It’s Christmas and I’m the Sous Chef

(Making Reubens with my son Doug and son-in-law Mike.)

Today is December 25th and Christmas is upon us. The distances that separate our family are gone. Sounds of laughter fill our home (actually my son’s home on the Wasatch front in Utah) where mothers and grandmothers caution good behavior – with limited success. For us, this time of year centers on important family traditions. Let me share two.

Food – the McGinns are all about the food. Whenever we get together the menu is a hot topic of discussion and food traditions are honored. This year I have been assigned the job of being the Sous Chef to my two sons. I think I actually assigned myself in a fit of giving. By definition a Sous Chef is (from my Google search): “Middle Management. You are between a rock and a hard place. You have a little power, but not all of it. You have a dash of authority, and maybe a pinch. Sometimes your chef will back you, and sometimes not. But your job is to back your chef, no matter what.” My children love to cook and even more they love to boss me around. This is the yin and yang of life – the balancing of a great many years of me running them around. You must understand however that my definition of Sous Chef involves me helping them in my way – not necessarily their way. So I guess I am not really a Sous Chef after all – I’m a Daddy Chef and they do their best to put up with me.

So here are a few of our favorite festive meals:

Reuben Sandwiches – a Christmas Eve meal tradition now four years old and introduced by Eldon and Abbey – dear friends who are family

Spare Ribs – Grandma McGinn’s special recipe – ribs slow cooked in tomato based sauce with a dash of vinegar - which Ninon has perfected

Trifle – a traditional Old English dessert – made with white cake, whipped cream, berries, and custard – all mixed together in a glorious melange

Turkey and all the trimmings is our Christmas Day dinner which is not complete without my mother’s dressing (stuffing) – simple and good

Open Food Session – any meal planned by one of the kids using a menu of their own choosing. This results in a cornucopia of interesting and highly delicious meals such as Black Pepper Mango Salsa Pork Chops, French Onion soup and Kristin’s “stewp” just to name a few.

At all times I run around, oversee the events, give advice, keep the schedule on track and generally make a nuisance of myself – that is helping in my way and I love it.

Number two is Gifts of Love. My sweet wife determined years ago that because this time of year is about the giving we ought to be giving on a higher plane. So she introduced gifts of love. Putting thought into giving is important - it’s really another way to say I love you. Christmas Eve we gather to record little gifts of love that we promise to give each other during the coming year. Ideally they have no monetary value. When the kids were little we had lots of “doing dishes” or “snow shoveling.” A common adult theme has been “advice about …” or “help blossoming.” Some become very creative like “Photoshop help,” or “wholesome activities” (given by my son Doug to Alec’s wife Kristin - it means no playing with knives and lighters with our grandkids), and “homemade haircut” (Kristin will cut Doug’s unruly hair and we will watch with glee).

I love these traditions. They become even more important as I get older. We live in a culturally diverse area with traditions from different lands and I have many friends with their own traditions that center around Christmas, Hanukah and even Kwanzaa. Love of family and friends and the spirit of giving seem to be common threads. I wish you all the best in this truly wonderful season - the best time of the year.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate community.

Home Inspection 101

A common question I receive relates to Home Inspections: What are they and when are they done?

A home inspection is a thorough and detailed examination of the property, typically carried out on behalf of and paid for by the buyer. It will involve a licensed home inspector taking about 3-4 hours to thoroughly inspect the property from top to bottom. An inspection on the house will alert buyers to defects that might not immediately be apparent. Purchasing a home is an emotional process, and buyers usually choose a house based on how it affects their emotions. In other words how it feels and how they picture themselves living in the home.

A home inspection is a great way to ensure that the new home is in good physical condition with all systems working as they should. That way falling in love with your home will continue to be a positive experience. The inspectors will start with the roof, work around the exterior and then focus on the electrical and mechanical systems of the home. They will check all major appliances that convey with the property. They also inspect the plumbing and finish off in the attic. It is important to remember that "There Is No Perfect House." The home inspector's job is to draw attention to any deficiencies. Those deficiencies could range from a leaky roof to heat or AC systems not working properly. Inspectors are also up to date on any industry developments that could affect your safety.

