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Real Estate Bits and Pieces

Homebuyer Assistance in College Park and Bowie Maryland

Sunday, November 29, 2009
Categorized in: Financing News


TWO great programs to help buyers put more money towards purchasing a primary residence.


  • College Park $35,000 Program - Homebuyers who buy their home and work in College Park may apply to receive up to $35,000 in closing cost and down payment assistance through the WORK & LIVE COLLEGE PARK program.

    College Park Details >>

  • Bowie $2,000 Program - Police officers, teachers and Bowie City employees can apply for a $2,000 grant when buying a primary residence in Bowie.

    Bowie Program Flyer >>
    Website >>


You can find me on: Twitter - http://www.twitter.com/susanpruden.com and Facebook - Susan Pruden (C) 2009 Susan Pruden.

Holding My Feet to the Fire

Thursday, November 19, 2009
Categorized in: Real Estate Stories
Tagged with: closing, loans, settlement

This business of buying and selling houses - it's a difficult one. My seller is holding my feet to the fire for getting her to settlement on time. I, in turn, am doing the same thing to the loan officer, who is doing the same thing to the lender, et cetera et cetera.

We are all making promises and trying to make good on them, but the truth is, we have very little control over when things happen. The old adage, "he who has the gold makes the rules" is never more true than in mortgage lending. We are all hostage to the lender, because no matter how quickly we all accomplish our individual duties, we still can't do a thing without the money from the lender.

It's getting harder and harder these days to move quickly when buying a house. The sooner we realize this, the easier it will all get. We need to plan for 45 to 60 day settlements again. I think that quick turn-around times are a thing of the past, even on clean transactions.


You can find me on: Twitter - http://www.twitter.com/susanpruden.com and Facebook - Susan Pruden (C) 2009 Susan Pruden.

Answering the "What's My Home Worth" Question

Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Categorized in: Pricing and Value
Tagged with: fair market value, value, zillow

The question popped up on a local Yahoo Group - "How do I figure out what my home is worth?"  A neighbor suggested starting with Zillow, along with talking to a local real estate agent (yay, she mentioned me by name! Thanks, Jen!)


Zillow is an okay place to start and a very cool website. Unfortunately, it does draw heavily on tax records. Where Zillow started out on the West Coast, they have very data-rich tax records. Ours are pitiful for the lack of valuable information – ours give the number of above-grade bathrooms, but no mention of bedrooms at all. Square footage is key in the tax records, but over the years square footage has been determined by a variety of methods with varying degrees of accuracy. Also, many tax records have not been updated to reflect additions and upgrades. So I usually find Zillow to be fairly inaccurate in general. Sometimes it is right on the money, but the kicker is trying to figure out if your property is fitting one of the “accurate” times or not. Check out Zillow's own explanation of their accuracy. For instance, Zillow says 49% of home sales in Prince George's County are within 10% of the "Zestimate" price.


The other problem with online valuation websites is that these sites cannot give value to intangibles. For example, take two houses on the same block with the same floor plan. One has a wonderful backyard that backs up to woods. The other backs up to the parking lot of an apartment complex. No online valuation site can take this into consideration because the value of each is in the eye of the buyer.  The aesthetics of a property are very to value yet they can make tens of thousands of dollars difference in value.


Then let’s think about value. There is a common misconception that every house has a fair market value that can be determined at any time. The truth is that a house has a fair market value only at the moment that it sells.  This is because, of the four components to market value, the seller/owner only controls one of them. Fair market value is 1) the price a buyer is willing to pay that 2) a seller is willing to accept, 3) in a given market on 4) a given day. Right now, I can’t tell you what price a buyer might offer, what the interest rates and general market conditions will be on the day the buyer makes that offer, or even what day that offer will come in. The only thing we have an inkling of is what price a seller is willing to accept and even that is subject to change based on items 1, 3 and 4.


In a stable market, it is fairly easy to come close to estimating fair market value. In a volatile market like the one we’re in right now, it’s very difficult. Our market place is being overly influenced by the preponderance of foreclosures and short sales. A seller’s asking price may be very competitive one day, but too high the next – and all it takes is for the competition to drop its price and suddenly you’re the highest priced home on the market. So price is always relative to what else is going on in the market on any given day.


This all seems very squishy when you just want to know what the value of your house is – I know. Now let’s add to the mix the reason you want to know the market value. It seems like the reason shouldn’t matter – value is value is value, right? Nope! There’s Fair Market Value, Tax Assessed Value, Valuation for Estate purposes. The value of a house when you sell it to your child is not considered Fair Market Value – it’s not an Arm’s Length transaction because it’s being sold to family. A house sold at auction is not Fair Market Value – it’s a distress sale and is discounted to reflect that fact.


We agents are almost as clueless as everyone else in a highly volatile market. Our guesses are just more educated than most. Even an appraiser will make a determination based on what else has sold in the neighborhood and guess what? It only takes one more sold property to completely upset that applecart.


