It’s always all about the money…

April 30, 2013

I read this week about the rejection in Holly, Michigan by the local school board to a proposal from a parents’ group who wanted to buy an old Holly School District school building and use it to open a charter school. They felt like a charter school might do a better job educating their children. A similar proposal in the Huron Valley School District was also rejected and the buildings were torn down, just as the Holly School District proposes to do with its empty building. The reason given in both cases is that a charter school would take money away from the existing school district. Theremoney was no discussion about what is best for the children or whether or not a charter school might provide a better education – it was all about the money.

Education in America, like healthcare and just about everything else is focused upon the money – how to get more and how to keep what they’ve got. Proposals to offer alternatives, whether they represent better education or better health care are always seen as threats to the existing status quo or monopolies and thus are to be resisted.

In health care the resistance to change is being led by the doctors who are resisting efforts to allow Nurse Practitioners to provide much needed primary health care. There was a story in BusinessWeek a week or so back about a nurse practitioner who is the only healthcare provider within 300 miles of her clinic in a small town area out west who is being prevented from providing needed health care services to the residents of tnursehat area by doctors in the state. They try to base their case on an argument that the nurse practitioners don’t have the required training to provide those services. In fact they do and the real argument is one based upon money.

The doctors currently enjoy a monopoly status for practicing medicine in most states that allows them to control the money that is spent on healthcare. They have succeeded in convincing the legislatures and the insurance industry that they, and only they, can provide the simple services of a primary care specialist. We’re not talking brain surgeon here; just the take my blood pressure and listen to my heart kinds of  simple care services that go along with diagnosing what might be wrong and what care may be needed. None of the nurse practitioners is trying to perform surgery or do other tasks which only a trained doctor/specialist should perform.

Because of the doctors’ monopoly and the lack of enough financial return from being a primary care specialist, the BusinessWeek article pointed out the country is today over 20,00teacher0 primary care specialists short of what is needed and th shortage is getting worse. Do the doctors and their lobbying groups care about that – no way. They just keep fighting all efforts to allow the very people who could relieve that shortage from practicing.

So we have educators who are more concerned about maintaining their monopoly on the education  funds than on the quality of education available for our children and we have doctors who fight to maintain their monopoly on the heath care funds, even as people go without care and education suffers.

I know that the arguments are more complex that just what has been presented here, but at the base of both examples it’s all about the money. I know many individual educators and healthcare workers who are deeply concerned about the quality of what they deliver and who are focused upon success at educating or healing. They usually aren’t the ones making the money oriented decisions. Those are people in both professional fields who have moved into the management side of those businesses. To them it’s all about spread sheets, ROI and making sure that they get every last drop out of the government and insurance money spigots that fund their fields. They have long ago stopped being educators or health care providers; they are now administrators. They are protecting their businesses, not pursuing lofty dreams of a better world through education or heath care. It’s all about the money.

The same story can be written about many other institutions in our society. Parishes and churches are closing all around us. Why? It’s all about the money. Police and fire departments are being shuttered or consolidated or outsourced. Why? It’s all about the money. I could go on and on. In fact, I have already; so, let me wrap up by asking the reader. What things in your world are important enough such that it’s not just about the money? Do you fight for those things in your communities? Why not? Is it all just about the money for you, too?

Little League Parade Day in Milford (and probably in Mayberry too)

April 27, 2013

This afternoon, right around what passes for a “rush hour” in Milford the local Little League baseball teams held their annual march down Main Street. I’m sure most of the people who were scurrying along trying to get home at the end of the week didn’t appreciate it as much as those who participated and those of use lucky enough to live here.

The only way this scene could have been quainter would have been if Sherriff Andy had been leading the parade in his police car and Deputy Fife was directing traffic, while Aunt Bea handed out cookies. Were Norman Rockwell still alive this would be a Saturday Evening Post cover painting for sure.

We have lots of parades and events in Milford that close down Main Street for a few hours, almost one event or -parade a month throughout the year. In addition to our big street festival – Milford Memories – which takes place in August; we have three major parades – the Memorial Day Parade in May, which honors our military men and women; the Independence Day Parade, which usually takes place on the 4th of July and celebrates the birth of our country; and then there’s that  Christmas Parade, which is on the weekend after Thanksgiving.

