Rent vs. Buy

I just read an article about the rental market across the United States and it seems that just like here in Orlando, it is often less expensive to buy than to continue renting. If that’s the case, what is keeping renters on the sideline? It seems that two main factors are credit as well as the sizable downpayment that is required. As median prices have increased and buyers are wanting to put down 20% it seems they may never have enough saved. It is true that putting down 20 % can help homeowners avoid paying PMI, which is mortgage insurance on their home every month, it isn’t the only way to buy. There are many different loan options, including FHA, smaller downpayment conventional options, VA products, as well as USDA loans. The best way to find out about all of your options is to consult with a lender. You may be able to capitalize on lower interest rates and purchase a home with less money out of pocket than you think.



What does a loblolly pine have to do with an appraisal?


It’s such a good question, and a month ago I would have told you I have no idea, or asked you what a loblolly pine is. I‘m currently the listing agent of the most adorable renovated College Park bungalow. It’s your classic 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom 1100 square foot home located just steps from Dartmouth Park in what has become one of the most popular zip codes in Orlando. It’s a well done renovation and sits on a nice deep lot with a detached two car garage in the back. One side of this garage is finished off with some nice flooring, cute light fixtures and its own air conditioning system. This is all gravy and the space wasn’t listed or marketed with this square footage included. I listed this home on a Wednesday and received a full price offer on Thursday morning, the buyers were qualified for a VA loan, sellers were thrilled. That next week we sailed through inspections with a small wood rot repair. My husband and I talk about how every once in awhile you get a sweet deal, solid property, amicable buyers and sellers, smooth sailing! I thought I was in the middle of one of those rare gems.. and the only thing left was opening the door for the appraiser. I went and met the appraiser at the home on a day when there was a wild bear roaming the streets of College Park and as weird as that sounds, it was more normal than the conversation I had with this guy. I greeted him with a smile and a folder full of comparably sold properties. I was hoping to push for a nice adjustment for that finished space in the garage. We were at a pretty high dollar per square foot but with the finishes, the lot and that nice bonus space I thought we could easily hit the purchase price. I asked the appraiser about that space and with a deep southern accent he explained to me, rather condescendingly that trying to give an air conditioned, finished bonus space value is like when he and his wife moved to Florida from south Georgia and they fell in love and bought a home in Orlando because it had loblolly pines in the yard. Huh?! That was my first clue..The conversation went downhill from there and I actually told the guy it was a pleasure, handed him my folder and headed out. 6 days later we got the appraisal and not only had Mr. Loblolly not given the bonus space any value, he had decreased the homes heated square footage. Now follow me for a second, this home is a block home and in College park, many of the homes had old porches or florida rooms that have been enclosed long ago and are under air. This home has a 125 square foot room on the front that has air conditioning and is on public record as part of the living space. Our appraisal decreased the square footage to just over 1000. When you’re talking about $248 per square foot and you “lob” off 117 square feet, well you do the math. Appraisal came in short, deal fell apart, both buyer and seller were frustrated  and complaints were filed but so much for that smooth sailing. Since then I have spoken with four different appraisers and talked with both city and county officials and been told by all that the square footage of the home is exactly as it is listed in public record. Thankfully with solid marketing the home has gone pending again. Getting a home from listing to closing is complicated but with the help and perseverance of a knowledgeable real estate agent it will happen!  

How To Make Your Boring, All-White Kitchen Look Alive! — DESIGNED w/ Carla Aston

How To Make Your Boring, All-White Kitchen Look Alive! — DESIGNED w/ Carla Aston.

Renovating a 1950’s Ranch style single family home: The design process

My husband and I purchased our home four years ago as a foreclosed property. It was a bidding war, lucky us, we were right in the middle of what I refer to as the “Robo Signing Debacle of 2010”. After submitting our initial offer and driving over to see our vacant home almost daily I convinced my husband to raise our offer. As a residential real estate broker with almost fifteen years of experience, I’m my worst client. After 5 months of waiting we got the call I had been praying for saying we had won the bidding war and we were going to get our house.