Once the inspection is complete, there are three typical responses to deficiencies identified:
  1. The defect is minor in nature and the buyer decides to move ahead without asking the seller for any remediation.
  2. The defect is serious enough that it needs to be addressed. For example, a water heater does not function properly. As long as the seller agrees to repair the appliance, the buyer agrees to continue with the home purchase.
  3. The deficiency is so serious that a decision is made not to continue with the home purchase.

Over the years I have managed to develop a list of qualified professional home inspectors – people I trust to provide my clients with excellent information on the home they are purchasing. I always recommend to my clients that they do a home inspection before purchasing a property. I often recommend that my sellers do the same before they put their home on the market. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about this process.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

First Time Home Buyer Tax Credit

Here is some information on the First Time Home Buyers Credit Program contained in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. It’s a loan from the government which you would pay back interest free over 15 years. At $500 per year worked into your income tax filings it is a relatively painless loan and one that could help you purchase a nice home at a time when home values are very low. Used very carefully this could work to your advantage.

$7500 First Time Home Buyer
Tax Credit

(Click on Image to Expand It)

'Tis the Season

We have now started the official countdown to Christmas! When our children were young Ninon made an advent calendar featuring a special daily activity while counting down the days 'til Christmas. This kept the kids busy and having great fun getting ready for the big event. Whether it was making snowflakes or watching "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer" together – every day was a special surprise and each child would vie to be the one to discover that day’s activity. This created many wonderful memories and became one of our family’s Christmas traditions.

My daughter Alma has created this wonderful advent calendar that you can use for your family. It is absolutely free and here is what you do to get it.

This is my daughter Alma – isn’t she beautiful?


1. A frame. The current measurements of the calendar fit perfectly into Ikea RIBBA frame that is 15 3/4 x 19 3/4 (matted to 11 1/2 x 15 1/2). (The image can be sized down and cropped to 8.5 x 11 dimensions without losing any of the design.)

2. A professional printer, if you're going to print out the large version (it will need to be printed on 12x18 paper). Or your home color printer if you're going to crop and resize.

3. An xacto knife to cut around the ornaments.

4. 25 event ideas leading up to Christmas!


Download the two images. (Click on the images to go to the full size versions. Then right-click and choose "Save Image As..." and save to your computer. Make sure you have both the colored bobbles and the black and white background.)

Crop and resize images to fit the frame that you are interested in. (Most basic photo editing programs that come with your computer will allow you to do this.)

Print the two images. I strongly recommend cardstock. Remember if you're printing the full-size version to request that it be printed on 12x18 paper. (The background image doesn't have to be printed in color---you won't see any of it. It's just there to be a guide of where to write in your events.)

Write the Christmas events on the background image in the numbered bobble silhouettes. Have fun with this!

With the xacto blade, cut around each bobble on the color copy. Leave the top of the bobble attached.

Match up the front and back precisely. Tape them to the picture matte, if using.

Remove the glass from your frame. Insert the artwork and enjoy! Each day, lift up the appropriate bobble to discover the day's activity underneath.

(Keep up with what Mike and Alma Loveland are up to at Loveland Miscellany!)

Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund

Every now and then I come across some information that can save my clients lots of money. Here is a good one. There has been a program in place in Maryland since 2004 that provides significant incentives to upgrade existing septic systems anywhere in the state. We live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which means that all rivers flow into the Chesapeake. With population densities as high as they are, waste water effluent along with urban and agricultural runoff are the most common contributors to nutrient discharge into the Bay. The Bay Restoration Fund was created to help address that issue by introducing new systems that do a better job of removing phosphorus and nitrogen from waste water effluent. These new systems basically function like mini sewage treatment plants and do a much better job of removing the unwanted elements.

The Bay Restoration Fund Pays for:
  • removal of the old tank
  • installation of the new tank

This means that homeowners who would like to upgrade their septic systems are eligible to receive a gift that would cover costs that could amount to as much as $15,000. The new technology involves some electrical and pump components so it is a little more involved than the old-style systems that simply had two chambers and used gravity to do all the work.

If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more about this plan, here are a couple of resources that you might access:

Septic Service Providers

I spoke to a representative from the state about the program and their biggest concern is that not enough people are aware of it. On a recent home inspection a Septic Contractor took my clients and me through the ins and outs of the program and how it works and I find it hard to think of any negatives associated with this initiative. Check it out. It could save you a lot of money. The Bay Restoration Fund pays for the replacement of an outdated septic system and you get to help the Chesapeake Bay at the same time. A classic win-win.

