Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Q: I just moved here and can't believe the hours that the local businesses keep.

When are places open? It seems that some restaurants and several other businesses are closed Sunday and Monday, and some are closed Tuesday. Some stores are open on weekends but other businesses are not, and most places close really early. How do they expect to do any business if they're not open at the convenience of their customers? I guess I just have to keep shopping in the city.

A:
All small towns have this issue. Small businesses can't afford the staff to cover 14 to 16 hour days, seven days a week. The businesses are, for the most part, family-owned and run. These folks already work long hours and even when they're not in the store they are making deliveries, picking up supplies, or doing on of the million other things that are required when you have a small business.
Most of our larger stores that can afford more help are open extended hours. However, this is not a big city and we don't have a lot of large franchise stores. Part of the charm of a small town is doing business with families who live and work here. Our shops have unique products, often made right here on the Island, that you won't find in large franchise stores.
Restaurants in particular need time to clean, re-stock supplies, prepare some food items ahead, and do the bookwork. That means that there must be a day or two each week set aside for those chores. Fortunately, we have many wonderful restaurants to choose from. You just have to learn their hours.
We have no K-Mart here. There is no Wal-Mart or McDonald's. Most of us hope fervently that there will never be a big box store or large chain operation here.
Most American towns and cities look alike. They have the same stores with the same merchandise in identical shopping centers. Living in a small town is not about shopping convenience. Slow down and learn to flow with our "Island time." You'll live longer!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Q: We were talked into buying a house last summer without doing an inspection.

Our agent told us that there were other bids and that those offers were not subject to any conditions. She said that if we wanted to get the house we couldn’t have any conditions or contingencies. Now, after all of the rain, we have a leaking roof. The roof seemed OK but obviously it is not. My wife and I are really upset and need to know how to recover the costs to fix the roof.
A: Your first step is to repair the roof before there is further damage. A competent roofer should be able to tell you what needs to be done. It may not be as bad as you think. It could be leaking due to poor caulking or flashing around a skylight or chimney, for instance. It’s also possible, of course, that the entire roof needs to be replaced. Get at least two opinions and bids.
It’s always important to have an inspection as a part of a home sale. There are people who make offers without that contingency but in many of those cases a quick preliminary inspection before making the offer is always a good idea. But it has to happen fast if you want to be competitive.
I recently sold a home with a similar scenario. There were three very good, competing offers. None of the three contained contingencies or an inspection clause. However, all three parties had done a quick, professional inspection before tendering their offers. That might have been a good idea in your case.
Without knowing all the details of the situation I can’t make any recommendation as to your next steps. That should be done by an attorney in any case. However, if you feel you were unduly influenced into giving up your rights, you might want to start by talking to your agent. That would be the fair thing to do. Perhaps when she understands that her recommendation lead to problems for you she will offer to help.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Q: When we closed on our home, we were shocked at some of the fees we had to pay that we didn't know about.

We signed papers anyway because we were down to the deadline on our contract. We chose this lender on the Internet because it looked like they had the best interest rates. Now I'm not sure what we got. How could we be better prepared next time?

A: Choosing a lender is just as important as choosing the right real estate professional. The wrong decision on either one can cost time and money, plus a lot of stress. I prefer to deal with local banks and mortgage brokers that I have had good results with in the past. My experience has not been good with loans available in "cyberspace." My clients have ended up with expenses they didn't really anticipate, rates that were not as quoted, and even serious problems with the transaction itself.

It's important to understand that the lender "calls the shots" in most transactions. Without the lender's agreement, most buyers can't buy. Without meeting the conditions placed on the loan by the lender, the deal can't close. It can be frustrating dealing with Internet lenders where there is no single loan officer responsible, nor any physical location to visit.

The government requires many "truth in lending" documents to be given to buyers. These documents inform borrowers about the fees they will be paying, and other facts. Sadly, these documents are not simple and straightforward, and are even confusing. A good loan officer will walk their clients through these forms so that the lending process is clear. Internet lenders do not offer this kind of service.

It is possible that once you add in the cost of any surprise fees, or changes in the points being charged, you could have done just as well with a local lender. There should be no suprises when you reach the closing table. In the long run, I would rather see my clients work with a trustworthy local loan officer or mortgage broker who can sit down with them and explain the entire process.