Hope some of this helps! If anyone wants more specific help for a specific property, I’m always happy to stop by and discuss what’s happening in the market. Those who know me know I love talking about real estate!


You can find me on: Twitter - http://www.twitter.com/susanpruden.com and Facebook - Susan Pruden (C) 2009 Susan Pruden.

How Long Did That Take To Make

Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Categorized in: Hiring an Agent

I read blog posts on lots of topics and am continually amazed at how similar issues are across the spectrum of fields and interests. The changing landscape in the newspaper business has many similarities to the challenges faced by real estate industry. Photographers face much the same marketing challenges as real estate agents.


A link on Twitter from local photographer Patty Hankins lead me to a post on a blog called Beyond The Art Fair. The post, How Long Did That Take To Make, made tons of sense and seemed to apply to such a larger world than just those who use their creative talents to make things. Jeane Vogel, the blog's author, wrote:

Much of our work in this country is paid for by the hour. We value the TIME it takes to make something-- sometimes more than the skill and talent and education and heritage of the work. Oh sure, we appreciate those things, but often .. the value of the work comes down to the TIME of creation.


This struck a chord in both the real estate agent and the photographer in me. In real estate, I get the question all the time - "we only need you to write the contract. Can you give us a discounted price for that?" That question completely dismisses the years of experience, the hours of classroom learning and the cost of obtaining and maintaining my license - without which, I couldn't "just write the contract".


16 years ago it took me hours to write my first offer - I had to keep asking other agents how to fill in the forms and which forms I needed to include to make the offer legal, binding and to actually express what the buyer wanted to accomplish. Now it takes me no time at all, partly because I haven't hand-written an offer in years (yay for computers!) but mostly because I've written so many of them that experience makes the physical task easy. So is my time worth more now because of my experience or was it worth more then because it took me longer?

We really do tend to value things by how long they take and not the knowledge and skill that we bring to our chosen fields. I'm sure you can find examples of that in your job, whatever it is.


What do you do that people devalue because you make it look so easy?


***You can find me on:

Twitter - http://www.twitter.com/susanpruden.com

and Facebook - Susan Pruden

How can I find you?

(C) 2009 Susan Pruden.

Evaluating Neighborhoods

Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Categorized in: Buyer Tips
Tagged with: buy, evaluate, home, neighborhoods

How do you know if a neighborhood is a good fit?

Buyers tend to be very specific on the features they want in a house – number of bedrooms, bathroom, basement or no basement ,  garage or off-street parking, detached or townhouse, etc.

They are usually pretty sure on external factors like accessibility to public transportation and shopping.

But neighborhoods are way more complicated than those features and buyers are usually less specific in describing the perfect neighborhood. Most will say they want to be in a “good” neighborhood.

I say, “define good.”
Well, they say, “low crime would be important.”

I say, “define low.” Are two car thefts okay? One breaking and entering? No homicides? Over what period of time?

That may seem a little extreme, but it points out that “good” and “low” are subjective – the question is “good” or “low” compared to what?

If you’re asking your real estate agent or your friends or even the local police for advice, you have to realize that their experiences are likely different from yours. What is good to me might be awful to you. I may be happy settling for less than you would be. Maybe this crime-ridden neighborhood is so much better than where I came from that it seems good to me, but would be unthinkable for you.

So ask objective questions. If you get an opinion, such as “oh that area has horrible crime problems”, ask what kind? I might be horrified by bike thefts and if you don’t ask me, you might assume I’m talking about homicides! So ask lots of questions. If I’m the only victim of a violent crime in the past year, you’ll get a very different story from me than from all the other residents who were not victims of violent crimes.

Here’s an idea – do you like where you live now? Go to the Factsheet on Census.gov and enter your current address.  (There is a list of additional resources at the bottom of this post.) Look at the average income per household, the average education per household, and so forth to get an idea of your current neighborhood demographics. Now look at your prospective neighborhood demographics.

If you come from a neighborhood of college graduates making an average of $100,000 per year, you might not be happy in a neighborhood of high school dropouts earning an average of $45,000 per year. 

The point isn’t for me to judge what makes a good neighborhood over a bad neighborhood; it’s just to add another tool to your arsenal of choosing a neighborhood you’ll like. Crime, income and education aren’t the be-all and end-all of neighborhood demographics, but it’s a start.

It may seem like a lot of work, but whether you’re spending $80,000 or $500,000 on a property, it’s a lot of money and it’s your money.

How to Evaluate Neighborhoods

HomesDataBase -- click on Explore Your Neighborhood
City Crime Rates and Comparisons
National Crime Prevention Council
RealtyTimes Crime Check

(C) 2009 Susan Pruden.

Real Estate Bits and Pieces

Blog by Susan Pruden
Cheverly, Maryland

Informal observations about Prince George's County Real Estate and happenings around our local area. I'm Susan Pruden, in Cheverly Maryland and I welcome your comments and participation.


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