An interesting note - there are no natural lakes in Maryland. Due to our topography all water (creeks and rivers) run quickly to the bay and all lakes are man made.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community

In Flanders' Fields

As a young boy growing up in Canada, Remembrance Day (Veteran's Day here in the US) was always a big event. Every year on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:00 a.m. Canadians observe two minutes of silence as we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our freedoms. As young Cub Scouts we had the assignment to attend services at the local Canadian Legion or VFW and participate in the ceremonies and the laying of wreaths. It was a very solemn experience. I remember many WWI and WWII veterans dressed in their uniforms paying respects to their fallen comrades as wreaths were placed on the cenotaph.

November 11th always seemed to be a cold and dreary day. We young Cub Scouts would shiver and try to stay warm. Because we were in uniform we were not always dressed well for the weather. Standing in the cold rain or even snow was not a pleasant experience for me, but even at that young age I thought my discomfort was a small price to pay for others who had sacrificed so much more.
In grade school every child was required to memorize the poem written by Colonel John McCrae entitled "In Flanders' Fields" The poem is very simple, yet captures the magnitude and responsibility associated with the sacrifice made by so very many.

In Flanders' Fields

In Flanders' Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' Fields.

Lest We Forget Lest We Forget

Every year I wear my poppy and refresh the poem in my mind. As I do so, I gain new respect and appreciation for sacrifices made on my behalf so I can enjoy my freedom. A wise person noted that "freedom is never free." I always do my best to remember that.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

Credit: How to Repair and Improve It

There’s a lot of talk these days about credit scores and the need to get and keep good credit. I have noticed that many people are uncertain of how to obtain accurate credit ratings for themselves and how to repair or improve their credit ratings. There seems to be a lot of mystery involved with this. Here is some information I obtained from some of the lenders I work with that might help demystify this process.

How do I find out what my credit score is?

There are some sources who actually charge people to view their credit report. You should never have to pay for this nor should you waste time using sites that provide only partial information. Here are some good sites.

How do I repair and improve my credit scores?

Here are a few tips:

Late Payments- If you are at least 30 days late on any revolving or installment accounts (credit card, car loan) you are reported and it impacts your score negatively. You will continue to be reported for each additional 30 days that you are late (60, 90, or even 120 days late is shown). Get back on schedule and eliminate the late pays. This is an easy first step.

Maxed Out Credit - If your credit is “maxed out” it will have a negative impact on your score. Many people are unaware of this, and they use one card for everything. This can be bad because your score is based on a ratio of debt outstanding to credit available. If you have cards that you do not use, or that have no balance, it can be helpful to keep these accounts open and unused. This can actually help your credit scores.

It’s important to show long-standing accounts. Creditors like to see accounts have been open for long periods of time with no trouble (no late payments). It’s better to keep a credit card or account that you have had for a number of years open with no balance, rather than closing it outright.

Installment Loans - Creditors like to see that you have had installment loans that have been paid off on time. This includes car loans, student loans, etc.

Mortgage Loans - The biggest plus that you can have on your credit report is a timely mortgage. The most important “trade-line” on the credit report is the mortgage. A mortgage account that has been open for a long period of time with no late payments will boost the scores. You should NEVER be reported 30 days late on a mortgage if at all possible. It is MUCH BETTER to be late on any other type of account, if you have no possible options, then to be reported late on a mortgage. A mortgage loan that shows late payments, in some cases, will damage credit scores, but can also prevent you from refinancing a home or even getting approved for a new loan.

How long does it take to repair bad credit?

The following statute of limitations has been provided by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

10 years from the date of entry of the order for relief

Suits / Judgments:
7 years from date of entry or expiration of applicable statute of limitations, whichever is longer

Tax Liens – Paid:
7 years from date of payment

Tax Liens – Unpaid:
No limitation

Credit Inquiries- The number of times that your credit is checked will impact your scores. This typically is a small impact, perhaps a few points on your overall score, and it’s not a big deal for borrowers that have excellent credit, but it can be a bad thing if your credit scores are in the mid-to-low 600’s and you drop down a couple of points. Most of the time your score will recover those few points in the following weeks or months as you continue with on-time payments and the inquiries stop.

