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      Blog :: 12-2013

      5 Home Security Tips: Holiday Season Vacation Checklist

      As the weather turns colder, snowbirds are locking up their homes and heading off for a more pleasant clime. Others are flying across the country to visit loved ones for the holidays, or simply escape the stresses that culminate the day after Christmas.

      Whenever you choose to get away, your pre-trip preparations should include home-security measures, so you won't leave the family's most expensive possession -- your home -- vulnerable to burglars.

      A few simple steps can mitigate the risk of a break-in -- and a home insurance claim: Do everything possible to make yourself a lousy target for thieves. How? By following this list of five things to check before leaving home.

      Ask neighbors to be your eyes and ears

      Alerting neighbors to your vacation plans and asking them to watch your property is paramount. Essentially, that's the best advice for low-cost home protection.

      People who are retired or who do not work outside the home are often the best lookouts. They are familiar with what is normal for your street and can take note when a van appears in your driveway.

      Instruct neighbors to call police if they see any suspicious activity. It's also wise to give a trusted neighbor a spare key to your house. That's better than leaving a key under the mat. Don't attempt to hide your spare key, thinking no one else will find it - that's one of the key reasons why "effortless" break-ins happen.

      Secure all doors and windows

      Doors and windows provide the main entry points for thieves, so make sure they are secure.

      Using deadbolts and locks that are pick-resistant, drill-resistant and able to withstand substantial force, such as kicking. These kinds of locks should be installed on all doors that are outside entry points, including the door from the garage into your home.

      Exterior doors should be made of wood that is at least 1 ¾ inches thick, or should be clad in metal. Sliding glass doors require a dowel in the bottom track to keep the door from being pried open. Anti-lift devices can prevent anyone from lifting the glass up and out.

      Securing windows depends on the type of window installed. For example, double-hung sash windows, with upper and lower halves that move up and down in tracks, require a key-locking security sash lock. Casement windows that swing open can be secured by removing the crank handle from the window's opening mechanism. Glass doors and windows should be shatter-proof and break-resistant.

      Remember to check all locks before you leave. Always keep in mind that the best locks in the world can't protect you if you don't use them.

      Don't leave a burglar-friendly yard

      Most homeowners know that well-trimmed hedges and bushes deny burglars a key place to hide before breaking in. But it's also important for home security to prune low-hanging tree branches, which can give thieves access to the second floor.

      If you'll be gone for a long period, make sure someone mows the lawn regularly or shovels promptly after snowstorms. An untended yard is a sure giveaway that no one is home. Good exterior lighting also can keep thieves at bay. Some lights can be programmed to turn on at dusk and off at dawn, while others have motion sensors, so they'll turn on when someone walks by them.

      Lighting should be focused on the entry ways into your home. The general rule is that lights always make burglars nervous.

      Arm the alarm and alert the police

      A good home alarm can keep burglars out of your digs. Even security signs and stickers can be effective deterrents.

      But an actual alarm system might earn you a discount on your home insurance. As with locks, alarms are only good if you set it before you leave. So before you pack your bags, be certain your system is working.

      We suggest doing a monthly test, or even run it a few days leading up to your vacation. Make sure it is communicating with the monitoring service. Do not underestimate the value of a good alarm system.

      If you live in a small neighborhood that's easily patrollable, you might also want to alert the local police department about your vacation plans. Many law enforcement agencies have a "vacation check" program, especially in Massachusetts. Officers or volunteers will make random stops at your home and do a cursory check.

      Do sweat the little stuff

      Overlooking the little things can negate all of the home security steps already tackled. They are easily undermined if you leave your porch light on 24/7 and you don't have your mail and newspaper deliveries stopped while you are gone.

      A buildup of papers on the front stoop or a mailbox stuffed to the brim can be almost as bad as putting up a billboard telling thieves that no one is home. Plus, an overflowing mailbox attracts another type of criminal. It is also a gold mine for identity thieves.

      We also suggest that homeowners put a few interior lights on timers. They can give the appearance that someone is home - this is always a deterrent to break ins.

      Finally - for those who are home insurance (theft) policyholders - remember to keep valuables such as jewelry and important papers in a secure location. Don't leave them in plain sight, such as sitting on the desk in your home office, that on its own could be a cause for the insurers not to compensate you.

      Boston's Favorite Christmas Homes

      By now, as the holiday rush winds down and Christmas draws closer, you probably are in need of some de-stressing. What better way to get away from all of the season's stresses and still have some quality time with your family or friends than to take a look around the city for some wonderfully decorated holiday homes. Perhaps take some queues on how to dress up yours next year, when you make that move to purchase your own.