There are also the minor parades and events, like, the big, summer downtown shopping event – Summer Palooza.  In the late summer Milford also hosts the Milford Criterion (aka. the Milford Crit), which is a sanctioned bicycle street race that takes place down Main street and around a course that closes off several other streets. In the fall there’s the Homecoming Parade for Milford High School. All summer long, starting in May there is a Farmers Market on Liberty Street, just off Main Street, every Thursday evening.

Then there is the Milford Car Show in September that closes all of Main Street and Central Park. Of course we also have an event downtown for the kids at Halloween called the Boo Bash, where the local merchants stand in their doorways and give out candy – got to close Main Street for that.

So you can see why our Department of Public Works (DPW) and the local police have become quite good at the exercise of closing off Main Street for whatever event is going on. I suppose the people who pass through Milford everyday aren’t really all that surprised when they encounter the detour signs – they know something in happening in Milford on Main Street and that’s a good thing. That’s what makes it Milford.

Adding Pinterest to the mix

April 26, 2013

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t yet get the interest in Pinterest. I read that it is the fastest growing new social media site these days. I also read that it is loved by women over men something ridiculous like 97% to 3 %. So maybe the fact that I don’t get it, nor do the majority of men points to something that is attributable to the Women are from Venus and men are from Mars theory put forth in the book by the same name.

Pinterest is visual. I get that. But that’s all it is. It has a little bit of verbiage to label the board that one is looking at and labels for each picture (if they were entered by the board creator). In many cases the pictures that make up a board (kind of like a page in Pinterest) have little in common; although the better boards do have a theme that ties all of the pictures together. It is as close to a totally non-verbal visual experience as one can find.

So, I’ve made up boards of the pictures that I take of my listings and posted them on Pinterest. You can see them at  . If you go there you’ll see some other things that I’ve created boards for in Pinterest. I’m still learning how to get pictures onto Pinterest boards and manipulate them, so they are a little disjointed. Pinterest doesn’t make it easy to load pictures to boards or to manipulate the pictures on the boards, or at least I haven’t found it to be easy, yet. Maybe that’s a man from Mars thing, too.

Anyway, enjoy what I have been able to load up to boards on Pinterest. Now that I know I’ll be doing that, I’ll probably take a lot more pictures of new listings. The other thing that I’ve decided to do is to take a lot of pictures of the interesting little details in each house – a special sink or faucet here or an interesting light fixture there. I have a feeling that this is what Pinterest is all about or at least what 97% of Pinterest users will find interesting.

How walkable is it where you live?

April 20, 2013

“Anything’s within walking distance, if you have enough time.” (Steven Wright)

But what if you don’t have all the time in the world to get to something? That’s where the “walkability” of your neighborhood comes in. I met the lady who wrote the book on “walkability”, which is a measurement of how convenient it is to walk to things from where you live. Out of her work a Web site was born a web site that has now been bought by Redfin. The new URL is – . The book focused upon family walkingwhat makes a neighborhood walkable – the places that you can reasonably walk to and the things you can do once you get there. Included in important places that you might be able to walk to are stores, libraries, parks, restaurants and more.

There are urban areas like Chicago and Boston and New York where you would see a very high walkscore, since they have very dense neighborhoods that have most of the things one needs integrated into the fabric of the neighborhood. Once you get out to the suburbs you often lose that ability to walk to the store or the restaurant.

I live in Milford, Michigan which has a very high walkscore of 77 (out of 100) when I type in my address. I used to live in Orchard Lake in a typical bedroom community and when I put in that address the score is 9, which means that it is almost a totally car-dependent neighborhood. Go to and type in your address. What score do you get? If you’d like to be in a more walkable place, call me and I’ll find you a home in Milford, where you can walk to almost anything you need.

The time is now! The lid is off! Get out of your jar!

