that you'll fill with a contrasting or complementary color or pattern.

___

Take time for topcoats

Once you've finished your painted masterpiece, add one or several clear coats on top for protection. Patience between layers is the key: You may be tempted to paint again as soon as one thin coat feels dry to the touch, but you'll get a much stronger and more attractive result if you leave extra time.

Silva points out that oil-based topcoats "may add a little bit of a goldish color to it, because of the oil. Water-based will give you the true color of the paint."

And, obvious as it may sound, remember: "Know where to start and where to end," says Schmitz, "so you don't literally paint yourself into a corner."

 

No Need to Clear the Leaves!

I have to say, when we moved from a 1/2 acre plot of land in downtown Northampton, MA to a 1/4 acre parcel in Florence, MA - I assumed we would have no more fall clean up to speak of. At our last house, we were practically knee deep in pine needles, carpeting the lawn and burrowing in between the shrubs and plant. The energy we expended on raking those needles was endless, and we never were able to get rid of all of them. Now we have fewer pine trees, but plenty of other varieties of deciduous trees which are shedding their beautiful leaves all over our tidy 1/4 acre lot. When I pull into or out of the driveway at the end of the day - I become fatigued just looking at the leaves and thinking about the work we still have yet to do. 

I was thrilled when someone shared the following link with me about a week ago. I had forgotten that leaves can be used to mulch the soil and increase nitrogen levels, making the soil richer. I don't need to be encouraged to "let nature complete its cycle" twice. Count me in for leaving the leaves where they land!

 

In natural ecosystems, there is little waste. Nutrients taken up by plants are returned to the soil when plants die and decompose. Food eaten by animals is excreted; at the end of their lives, animals are also returned to the soil. Ecologists call this nutrient loop a biogeochemical cycle.


In suburban and urban neighborhoods, this cycle is broken. Yard waste, such as grass clippings and fallen leaves, are largely removed in bags or sucked up into giant vacuum cleaners from roadside piles. Water that once percolated through soils, carrying nutrients to plant roots, is routed to drainage ditches and nearby streams and rivers. Meanwhile, residents fertilize lawns and gardens due to nitrogen deficiencies.

Researchers at Boston University found that yard waste removal in the City of Boston eliminated 1/3 of the nitrogen needed by urban trees. Retaining yard waste could potentially reduce fertilizer demand in Boston suburbs by one-half. Overall, the city collected 8,000 tons of yard waste, carrying 64 tons of nitrogen offsite.

Soon, neighborhoods across the Northeastern states will roar with the sound of leaf-blowers. Here is a different suggestion: keep fallen leaves in your yard. They can be raked under shrubs to provide a layer of mulch. Rotary mowers grind fallen leaves, returning their nutrients to nourish your lawn in spring. We need to think of leaves as a resource, not a waste product.

While it’s true that some municipalities collect leaves for compost, rather than landfill burial – think of the energy and tax dollars that could be saved by not picking up yard waste at all. If possible, let nature complete its cycle.

**********

–This segment was adapted from an essay by Dr. William H. Schlesinger. You can read the original piece on his blog Citizen Scientist.
 

 

Property Values and the Gas Pipeline

Many Pioneer Valley homeowners, realtors and citizens have been contemplating whether the installation of the proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast will affect property values in the Northampton area. While the following article from the Daily Hampshire Gazette is inconclusive, it does seem to suggest that there may both safety issues in having a home in close proximity to a compressor station, and, at the least, a temporary dip in property values while the pipeline is being installed. Of course, there are also the environmental concerns surrounding this project. A group of Franklin County towns have formed the Municipal Coalition Against the Pipeline to fight the project. To follow is the article in the Gazette.

Impact on property values a concern for residents along route of proposed natural gas pipeline

RECORDER FILE PHOTO The home at 382 Lower Road in Deerfield is within 500 feet of the path of the proposed natural gas pipeline.

The home at 382 Lower Road in Deerfield is within 500 feet of the path of the proposed natural gas pipeline.

By TOM RELIHAN
For the Gazette
Wednesday, October 14, 2015
(Published in print: Wednesday, October 14, 2015)

DEERFIELD — With a natural gas pipeline and accompanying compressor station proposed to be built in western Massachusetts, many residents along the expected route have found themselves worrying about how it could affect the value of their homes.