When we first purchased the home we did a simple face lift on some of it in order to move in but we had rented out our old house so we only had one month to get it all done. Since then we have added brick pavers to the backyard and landscaped the entire yard but haven’t done a lot to the inside. Earlier this year, we decided to initiate the process of renovating this home, and started meeting with contractors. We were advised to enlist the help of a designer, which we did. My husband and I are used to hiring trades to do work on our homes and had not been down the road of working with a designer or a general contractor.

The designer came over to our house, took all of the measurements and put together what is called an “As Built” drawing. This is necessary in older homes like ours that no longer have floor plans handy for review. If you have a newer home with a copy of your floor plan, you can save yourself this step which generally costs anywhere from $200-$500. After we had a copy of our current floor plan, we met with this designer to try and come up with a design for our home. This can be a grueling process for someone like me, that tends to be indecisive and treats decisions like this as a perfect opportunity to survey whoever I come into contact with about their home and floorpan and what they think about toilets in front of showers or master bedroom doors off of foyers. After I was able to weed through all of my input, we were able to get a drawing of something my husband and I both thought looked functional. This is referred to as a “conceptual drawing”. This can cost anywhere from $500-$2,000.

Our designer provided us with a simple pdf for this part and in retrospect I wish I had done a little more digging before we went down this path. It seems there are different understandings from designers as to what a “conceptual drawing” entails. We thought we would be giving a drawing with elevations and measurements sufficient to pursue our initial contractor bids. After all, why would you put more money into drawings if you get your bid and realize you can’t afford the project and need to scale it back? Luckily we met a contractor that was a able to bid off of our simplistic drawing and in the end we decided to scale back our project to focus on one large area that wouldn’t require any further work from an architect.

Don’t let your septic tank be a smelly surprise!

My husband and I own an older home in Orlando and one of the many joys of that property is the fact that our waste water doesn’t travel far! It goes right into the tank and drain field located behind our house. How lovely!? The positive side is that you don’t pay the utility company for waste water but other than that, I might be hard pressed to come up with other benefits. We have owned this home since 2011 and when we bought this wonderful foreclosure it came with no sellers disclosure.

We were budgeting for many things after our purchase and one of them was a new septic tank. We had a company that I have worked with for years come out and do a septic inspection. They pumped the tank, certified the condition of it and did a great job explaining and even showing us the different parts of our septic tank and location of our drain field. This inspection helped us understand the condition of the equipment that we had, the approximate age, size and to start fresh, in terms of what was in the tank. This is my kids playing in the drain field during the inspection.



I’m kidding, but I’m not kidding about the importance of having a septic tank inspected and certified prior to closing. Luckily, our inspection revealed that our tank was in good condition and everything was functioning as intended. Huge score, for me, more money for my bathroom renovation. Like all inspections, it’s helpful to have as much knowledge as you can as a buyer, in order to plan and budget accordingly. The cost for this inspection can range from $250-$500 depending on the company. The cost for a new tank and drain field can range anywhere from $5-10k depending on the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.  I would highly recommend anyone purchasing a home with a septic tank to have an inspection done prior to closing!

After a short sale, can I get a loan?



Over the last six years, short sale, deed in lieu of foreclosure and loan modification became common terms in the world of residential real estate. According to the Orlando Regional Realtor Association, in March of 2011, distressed properties accounted for over 75% of all home sales, however the most recent market pulse released from ORRA states that the number of distressed sales has declined to just under half of all transactions in March of this year.

As the market continues to recover and interest rates still at historic lows, many people that went through foreclosures, short sales, loan modifications or a deed-in-lieu in the last few years are wondering if they can purchase another home and what the guidelines will be when it comes to them obtaining another mortgage.

I reached out to my preferred lender, Maggie Ambruster with Embrace Home Loans, and this is what she said:

In order to obtain a conventional loan:

  • After a foreclosure you must wait 7 years.
    • After a loan modification, short sale, deed-in-lieu with the following restrictions:
    • There are no restrictions once you get to 7 years past the event
    • 80% loan to       value with 2 years since the event*. ( 20% down payment)
    • 90% loan to       value with 4 years since the event. (10% down payment)

In order to obtain an FHA loan (3.5 % down payment):

  • After a foreclosures or deed-in-lieu:
    • It must be 3 years from the deed transfer date.
    • After a short sale:
      • Allowed if current on payments for 12 months prior to the sale from application date on new loan and not taking advantage of declining market conditions/purchasing superior property within reasonable commuting distance at a reduced price.
      • If the borrower was in default they must wait 3 years from the deed transfer date.
    • Post loan modification:
      • Allowed for full credit qualifying rate and term and cash-out with payment history of 0x30 for the last 12 months.
      • Allowed for streamline approval.
      • Documentation or trade line update required to confirm the modification date was at least 24 months ago.