If you have any questions about your credit and would like some additional information, please give me a call. I would be happy to put you in touch with a good lender who can give you some helpful counsel and advice on what you can do to repair or improve your credit.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

Good Debt – Bad Debt – Be Careful

When our children were young my wife would take them down to the local hardware store just before Christmas to help them shop for a little gift for each family member. This was a big event for the kids. With their mother's help they would each purchase some small item, wrap it when they returned home, and put it under the Christmas tree. For the kids this was high drama and they would get so excited because they had the chance to think and plan and then make what was for them a really big purchase. My son Doug was about 5 years old at the time that he bought me a little plastic tool about the size of a matchbook. It had a small razor blade that slid out so you could open parcels or cut string. He was so excited and would chatter on about his carefully wrapped gift, never telling me what it was, but he would always warn, "Be careful, Daddy." It was his way of telling me that I would have to be very careful when I opened it up. That was good advice.

I am not a financial guru but I have always thought it wise to be careful when borrowing money for important things like homes, automobiles and education. I also thought it was a good idea for lending institutions to lend money when people had a job, credit and some cash on hand for equity. Clearly borrowers and lenders strayed off this tried and true path over the last few years and decided to take a walk on the wild side. We are now paying the price for those decisions. Bad debt is a huge issue in today's world.

Debt carefully managed can help build wealth for the future. The cost of living in today's world requires a certain amount of debt. I believe there is good debt and bad debt. My personal opinion is that good debt falls into three categories – home loans, auto loans and education loans. Anything else should be very carefully examined to ensure the loan is wise. I have found few if any loans in the "other" category that are wise. Even good debt can fall into the unwise category very quickly if you buy too much home, purchase a vehicle too expensive for your budget, or pile up an excessive amount of student debt. I know many people who live in homes that comfortably fit their income, who don't drive the latest and greatest but still get around quite fine. I also know lots of people who have graduated university with very little debt. Some have even managed to graduate with no debt. And these are people who did not have someone else pay for their education.

When our clients are considering a home purchase we refer them to lenders who provide good information about loan options and programs that work best for them. We trust these lenders to provide counsel and advice that will help our clients make wise decisions. Since a home loan is most likely the largest debt you will ever incur in your life, you want to make sure you do your homework and choose a loan that best suits your circumstances. Anyway, the short version is; be very careful before you get into debt. If interest is going to be your companion 24/7, make sure you are in control. Remember Dougie's advice – Be careful!

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

How to Have Fun on a Low Budget

This past spring my wife Ninon signed us up to visit the US National Arboretum in Washington DC. She had heard about the Full Moon Walk. This is a five-mile hike through the "moonlit gardens, meadows and woods" at the peak of the full moon. We arrived at dusk and began the walk accompanied by a guide and about 50 people who had signed up. I had been a little reluctant at first; I mean who has the National Arboretum on their hot list of fun things to do? But as soon as we started I quickly warmed to the outing and began to be amazed at this unique and special experience. As darkness began to fall our sense of sight diminished. In its place our senses of sound and smell kicked into high gear. The sound of nighthawks flying through the meadows and dive bombing insects was really interesting. We immediately began to notice the smell of many different species of trees and plants. These smells only occur in the evening after the sun has set. It's at that point that their perfume is released and the air is filled with wonderful scents. We were introduced to magnolias, dogwoods, the Asian collection, and official state trees from every state. You would think that it would be difficult to see in the dark, but low light levels revealed many sights that we would not have noticed in the bright glare of the daytime sun. Kousa dogwoods with their white blossoms seemed to glow in the dark. We also visited trees with history – one giant willow oak measures 100 feet wide and is estimated to be 200-250 years old. Staff members have found civil war buckles that suggest troops may have passed by and rested at its base. Arrow heads found in the area indicate that an Anacostia Indian tribe had camped and farmed the area at some point. The sense of history and beauty of this forested area was a pleasant and deeply touching experience. In this 485 acre park I found what seemed to me to be a completely different world than the one I live in every day. We had witnessed something very special while viewing only a small part of the arboretum during a short window of time. The beauty and grandeur of nature were on full display in one of the busiest metropolitan areas in this country. It was truly an evening to remember.
There are other sites in our area such as the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Museums and Fort McHenry at the Inner Harbor in Baltimore that are here to be enjoyed. People travel from all over the world to visit these sites and we often forget that they are right here for us to see any time. And the best thing is, most are free – no charge. So next time you are planning a special outing don't forget these unique sites that are located right here in our own back yard.
Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