In August, Heather Reloj, who owns a home on Lower Road in Deerfield, asked the town to repay taxes that she had paid last year and reduce her taxes going forward due to how close the project is expected to pass by her house. And residents of Gulf Road in Northfield have expressed concern about how a potentially noisy — and some say dangerous — 41,000-horsepower compressor station expected to be built nearby could affect the value of their homes or insurance policies.

The Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Energy Direct project would cross through Plainfield in Hampshire County and eight Franklin County towns on its way from Pennsylvania shale fields to Dracut.

Though most of the area’s real estate and appraisal experts say it’s too early to speculate on the possibilities and the Massachusetts Association of Realtors — a trade group with a membership of 20,500 real estate professionals — said it does not have any data on the issue, how it has played out in places where such infrastructure has already been installed has been studied before.

Studies say


According to a 2013 study by the Forensic Appraisal Group LTD, a Wisconsin firm that specializes in issues with the potential of litigation related to pipelines and electric wires, natural gas pipelines have a definite, measurable effect on the value of homes on the properties that they cross. The study focused on gas transmission pipelines like the proposed Northeast Energy Direct project and how a potential home buyer’s perception of associated risks could detract from home values.

The study, conducted by senior appraiser Kurt Kieslisch, surveyed real estate agents and considered another study that surveyed home buyers. Both groups were asked their opinions on how information from negative media reports about pipelines or legal disclosure of a pipeline and the associated risks on a property might impact their decision to purchase it or increase the difficulty of selling it, in the Realtors’ case.

It found that the property became more difficult to sell with each additional level of information provided about the nearby pipeline.

“Damages resulting from perceived market negative influence are sometimes known as ‘stigma’ or ‘severance’ damages,” wrote Kieslisch.

The firm also carried out a number of “impact” studies comparing the sale price of similar homes that were encumbered by a pipeline easement and those that were not, in Ohio and Wisconsin. It found that the presence of a gas transmission pipeline decreased home values by about 12 to 14 percent on average in Ohio and about 16 percent on average in Wisconsin.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which regulates interstate natural gas pipelines and is ultimately responsible for permitting them, appears to disagree, however.

In a previous environmental impact statement issued by FERC for Constitution Pipeline Co. and Iroquois Gas Transmission System’s Constitution Pipeline and Wright Interconnect project in Pennsylvania and New York, which was permitted in December 2014, the agency determined that property values were “not substantially affected” by a nearby pipeline.

A handful of studies cited by FERC in the environmental impact statement concluded that property values aren’t heavily affected by pipelines, though one of the studies showing that property values dropped following an incident along a pipeline and recovered over time.

The statement acknowledged that appraisals do not generally consider “subjective valuation” — the idea that some things are worth more or less to different people based on how much they personally desire or need it and their perception of associated risks, in the case of pipelines, which the Forensic Appraisal study said has a definite effect on purchase decisions.

“That is not to say that the presence of a pipeline, and the restrictions associated with a pipeline easement, could not influence a potential buyer’s decision to purchase a property. If a buyer is looking for a property for a specific use, which the presence of the pipeline renders infeasible, then the buyer may decide to purchase another property more suitable to their objectives,” the environmental impact statement noted.


Oregon project

One of the studies was conducted in 2008 by Dr. Eric Fruits, a economics professor at Portland State University. The study, which he was hired to perform for the Oregon LNG Project as part of the FERC’s environmental impact statement process there, reviewed the effects of the South Mist Pipeline Extension — a 24-inch diameter pipeline in northeastern Oregon — on local home prices. Similar to the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline, the South Mist Pipeline Extension line is buried for its entire 62-mile length with the exception of above-ground valves and inspection stations and the land above it is a permanent, 40-foot-wide easement.

Through an analysis of local assessor’s data and property values both before and after the pipeline was constructed, Fruits found that both the announcement and completion of the project had little effect on property values. In Clackamas County, Oregon, if all of the houses along the pipeline route were located exactly one mile from the pipeline and were sold after operation commenced, he wrote, the total value of the sales would only decrease by 1.9 percent over what it was before the pipeline was installed.

This year, Fruits and another Portland State researcher, Julia Freybote, revisited the topic in a second study. That study investigates the relationship between a prospective home buyer’s perceived risk related to a nearby pipeline and sales prices, as well as the media’s role in influencing sales prices through coverage of unrelated fatal pipeline explosions elsewhere.