      For some reason, Christmas lights always brightens up one's day. They're at the very heart of the season, bringing brightness into the longest, coldest, darkest nights of the year. Some are inspired by the Christian faith, some are purely decorative. But whether you're moved by "Peace on Earth" or a holly jolly Christmas, below are nine must-see electric yuletide displays from Dorchester to Saugus' incredible Lynn Fells Parkway that will warm your cold New England heart and melt it away... and if you see a property you like along your drive, remember to keep us in mind - it might just be up for sale and the perfect gift for yourself next Christmas!

      16 & 22 Lynn Fells Parkway, Saugus

      The Amsden and the Guarino families, who share a driveway, are behind this show-stopping display--one of the many light extravaganzas along Lynn Fells Parkway in Saugus. This dual display includes a penguin popping out of an igloo, a manger scene, pink flamingos and a life-sized Santa riding in a sleigh pulled by a little red-nosed Rudolph.

       

      26 Norton Street, Readville

      The couple who owns this Ginger-bread like home have been decorating it for over 40 years. The lights, if you get out of your car, come along with festive music to cheer you along as you marvel at the over 2,000 lights that are decked out on its halls. Adams Street, Fields Corner Hoa Nguyen and his father, Trong Nguyen, light up Boston's Fields Corner neighborhood with an animated spectacle of electric snow, hovering angels, blinking Christmas trees and what seem to be LED fireworks.

      Otis Street, Somerville

      John Ragno, the owner, has been doing the decorating on his house for almost 30 years now. He decorates three houses he owns in the neighborhood as well, two side by side, and one across the street. The joke is that he started off with a manger outside, a small manger on the porch. And it grew to what it is now - a massive Christmas medley of decorations.

      Bainbridge Street, just west of Rockwell Street, Malden

      Over the past decade, Maryann Spinney and her daughter and son-in-law Evelyn and Mark Anzalone have lit up houses down the lane from each other on Malden's Bainbridge Street. Several neighbors have also gotten into the act, so that it's become a whole glowing holiday neighborhood.

      The Charles River Esplanade Hatch Shell & Longfellow Bridge

      You might be wondering who's boat that is along the Charles that has a Santa riding in it. Well, the answer is it's Community Boating Inc.'s holiday hello to everyone passing over the Charles bridge. It's a pretty nifty sight to see especially when you're crossing over to Cambridge.

      Boston To Hit Landmark Levels This Holiday

      As 2013 ends, we in the real estate industry have been fortunate enough to witness the city's climb out of the recession; in fact, it is well within striking distance of a pretty big landmark. By the end of next year, if not before, the Greater Boston area will have recovered all the real estate value that vanished when the bubble burst and Great Recession hit.

      How exactly is that about to happen?

      Well, this year has been a start of a rosy buying and selling season, that seems to spill over to 2014. You see, Boston-area real estate values peaked at $604 billion in 2005, before going on a six year soon that bottomed out at $502 billion in 2011. Since then, the real estate roller coaster has headed back up, and back up sharply, soaring $46 billion alone in 2013 to $568 billion. A repeat performance in 2014, or anything close to it, will bring us back to peak values in 2005, which stood at $604 billion.

      You have got to be wondering whether this recovery is all "too much, too fast". Some would even go as far as say that the startling speed with which prices are coming back seems "very bubbly". The $46 billion jump on real estate values across the Boston area we saw in 2013 eclipsed even the $22 billion run up from 2004 to 2005 as the housing bubble reached its peak.

      But with skyrocketing consumer confidence, increasing number of home repairs, record-low unemployment levels, and a staggering number of developments going up almost every month - the "bubble" might be just a bust of an idea. Nationally, prices are also rising and are well within the rates the city is experiencing.

      So, what's the take away? Well, there's two. If you still want to buy at bargain prices, there's no better time than scouting for some properties during the "off-season" period of the year (i.e. winter); you might not be getting a steal, but at least you won't be losing out riding the wave just yet. Lastly, another takeaway would be for all the sellers or at least those considering it: if you're out to make the most, there's no better time to sell than now. But if you're still uncertain about letting go, Spring is always only a few more months away.

      Why You Should Sell Your Home This Winter

      Typically winter is seen as the worst time of the year to sell your home - especially if that home is anywhere in the Northeast. Sellers believe the holidays will get in the way, buyers don't like the cold, and open houses can be ruined in a blink by a snowstorm. But while the temperatures are continuing to drop this December, the local real estate market remains red hot, offering a unique opportunity for homeowners looking to cash in and sell.