(Photo Courtesy of the National Arboretum)

Home Decorating and Value

Home decorating and renovation programs on TV are very popular these days. It is great fun to watch as an old, run-down home is transformed into a beautiful showpiece right before your eyes. Outdated designs and systems are replaced with better floor plans and new technology. It is amazing to see all the new products and ideas that have been developed over the last few years. Granite, quartz and Silestone have become the standard for kitchen countertops. Rich hardwoods and polished stone floor selections are almost endless. Appliances have been redesigned to be more energy efficient as well as attractive and functional. There are even refrigerators that will tell you what groceries need to be restocked. Window design and technology has taken quantum leaps over the past decade. Energy efficient windows are engineered to tilt and twist to allow cleaning from the inside. Electrical and lighting systems are more complex and involve engineered intelligence that beautifies and saves energy at the same time.

There are so many new gadgets to buy and projects to complete. Some of these programs make statements like "you will get $2.00 back for every $1.00 invested in this kitchen or that bathroom renovation." Many clients ask me if these formulas are accurate. They want to know if they put money into renovations and upgrades, will their home value increase as a result. There is no easy answer to this question but I will share a couple of thoughts with you.

First, be very careful about accepting at face value any formula that promises a specific return on a particular project. These statements can be misleading. Each case needs to be examined carefully in context of the local real estate market to see whether or not it applies. With the recent downturn, I have seen decorating and home staging projects that did not result in any value increase. They did however result in the home selling when adjacent properties continued to sit on the market. Having a home staged properly to look its very best is an important selling strategy, but one that needs to be approached with great care.

Secondly there are two types of value. The first I call tangible – the value that results in a specific dollar return by way of increased home value. If you put $5,000 into a home project, you actually increase its market value by an amount pretty close to the $5,000 investment. The second is intangible – the joy that comes from living in a home that has design features that make living pleasurable. In other words, you enjoy your new carpet, paint or kitchen so much you really are not concerned whether or not you will recoup your dollars invested in the upgrades. Only you can decide which is most important to you.

Looking at things differently (also known as thinking outside the box)

(It's 1967, and that's me on the left, with my friend Willie Baker standing in the middle.)

Today's turbulent housing market is creating a lot of stress in our lives. We cannot go from one day to the next without hearing the media tell about disaster stories relating to the housing crisis. However, there are opportunities right in front of us if we just look at things a little differently.

As a Boy Scout back in 1967 I participated in a two-week wilderness canoe trip with our Scout pack. We paddled over 120 miles between two communities in the Northern Ontario wilderness in Canada. We carried all our food with us since there were no stores nearby – this was truly the wilderness. Out of necessity our food was rationed and after a week of going hungry (14-year-old boys are always hungry) I became very resourceful at finding extra food. I took to fishing in the evenings to supplement my diet. Even that did not always seem to be enough. One evening we had a particularly fine meal planned – baked beans with molasses. The big pot had been simmering for hours and smelled wonderful. There was a steep hill between the camp fire and where we were to eat. When the meal was ready two young scouts were assigned to carry the large pot of beans up the hill to the eating area. Well you can guess what happened. On the way somebody stumbled and about one third of the beans spilled into the sand. I was devastated! The prospect of another day on short rations seemed almost unbearable. As I ate my meal I could not help but think of all those beans in the dirt. When I finished I wandered over to the disaster site and surveyed the scene. As I looked I noticed that many of the beans had fallen in a pile and were not touching the dirt. A light went on in my mind and I got down on my knees and with my spoon began to carefully scoop the beans that were still edible off the top of the pile. I quickly got over my aversion to eating off the ground and discovered that there were in fact lots of very good beans to be had. My friend Willie Baker passed by and saw what I was doing and quickly joined me. Soon there were a couple of other boys joining in the feast. That was an early life lesson for me in looking at things differently. That night I went to bed full and satisfied.