April 17, 2013

I read a blog recently that was based upon a story about an experiment that was done some time ago with fleas in a glass jar. When the fleas were initially put in the jar a lid was screwed on the jar to prevent them from getting out. At first the fleas would still climb up the jar walls and try to jump out. They would bang their heads on the jar lid and fall back down into the jar. After a few days the fleas stopped trying to get out because they had become conditioned that trying lead to a bump on the head and a fall. The lid was then removed fro the jar and none of the fleas tried to get out because they had been conditioned that trying that lead most certainly to failure and a sore head.

The real estate market has undergone similar conditioning that is keeping would-be sellers bottled up. The “lid” that was on our market – low property values caused by the recession – has been removed and yet too few have even tried to get out of the jar and put their homes on the market. Property values certainly aren’t all the way back to where they were at the peak of the bubble that burst and led to the recession; however, they are also not mired at the low point of the recession. Values have come back over 10% year-over-year in many areas and the low inventory in the market right now has led to bidding wars over the few homes that are available. Even appraisals have started coming back to support the price increases.

The point here is to shout out as loud as I can that THE LID IS OFF! TRY AGAIN! You may still bang your head on a market price that is too low to allow you to sell. People who bought at the peak or who took all their equity out at the peak are likely still underwater; however, most owners are probably better off that they know. You won’t know if you don’t have a current market analysis done by a real estate professional. Having a Realtor® give you an updated Comparative Market Analysis doesn’t usually cost you anything. It is quite likely that the recent uptick in the market will allow you to again consider listing your current home, so that you can get on with retirement or job-relocation plans. Call me and let me see what you house is worth on today’s market.

Southeastern Michigan Real Estate Market Report – Q1, 2013

April 11, 2013

From our Brokerage President – Dan Elsea:

For the first quarter of 2013, Michigan is still a leader in the housing recovery but a number of states have caught up, extending the housing recovery across the nation. Throughout the state we are seeing inventory shortages and rising values. Southeast Michigan remains the most active with the lowest inventory and strongest buyer demand. A new term is being used in the industry: the Shadow Demand. Like the Shadow Inventory, which represented the potential bank-owned homes that could go on the market, the Shadow Demand represents the pent-up Buyers who have been holding back for the past 5 years. While the release of the shadow bank inventory has been slow and steady, the Shadow Demand seems to be jumping in all at once.

We expect a shortage of homes for sale throughout 2013 and 2014 with inventories rising and demand slowing down a bit in 2015 as interest rates increase and the Shadow Demand is dissipated. How quickly home inventories will rise depends on two factors: the pace of appreciation, and more importantly, how quickly Sellers realize that home values are improving. For many Sellers, values have risen enough that it makes sense to sell now, especially if you are also buying.

For anyone who has purchased a home in the past four years, particularly investors, it is a great time to test the market. You should be pleasantly surprised on the potential return on your investment. The same holds for those who leased their homes, waiting for the values to rise.

Historically, with low For Sale inventories, home builders fill the gap. So far, local home builders, which traditionally make up the majority of new construction, have had difficulty obtaining financing so they have not been able to supply any inventory relief.

Following the market trends over the past three years, you can see values have been moving off the bottom since the spring of 2011 and gaining speed these last three quarters.

5 county market chart

The next two charts show both the decline in the number of new home listings entering the market as well as the increase in the number of homes being placed under contract.  It is interesting to note the declining bank-owned share of the market.

homes on market chart

The result is a big increase in Sales Absorption, which is the percent of the available homes being sold each quarter.  Considering that about a third of homes for sale are not really saleable because of condition, motivation or price, a 44% rate this past quarter represents a true absorption of closer to 70%, which is the driving force behind the double digit appreciation rates.

absorption rate chart

And from me…

So, what does all of this mean to you? Well, if you’ve been on the fence about selling, now is the time to jump off the fence and get into the market. Once the market re-balances the supply and demand curves the appreciation rate and what you’ll be able to get for your house will slow to a more normal rate. You can get top dollar right now and multiple bids are not that unusual. Call me for a free Comparative Market Analysis on your home, especially if you haven’t had the value analyzed within the last year. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

For buyers, there is frustration at the lack of inventory to choose from and the bidding process that is going on for good properties; however, the mortgage rates are still low and home values are going in the right direction for you to recoup the buying costs fairly quickly. Jump in while things are still affordable and mortgage rates still low. Many mortgage lenders have re-instituted programs requiring as little as 5% down or allowing for 10-10-80 loans to avoid PMI. Check with your lender of the programs available. For first time buyers there are still down payment assistance programs available and a few 0% down programs still funded. Call me and let’s get looking.