Requirements for VA loans:

  • Post loan modifications:
    • No restrictions or seasoning apply.
    • Borrower must meet all other credit and housing payment history requirements.
    • After a foreclosure or deed-in-lieu:
      • 2 years from the deed transfer date.
      • After a short sale:
        • Allowed if the borrower was current on the mortgage and installment debt for 12 months prior to the sale from application date on new loan or 2 years from deed transfer date if the borrower was in default on mortgage at the time of the sale.

The good news for home buyers is that it is possible to obtain a loan after going through what for many was a devastating loss.

There is a time for Taupe and there is a time for Teal!

Have you ever had a moment when you looked around your house and you realized everything is brown?

I realized my practical mother of three side had purchased and painted everything in my home a very practical, not going to show dirt shade of brown.

When it comes to decorating your home being a residential real estate broker has its advantages, but in this case I had painted and decorated my house with all of the best neutral colors. Then it dawned on me, I’m not trying to sell my house. I live here with my family every day and I need COLOR!

The next day I went out and bought two samples of teal paint and came home and painted two swatches on my wall.

phone 085           phone 096

iphoneoctober 015             iphoneoctober 017

My total investment was $28 for a gallon of paint. Since then I have painted my family room, two dressers and a bench.

It’s amazing what you can do with a gallon of paint.

Every time I look at that teal wall I smile!



Online marketing and selling your home

One of my favorite things to do before I fall asleep at night is to shop/surf the internet on our iPad. I love to research purchases, compare prices, check various sites for coupons before I make a purchase. I do this with everything from new patio furniture to planning my son’s 7th birthday party. It should come as no surprise that people are using this same approach when it comes to buying a home.  I recently took a listing and planned the kick off weekend, as I mentally refer to the first weekend a listing is on the market. We came up with a plan, entered the home into the MLS and marketed the first open house.

iphone 087

I use Craigslist, Zillow, Facebook, Google+, postlets, and a few others to market listings. Our open house was Sunday from 1-4pm and the weather was very cooperative. I came in with my water with lemon, flyers and a multitude of signs and balloons. The open house was a huge success and about 50 people came through the home. The interesting part about this open house was that at least 75% of the prospective buyers came through with no agent. They had seen the open house advertised on one of the many websites, the home was being marketed on. These buyers were educated on the market and had researched what the seller had paid, what the property most likely would rent for and what schools the home was districted for before they even stepped foot through the front door. This was incredibly insightful as a residential broker as to the path most buyers are walking towards finding a home.  As a broker, it challenges me to stay ahead of the curve with my marketing approach and to hone my negotiation and contract writing skills. Gone are the days when a real estate broker was the only way to gain access to information. The role as a real estate broker is changing and I think there is so much more value in the contract writing and negotiation in addition to accurate, updated market knowledge and an aggressive online marketing strategy.


Baldwin Park’s 4th of July celebration


For the third year in a row my family and I headed over to Baldwin Park for their July 4th celebration. This event just gets bigger and better every year. There are vendors with tents all along New Broad street. Food tents, bounce houses, and this year a band at the end of the street make for a great celebration. My kids love running around with friends, sitting barefoot on the hill overlooking the lake, indulging in snow cones, waving around glow sticks and holding sparklers. The fireworks started at 9 and they were great. I loved the band being there playing music during the show. This is a wonderful FREE kid friendly event that Baldwin Park puts on every year, be sure and check it out! The times and date change every year but can be found here.

baldwin fireworks


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Watch as Aaron Pak, manager of Sushi Lola’s in Audubon Park Garden District shows me how to make one of their delicious specialty rolls, the Magic Roll!