The Christie’s Conference

Last week, Jana and I journeyed to Rockefeller Center in NYC to attend the Christie’s Northeast Conference. Joined by Russ Neumann, we had ample opportunity to learn about the Christie’s Bespoke marketing program; unique advertising avenues for us as Affiliates; how the art market mirrors the real estate market; and what interior design brings to a home.

Along with some fabulous networking, perhaps the most important nugget of information we took away from the day was that the luxury market is slowly gaining ground, and is being particularly influenced by investment from markets such as China and Russia. Armed with new contacts, new information and new resolve, we came back energized and ready to get to work helping put buyers and sellers together in meaningful transactions.

Pictured above are Karla Murtaugh and David Kornmeier of Brown Harris Stevens real estate.

What Rising Mortgage Rates Mean For Buyers

When purchasing a house, a buyer’s chief concern, besides living in the home, is paying for it. Although mortgage rates are at historic lows, the gradual recovery of the economy and an increase in home sales may cause a rise in both rates and home prices. As the economy improves, investors generally stop buying bonds in favor of higher risk investments with greater returns. Because mortgage rates are in direct correlation with bonds, as the economy continues to improve, rates are likely to increase.

In addition, mortgage rates are trending toward their 2009 and 2010 levels. The fact is, a 30-year fixed rate conforming mortgage with 4% interest may become the future equivalent of the previously standard 3.25% mortgage. This new rate, however, is still extraordinarily low. The difference between these rates would amount to around $175 per month on a $417,000 (the threshold for conforming loans) mortgage. In other words, the change in rates would result in a buyer’s purchase affordability, decreasing the loan size by about $40,000.

Among the changes that have occurred in the market recently are that qualifications are stricter, reducing the loan size a borrower can qualify for versus 2003 underwriting guidelines. Including income, credit score, and credit history, etc., approvals are considerably more thorough. Because of these changes, getting into the housing market without pre-approval can create destructive difficulties for buyers. Whereas a rough approximation based on self-reported information had often been sufficient, the new, stricter standards mean that everything must be documented. Even minor differences between one’s hypothetical and official incomes can permanently disrupt closing. Similarly, inconsistent incomes such as bonuses may not be considered in year-to-year income, just as entrepreneurs’ incomes and taxes may not pass the financial litmus test. Essentially, a comprehensive underwritten pre-approval has become de facto mandatory – entering the market without one is foolish.

The sum of this information is that rates have increased ½ point since May 1st and housing prices have risen 8.8% May 2012 – May 2013 and are expected to continue to rise. For consumers, now is the perfect time to buy a home, as both prices and rates are still the lowest they’ve been in decades.

Article written by Richard Duffy

Make Perennials Pop

The exterior of a home is the first impression buyers have. Whether in a magazine, a website, or a tour, it is inescapable that exteriors are among the chief hooks for buyers, and one of the most effective ways to easily add curb appeal is through gardening. Through the addition of perennial beds, mulching, and variety of plantings, any home can receive a great boost in appeal with relatively little expense.

Before beginning your garden, ensure that the soil has good drainage and aeration. Remove any extraneous plants, such as grasses and weeds. Enclosing the space with edging or another visual demarcation not only adds an attractive visual element, but can help to stop the spread of unwanted plants into the garden, as well of mulch out of it. While planting, allow ample time for perennials to become established before their winter dormancy. However, planting can occur during any season, except winter. A layer of mulch is not only good for plants, but provides an additional visual marker for the borders of the garden.

Perennial gardens are not only relatively easy to maintain, their reoccurrence creates year-over-year value. Within your garden, plant taller plants toward the least-accessible part of the space. Gradually plant shorter plants to allow for each element of the garden to be visible, though occasional changes in orientation can provide visual texture.
In addition to varying the size of plants, tasteful variation in color and texture are also effective for increasing curb appeal. By using a continuous but matching palette, variety may be introduced without over-stimulating the viewer. Placed into small clusters, groups of matching plants can act as focal points throughout, thereby disrupting potential monotonies. Interspersing these groups throughout the garden can create a satisfying continuity while maintaining variety. For experienced botanists, a consideration of the approximate blooming times of each plant can be magnificently employed, potentially allowing for a successive series of bloomings throughout the season. Gardens can benefit from basic geometry as well. By planting groups in triangular or scattered spaces, the volumes of plants blend together more effectively.

Throughout the season, be sure to remove weeds as they appear and provide irrigation. Remember that effective set-up can cut down on maintenance later.

Finally, the addition of paths, stones, and other inorganic elements throughout can add additional visual interest without becoming overwhelming. By integrating the aesthetic of the garden and adding these secondary elements, a relatively simple combination of colors and textures can sum to great design and powerful curb appeal.

Article written by Richard Duffy

Fairfield County Schools Are Making The Grade

The most recent ranking by the U.S. News & World Report Best High Schools places many Fairfield County public high schools among the Top 10 schools in Connecticut, with Wilton, Redding, Westport, Weston and Ridgefield – the real estate markets I service – making the cut. This year’s rankings within Connecticut place Weston, 3rd; Ridgefield, 4th; Wilton, 6th; Westport’s Staples High School, 7th; and Redding, 9th.

Although Fairfield County has a reputation for academic excellence, these schools constitute an extraordinary example of high standards. The rankings were assigned based on the level of proficiency in reading and mathematics, as well as the students’ performance on standardized tests and the performance of minority students.

This year’s rankings continue a well-established trend in our county. Ridgefield, for example, has maintained its ranking to within one position for a number of years. Among its 2013 graduating class are over a dozen students headed to Ivy League institutions, as well as a number of students who will matriculate to similarly impressive schools, among them the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, West Point, and the University of Chicago. Ridgefield has also had major athletic success, with students moving on to Division I sports at universities such as Princeton, Brown, and Columbia.

Ridgefield, though impressive, is not atypical. Our other towns have also performed historically well. Between the bucolic charm of historical Fairfield County and the draw of the excellent schools, our towns are all perfect choices for raising children and living well.

US News & World Report

Our New Intern

We would like to welcome the newest member of our team, intern Richard Duffy. A 2013 graduate of Ridgefield High School, he was captain of the cross country and outdoor track teams, winner of the Lodestar literary award for prose writing, and achieved senior recognition for excellence in Chinese. After the summer, he will attend the Stern School of Business at New York University, focusing in finance and Mandarin Chinese. He currently works on web presence and marketing.

May Market – Ridgefield

Read more here for up-to-the-minute statistics about Ridgefield’s Real Estate Market.

Karla Ridgefield May 2013