There are always opportunities in a "down market." We have been able to negotiate some very good deals for our clients and see families move into homes that were unaffordable just a couple of years back. I believe that as our market rebounds, and it will, people who are able to see things a little differently now, will benefit in the future. There are a lot of good beans out there.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008

We hear a lot in the news these days about the housing crisis and what government and financial institutions are doing to handle these challenges. The nice thing about home ownership is that we get to live in our homes and as long as we are current in our mortgages these problems really have little impact on us. However if a homeowner begins to fall behind in their loan payments there are some steps that need to be taken quickly. I was thinking that if that happened to me or someone I knew, I would want to know what to do and how to reach out for help. With that in mind here are some steps that could be taken.

It will take some time to work through this difficult period, but I applaud the government for at least doing something to help homeowners weather the storm and encourage new buyers. Make sure you know how this legislation applies to you and what help is available in case you know someone who might need some good information.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

Take A Deep Breath

I think I started blogging at a very interesting time. We are seeing some developments in our countries' financial markets that are history making – unfortunately not the kind of history that will be fondly remembered. Markets are in turmoil, financial institutions are going under or are being bought out, and speculation is rampant on which company will be the next to fail. In the middle of all this we were visited by Hurricane Ike! I guess this will be a September to remember.

I think it's time to take a deep breath and step back from all the hysteria. These problems are significant but the financial markets and the government will figure things out. There will be some continued adjustment and restructuring but at the end of the day our financial institutions will survive and some good will come of all this. In the meantime we will go to the grocery store and buy some milk and bread, which will send our economy on the road to recovery. This may sound a little simplistic, but in the end that is how things work. I buy the bread the baker makes and he purchases wheat from the farmer who buys equipment to operate his farm from manufacturers who convert raw materials into goods by the application of labor . . . well you get the idea. The economy is all interrelated and sooner or later everyone needs to eat - do the things of daily living. These things don't stop and this crisis will pass because we go on living and that will fuel the recovery.

When all this bad news is swirling around like Hurricane Ike it's hard to recognize that when the storm passes, the sun will shine. In fact the sun is already starting to shine. There are some really great opportunities out there, like interest rates dropping to the 5.5% range for a 30 year fixed loan and home prices dropping to levels that make buying even more attractive. We've not seen deals like this for quite a while. I invite you to take advantage of these opportunities. Years from now you'll look like a genius. Your friends and even your kids will be impressed.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

A Great Life Lesson

Years ago when I was young in my Real Estate career I had the opportunity to work with a family looking to purchase their first home. They had three children and a dog. The husband had a good job that paid a reasonable wage. Their budget was fairly modest so we were viewing homes that were in line with their purchasing ability – starter homes. Finally I found them a cute little rancher, and I mean little! It had three very small bedrooms and a tiny kitchen with barely enough room for a table. The living room was not much bigger but it did have a nice picture window. There was a full basement with a recroom and some storage under the stairs. The house was situated on a small lot but it had a fenced back yard large enough for the dog and children to play. They were so excited and decided this was the home for them.

I, however, did not share their excitement. In fact I had a difficult time recommending the home to them. I just couldn't see how they would ever make it work. The problem was I could not picture myself personally living in a home this small. Well, despite my lack of enthusiasm they decided to make an offer. After I prepared the paperwork I visited them at their apartment to sign the documents. As I entered, I saw a one-room apartment with a blanket strung across a rope to serve as a wall between the sleeping area and the kitchen and living room. I was taken aback because I had no idea of their current living circumstances when we were searching for homes. Immediately I could see why they were so excited. Who wouldn't be, moving from a one-room apartment with three kids and a dog into a 6 room home? That tiny home must have seemed like a mansion to them. Well, their offer was accepted and they bought the home. I learned a very important lesson that day – never judge other people based on my own limited frame of reference. I realized that no matter what experience I brought to a transaction I simply couldn't know enough about my client's situation to make decisions for them. Since that time my goal has been to provide good information to clients knowing that with good information they will be able to make good decisions that work best for them.