      This year has been one of multiple offers and over asking bids. Due to the abundance of transaction activity earlier in 2013, we're seeing buyers who began looking in the spring still without a new home. These buyers are ready to pounce on a property if they can just find one that meets their needs. The combination of dwindling inventory and eager buyers has created an interesting environment for sellers as there is a large pool of buyers who are ready to buy now and less inventory than any other time of the year. In its simplest terms supply is heading to a yearly low and demand is still very high.

      What this scenario creates is an ability for sellers to capture the attention of a larger percentage of active buyers with their new listing and stand out in a way that simply isn't going to be possible in the spring. The buyer pool that is still looking for a new home today has, for the most part, been conditioned to come in strong and fast with offers when they see a home they like and are also more likely to overlook small imperfections.

      It's Cold Out! How Can I Close Deals Faster?

      We real estate agents see it all -- from unmade beds to overstuffed garages to the "what-were-they-thinking-of?!" decor.

      Over the years, we've learned why some houses sell while others linger and linger on the market, and why some promising buyers never make it to the closing table. They know how to get a better deal on the mortgage, and how much the other agents stand to make on your home.

      The good news is, they want to share. The information is useful whether you're a buyer, a seller or both.

      In today's market, sellers are again optimistic about the value and price of their homes -- but buyers aren't. Your challenge as a seller is to price the house so that it is compelling and competitive. What exactly does that mean?

      Generally, if you set a price slightly below market value - even just a minuscule fraction - it will make all the difference. For instance: If similar homes in your neighborhood are priced around $210,000, price yours at $200,000 or $198,000. That shows your willingness to sell (not at a loss, but at a healthy profit).

      Always remember, the longer a house is on the market, the less likely you are to get fair value. So you'll really want to position yourself to be the one that sells, not the one that ends up bopping around.

      For many potential buyers, frugality ends the minute they get pre-approved for a mortgage. That's when they start running up the cards and opening new lines of credit to buy things for their home-to-be. But that pre-approval letter is just one of the first steps in the home buying marathon, not the finish line.

      Just before closing, a lender will re-examine a prospective buyer's financial situation -- complete with a recent copy of the credit history and other updated information. If those numbers have changed for the worse (salary decrease, higher card balances, new lines of credit), then the applicant could get clocked with a higher interest rate or even lose the loan. The number of buyers who get denied is significant relative to the ones who've gotten a pre-approval line of credit.

      So, what's the moral of the story? Never get new loans or start using credit cards more heavily until after you've actually closed on the home. Even better, retain your frugality until you've been in the home for a few months and have a good sense of how homeownership affects your finances.

      If you're selling a home, it's important to understand the timeline. Underestimating the time it takes -- and building a schedule around those unrealistic expectations -- adds stress.

      For those curious, here's a quick breakdown of the process:

      Getting your home in shape: two weeks

      Average time on the market (varies widely with location and price): 2 1/2 to three months

      Negotiating after an ?offer: one week

      Preparing to close (assuming a traditional transaction): 30 to 45 days

      A smart seller allows a ?minimum of four to six months to sell.

      If you'd like to discuss selling your home before the spring, please contact us at info@bostonire.com with your name and number, and we will get back to you with a plan to get your home sold for the most money possible and in the fastest time this winter.

      Top 10 Home Repairs To Make Before Winter

      With all the barbecues, baseball games and road trips that go on during the summer months, home maintenance projects may not seem very appealing. But, before Old Man Winter bears down on your area, there are a few projects you should consider completing.

      This is especially the case for those of us in the Northeast - where in the matter of just hours, our homes become our refuge from the freezing winds and heavy snow that batter the region unexpectedly. It's one of the 'perks' of being in Boston, you'll definitely have a feel of all the four seasons that make up the year - especially wintertime.

      So, before it ultimately gets too wintry out there for you, here is a list of things you might want to take care of before the mercury completely falls and freezes over.

      Check Heating System

      Before it's time to turn on the heat, you should have your home's heating system checked out and serviced, if necessary. Having your furnace examined and fixed, during the air-conditioning months may be easier than it would be in the winter, as the demand will likely be lower then. Putting it off until winter could mean a longer response time.

      Inspect Your Roof

      Summer storms may have affected your roof. And since winters can also be rough, it's important to have any small repairs completed to prevent larger, more expensive problems from developing. Snow, ice and heavy rain can turn a seemingly small issue into a major headache -- so why not get that roof fixed before the weather turns bad?

      Fill Gaps Around Windows and Doors

      Any gaps around windows and doors could allow heated air to escape, requiring homeowners to run their heating systems more to make their homes comfortable. By filling in gaps with silicone caulking or weather-stripping, you can save money on your monthly utility bills and cut down any drafts.