The study, which focused on the same pipeline and data set as Fruits’ earlier study, surveyed about 30,000 home sales transactions within a mile of the pipeline, he said. It concluded that home-sales prices dropped suddenly during months in which fatal pipeline explosions were covered by local or national media. Fruits said the study, which he and Freybote conducted independently as an extension of the 2008 study, showed that coverage of such incidents do have a small effect, but it goes away after a couple of months.

“If you look at the grand scheme of things, a lot of things need to line up for that to happen,” Fruits said. “You’ve got to be pretty close to the pipeline, and you’ve got to be trying to buy or sell the house when there’s an accident.”

Washington explosion

When there is a highly publicized incident along a particular line, however — such as the explosion that occurred along the Olympic gasoline pipeline in Bellingham, Washington, on June 10, 1999, and killed three people — property values can drop suddenly but, again, recover over time, according to a 2006 study by Western Washington University economics and finance professors Julia Hansen, Earl Benson and Daniel Hagen titled “Environmental Hazards and Property Values: Evidence from a Major Pipeline Event,” which was also cited in FERC’s Constitution statement.

The study analyzed sales transactions along two petroleum product pipelines, the Olympic and the nearby Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries crude oil, for a period of 5½ years before and five years after the Olympic explosion. The Trans Mountain pipeline had never experienced an incident during the period studied.

Hansen, an economist who focuses on housing, said she and her colleagues live in Bellingham and the incident spurred their interest in how pipeline accidents affect home values.

The study found that proximity to the accident-free line saw no effect while properties within 50 feet of the Olympic line saw a 4.6 percent decrease in their home values, a figure which dropped precipitously until no impact was experienced at distances farther than 1,000 feet from the pipeline.

“We found that prior to the accident, houses near a pipeline sold for no less than similar houses elsewhere, but after the accident, houses near the pipeline that ruptured sold at a discount. The closer to the pipeline a house was located, the larger the discount,” Hansen said. “These findings suggest that the accident did in fact have the effect of increasing the perceived risk of living near a pipeline. However, we also found that the discounts become smaller over time, indicating that some of the effect on home prices was temporary.”

Harder to get a mortgage or insurance?

FERC was not able to determine whether the proximity of a pipeline makes it more difficult for a homeowner or potential buyer to get a mortgage, as banks and mortgage lenders would not confirm that to be the case during FERC interviews, the statement said.

The environmental impact statement also failed to measure the impact on a homeowner’s insurance policy regarding a pipeline being installed on their property. The statement said the agency carried out an independent study that involved calling representatives from a variety of insurance companies both in the Constitution project’s immediate area and nationally, but the companies either would not provide specifics or simply never returned inquiries.

“We researched the topic of homeowners and title insurance policies and conducted our own interviews with regional experts, where possible. Some experts would not authorize us to use them as references and others were unwilling to provide their professional opinion,” the statement read. “The real potential for these impacts is unclear and would likely be highly variable.”

The companies in the local project area did, however, acknowledge that the potential exists for a resident’s policy to be affected by the project.

Local experts

While many local real estate agents and appraisers declined to comment for this story, citing the premature nature of the issue or the controversy surrounding the pipeline, or did not return phone messages, at least one insurance representative said he did not expect a gas pipeline to affect his client’s policies.

Tim Farrell, the owner of Gilmore & Farrell Insurance in Greenfield, said none of the insurance companies he represents currently take gas transmission lines into consideration on applications for homeowner’s insurance, and he does not expect a new pipeline would affect policies.

“One of the questions we ask is how the home is heated, but gas off the street and propane tanks haven’t been a problem. We don’t like to see buried oil tanks,” he said. “As far as I know, there aren’t transmission lines here, but if there are, they haven’t been an issue.”

On the web:

FERC EIS — s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1354764/ferc-eis-constitution.pdf

Fruits, 2008 — tinyurl.com/q56crne

Hansen, et al. 2006 — pstrust.org/docs/ResidentialPropertyValues.pdf

 

Comments

  1. Sue Louisignau on

    I am a real estate appraiser. There is stia and it will effect value. The VA has specific guidelines for lending near power lines, pipelines. Our area is unique....not just a typical development. People move to the Pioneer Valley or Hilltowns for much more then having a roof over their head. There is stigma and it will effect values for houses near the compressor stations and those with pipeline crossing their land. It is possible you may not be able to finance that property. You cannot compare our area with a subdivision somewhere. This will have effects on value. Susan Louisignau. SRA, RA, M.Ed 229 Maple St Northfield, MA 01360 413-498-0080

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