That family lived in their home for over 20 years. It served them well and I am very grateful I did not get in the way of their dreams.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

Helping Our Clients with Big and Small Things

At the McGinn Real Estate Group we work hard to assist our clients with the big and small things related to home ownership. The big things obviously involve the home purchase itself. Since a home is probably one of the most expensive things most people will ever purchase, we want to make sure we offer world class systems and service during the process. I always felt that buying a home should be accompanied by the highest level of service and professionalism. At the same time even small services such as plumbing emergencies require a high level of service and professionalism as well.

A while back one of our clients needed some plumbing work done following a home inspection. The plumber came out, looked at the job and noted that there was actually no leak in the pipes and instead showed the client where to tighten the fitting so water stayed where it was supposed to. This plumber could have taken unfair advantage very easily but did not; in fact he never even charged for the visit. That level of service is not often found.

The Service Providers List on our website is one of the small things we offer but it can be pretty big when you need it. This is a list of service people in all fields such as plumbers, electricians, dentists, carpet cleaners - even accountants and tax planners. We have developed this list from personal experience and the referrals of our clients. Feel free to use their services and if you know of anyone we could add to the list, let us know. Finding good people who are trustworthy and do good work is not always easy. I would love to hear about any of your favorite service providers.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

Market Opportunities

I found an interesting quote referencing Warren Buffett’s plan to seize opportunities due to the current downturn.

“That opportunistic view of the worst housing recession in seven decades is 'classic Buffett,' said Charles Hamilton, an analyst at FTN Midwest Securities Corp. in Nashville, Tennessee.” ( September 2, 2008)

I don’t know if this is the worst housing recession in seven decades but it is a pretty significant downturn. Buffett is looking for opportunities because he realizes this down market won’t last forever. Home prices in our area have not been immune from downward pressure, but let me explain why I think there are some good home buying opportunities out there.

1) This buyer’s market won’t last forever and a bottoming out may have already occurred. I will leave forecasting the bottom to those who have more information than I do, but it feels to me like we might be pretty close now.

2) Our local and regional economies are very strong. Government is a large area employer which lends stability to the job market. We have actually added jobs in 2008. (MRIS Trends In Housing Q2 2008)

3) Interest rates are still close to historic lows which make new home loans very attractive. First time buyer programs are available now where they did not exist a few years back.

4) Home values in our area are probably lower than they should be because of drag created by economic problems in other areas of our country and across the world. Ours is an area where employment opportunities bring in more people, and people always need a place to live.

This means that taking advantage of current low prices and low interest rates is good strategy. It is a great time for first time buyers to get into the market. The lending end has tightened a little but there are lots of first time home buyer assistance programs available. Sellers are more willing to help as well. For move-up buyers it is a good time to sell and buy a larger home whose value may have fallen to a point where it is now affordable.

Warren Buffett has enjoyed a pretty successful track record. Following his example, home buyers can also take advantage of the current market to get into a home of their dreams. Years from now people will look back and say it was a great time to buy.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.

Welcome to the Inaugural Edition of My Weekly Blog

Human interaction and communication in today’s society is very interesting and complex.

When I was a little boy things were different and simpler. Frequently my parents would take me and my sister, get in the car, and go visit various family friends. We would drop by their homes unannounced (almost always everybody was home back then) and have a great visit. There was not much planning involved and nobody was expected to “put on the dog.” The adults would visit, get caught up on the latest and the kids would play with each other. At some point some sodas (pop in Canada) and potato chips or cookies would be provided and after everyone had a great time we would all go home. When was the last time you did something like that?

Well, my daughter started blogging a couple of years back and has really discovered an interesting and effective way to communicate (visit) in today’s busy world. Blogs allow you to visit with people. You can always visit a blog unannounced. You can also post comments and share ideas – open a discussion. More and more people are blogging these days. Blogs seem to fulfill an inner need for humans to communicate and share life’s adventures – the ups and downs.

I hope to create that same experience for our Real Estate Community and others who wish to visit. There will be lots of discussion about real estate of course. The current home market is a hot topic these days but not all of it is negative. In fact there are some very positive things happening in a pretty challenging market. I will also try to share interesting information that will be helpful for happy living. Some of it will be financial, and some health related; I plan to provide information that will help with the stuff of daily living and home needs. Most of it will include some humor along with the practical. I hope you enjoy my blog. Feel free to invite others to visit.

Thanks for helping me better serve our Real Estate Community.