Featured Business of the Month

April 8, 2013

design solutions 

Featured Business of the Month – Design Solutions:FORE

When do you need an architectural designer? Obviously, any time that you are thinking of building a house; however, you also need one whenever your home improvement project moves beyond simple painting, repairing or minor redecorating. If you’re thinking of adding square footage or doing major remodeling to your home, you need an architectural designer. If you’d like to extend your living space outdoors and want your landscaping to enhance the look of your home, you need an architectural designer. If you want to transform your basement into an entertainment space or in-laws quarters, you need an architectural designer.

Why an architectural designer? These are the people who have the formal education and the creative eye for turning ideas into executable plans that can be used to realize your dream. Architectural designers fuse the artistic flair of the worlds of art and fashion with the engineering knowledge of architectmaterials and building methods and codes, resulting in a vision of what that dream would look like if it were built.

Architectural designers aren’t builders, although they understand building well and may remain involved during the construction process. Architectural designers aren’t artists, yet usually have a great eye for color, spatial placement, balance and harmony. Architectural designers aren’t horticulturists, yet they can create layouts and groupings of plants that are pleasing to the eye and friendly to the environment. Architectural designers aren’t engineers, yet their knowledge of materials and physics are applied to ensure that the things that they design can actually be built, will be structurally sound and will meet local building codes.

Some builders have in-house architectural designers who are probably good at what they do; however, remember who they work for – the builder. If you want someone who is working for you and looking out for your best interests, use the services of an architectural designer. A great local choice is Ronna Freeland, President of Design Solutions:FORE.

Ronna describes herself this way: “I am an Architectural Designer specializing in custom residential architecture, additions, remodeling, interior design and landscape design. Designing the structure to maximize functionality while capitalizing on natural light and features of the site becomes the Ronna Freelandbasis for the finishing touches of interior and landscape design. Seeing the project which I’ve envisioned in its completion is very satisfying, but the most rewarding aspect of my work is in knowing that I’ve improved my client’s environment and positively impacted their everyday lives.”

Ronna explains how she does business – “Each project is unique and involves varying scopes of work, sometimes with a potential for misunderstanding. Prior to beginning a project, I prepare a detailed proposal which includes what is being contracted and what my fees are. Many clients become friends and my proudest accomplishment is when clients refer me to their friends.”

Ronna has an interesting background; transitioning from a successful career in the IT industry to pursue her lifelong love of architecture and design. While the structure and discipline required for computer coding had some appeal for her, it lacked an artistic outlet, so she returned to school to achieve her Bachelor of Science in Architecture degree and gained experience in residential and commercial architecture during a 6-year internship. Since starting her company in 2003, she has completed her Master of Architecture degree while establishing her client base of builders, contractors, and homeowners. She especially enjoys the personal aspect of working directly for homeowners.

Ronna is a member of the Huron Valley Chamber of Commerce and is an Ambassador for the Chamber. I got to know her through that involvement. She’s one of the people that you feel good about knowing and enjoy spending time with. Her website is currently under development, but you can see some of her work by clicking here.

So, before you rush out to the home improvement store to start buying tools and materials for that addition that you have in mind – STOP. You need an architectural designer! Before you take the sledgehammer to that wall in your house that you want to remove to create the great room that you’ve always wanted – STOP. You need an architectural designer. Before you tear out all of the existing plants in your yard and start putting in perennial beds – STOP. You need an architectural designer. Call or email Ronna Freeland at Design Solutions:FORE – (248) 676-2306 or Now you have an architectural designer!

For those who may be interested in knowing more about the differences between an architect and an architectural designer, here is a link to the Wikipedia page on that.

What the heck is a site condo anyway?