      Inspect the Chimney and Fireplace

      There's nothing cozier on a cold winter's night than cuddling by the fireplace. To help reduce the possibility of fire danger disrupting your peaceful evening by the fire, it's important to get your chimneys, vents and fireplace cleaned before you light a fire. Other items in your home that burn coal, oil, wood or gas should also be cleaned before it's time to use them.

       

      Make Quick Exterior Fixes

      The cooler weather and falling leaves of autumn can cause drafts and clogged gutters, so it's a good time to do some exterior maintenance. Check for cracks in your home where the warm air can leak out. Also, you should clean the gutters and rake the yard, as piles of leaves could later cause ice dams. It also may be a good idea to fill cracks in the driveway or walkways before the cold sets in.

      Switch Ceiling Fan Direction

      One thing many people don't know is the effect reversing your ceiling fan has on your home's ability to keep your house warm. Running a fan clockwise via a reverse switch will allow it to push down the warm air that rises toward the ceiling. Doing so could allow you to turn down the thermostat while staying toasty warm.

      Buy Supplies and Tools Early

      Purchasing winter supplies early can ensure stores don't run out, while it may also provide you with a deal on all the necessities. Fall is a good time to check out the stuff you already have and replace damaged snow shovels or other items. Don't forget to pick up ice melt and salt, as these tend to go quickly when storms approach.

      RealtyCheck: Home and Condo Sales' October Comeback

      As temperatures keep dropping going into the winter months, sales figures keeping climbing. Reports for the past autumn month of October show that sales of single-family homes rose again in October, increasing nearly 19 percent from a year earlier amid shrinking inventory and rising prices.

      A total of 4,326 single-family homes were sold in Massachusetts in October, an 18.5-percent increase from 3,649 sales in October 2012. Year-to-date, sales are up more than 7 percent at 42,077, compared to 39,239 during the same period last year.

      Most of the speed of sales are caused by baby boomers cashing out on their property investments, riding out the recent wave of sales and investments in the Northeast region. But as volume rose, so did prices.

      The median price of single-family homes rose almost 10 percent in October to $313,050. This is the state's highest median price for the month since October 2007, when it was $331,000. The median price for homes sold January through October was $324,900, up more than 12 percent from $289,000 in the prior year.

      Yet, the market is unstoppable as proven by the quick turnover of high-end properties in suburbs.

      In October, statewide condominium sales statewide rose 16 percent, increasing to 1,724 from 1,487 a year ago. Year-to-date condo sales are up 5.8 percent to 17,089 from 16,152 during the same period last year.

      The median condo price rose to $299,500 in October, a 13-percent increase from $265,000 a year earlier. The year-to-date median price of condos in the Bay State is $295,000, up 7 percent from $267,500 a year ago.

      Single-family home inventory at the end of October, fell 19.9 percent to 20,716 listings compared to a year ago when there were 25,877 listings, while the inventory of condominiums was 5,582, down 26.1 percent compared to last year when there were 7,557 listings.

      Average market time for single-family homes in October was 92 days compared to 114 days in October 2012, the trade group. Condos stayed on the market an average of 78 days, down from an average of 114 days in October 2012.

      Million Dollar Condos

      Prices of condominium properties in the city rose 23 percent from January to October of this year compared to 2009. Compared to 2012 however, the number of listings priced at $1 million and over have doubled.

      Though most of Boston's neighborhoods are experiencing the real estate recovery, three Boston districts are ruling the condo turnover scene, according to Curbed.com's Tom Acitelli. Midtown - comprising of Financial District, Chinatown, and parts of Beacon Hill - lead the pack, particularly because of Millennium Residences' rise, as well as 45 Province's renewed vigor to sell its few remaining units.

      Boston skyline, winter house hunting, Boston real estate, Bargain buys, discounts, winter advantage

      Now far behind is the quintessential and famed favorite South End. Last year, only a handful of condo properties in the neighborhood closed above the $1 million mark. This year however, one out of four have closed well above that threshold. Of course, this does not top that of the Back Bay - where 40 percent of all closings in 2013 were above $1 million. One difference that sets the South End apart is that there are no huge condo buildings that comprise the bulk of sales and listings. Instead, the neighborhood's dozens of different addresses - brownstone or converted and remodeled - make up the closings that passed the million dollar mark. One option that is fast becoming a hot complex though is Sepia in Ink Block. Check it out here.

      Last but not least, Charlestown comes in at third. In past years, only one or two condos in this Cambridge and Boston suburb reached the million dollar mark. This year however, there have been 24 units in total! Most of these listings were from newly constructed townhouses right by the Navy Yard. Indeed, a good location to invest, as new-construction town homes are becoming a rarity in the central city of Boston itself.