April 6, 2013

If you haven’t bought a new home in quite a while in Michigan you may be surprised when your Realtor® tells you that you’ve been looking at “site condos”, when you thought you were in subdivisions looking at houses. You were looking at houses, but you might have actually been in a condo complex.

In the mid-1980’s builders grew tired of having to spend a year or more going through all of the processes that were in place to develop a piece of land as a platted sub. They looked around for a quicker and easier way to develop properties and settled upon the Michigan Condominium Law for relief.

houses in sub

The Michigan Condominium Law was passed in 1978 and modified in 1983 (perhaps with the help of those developers). It provides a quicker way to get all of the permissions to develop a parcel of land. One trade-off for that speed is that the developer and later the owners themselves take responsibility for the roads and any common areas. That is an important savings for the communities, since they no longer have to maintain the roads in the complex.

In a normal, multi-family condo complex the individual dwellings (just called the unit in the legal description) are either contained within large buildings (high-rise condos) or connected smaller buildings. There were also condo complexes built where the dwellings were individual units – called detached condos. No matter which style was used the condo concept was the same – the owners actually own the inside of the building (often stated as “from the last layer of paint inward”) and the condo association (made up of all of the owners) owns the building themselves and all of the grounds and roads within. Condo owners pay a monthly fee to the condo association to cover the maintenance of the grounds and all exterior maintenance. The association also insures the building and grounds.

Developers of site condos took the concept of a detached condo a step further. In a site condo the “unit” became the ground your home sits upon (your lot, so to speak) and your house) and the owner is held responsible for all of the maintenance of both the lot and the house; however, owners are also required to belong to the condo association, which still owns and maintains the roads and any common areas.  The association collects monthly or annual fees to maintain those common areas. The most common use of those fees is for road maintenance – snow removal in winter and patching or replacement of roads as needed. If there is an entrance island to the complex, that is usually owned and maintained by the association, too.

man with questionWhat should I care if it’s a site condo?

Most of the time it won’t make any difference to you whether you live in a site condo complex or a platted sub. The two look and feel much the same. Even platted subs may have homeowners associations, although they are usually voluntary and may be associated with some shared facility like a neighborhood beach. When the time comes to do needed road repairs or if someone brings a lawsuit against the complex over some issue, then you’ll appreciate the differences, because you’ll end up paying for it through the association. Even deciding to paint your house may bring the association into the picture.

All site condo complexes have a Master Deed, which defines the restrictions that you accept when you buy into the complex and which also defines the role and authority of the condo association that you are required to be a members of because you bought a unit within the complex. The By-Laws of that association will define a set of rule that you must live by. Those rules can (and most often do) dictate the approval process for add-ons, pools, even exterior paint colors that can be used within the complex. Some people find those rules to be onerous and intrusive, but they are generally there to protect the overall value of all of the units in the complex, by preventing unseemly or unsightly changes to the units within the complex. They may even dictate whether personal property such as boats or RV’s can be stored outside within the complex, which is often a bone of contention with owners.

What can I do to make sure that I can live with the rules of a particular site condo complex?

When you are considering buying in any site condo complex you can askrules to see the By- Laws of the complex. You will be giving the right to review those By-Laws within a reasonable time period after making a purchase and may back out of the purchase agreement if you find them to be too restrictive.

What else should I know about site condos before I buy?

Since they are built under the Michigan Condominium Law, builders are required to fill out paperwork certifying non-discrimination within the complex while they are developing the complex, if they want the units in the complex to qualify for FHA or VA backed loans. There are rules also about how much of the complex must be developed and sold before units can be financed with FHA or VA-backed loans. Sometimes developers didn’t fill out those forms and now homes (units) in those developments don’t qualify for FHA or VA loans. Have your Realtor check to see that the complex is certified.

The final thing to check out is whether or not the association is doing a good job of managing it’s funds to deal with the future. All associations should be collecting and accumulating sufficient funds to deal with future road repairs; otherwise you may be surprised by a big assessment at some future date. The By-Laws for all condo associations have provisions for assessing member/owners for such things. Check to see if the association is doing the right things and collecting sufficient fees to be prepared. It may feel good to have a low association fee right now; but just wait until the roads in the complex need to be replaced.