Monday, December 29, 2008

Never Buy a Car in the Rain - or a House in the Dark

My Dad always counseled us against buying a car in the rain. Seems he did it once, and although he's a meticulous man, the next day, dings and dents became apparent. We recently bought a car on a rainy day, and you know what? The next day, we found some dings that we had missed.

As winter approaches Bucks County, and our days get significantly shorter, please be cautious about looking at homes at night after work.

From a practical standpoint, it makes it almost impossible to actually see the lot. Since location is the hallmark of real estate, the lot the home is on is almost as important as the home itself. Additionally, it's sometimes difficult to access the property (see my icy driveway post).

As for the interior of the home...

If the Sellers were smart and left the home well lit:

You know how everyone looks hotter by candlelight? It softens the wrinkles and adds a glow to the skin and a sparkle to the eyes. That's what your getting with a warmly lit home. Cracks in the drywall, funky floors, dinged appliances - they'll all be softened by the glow of lamps. What is obvious under the glare of natural light can be missed at night. Also, you need to make sure the the home DOES get lots of natural light during the day.

If the Sellers (I'm looking at YOU Mr. Banker) have left the home dark:

Well, I probably don't have to go any further with this. If you can see it, you can't buy it. Duh.

My recommendation is this: you should always do a second showing on a property you're thinking of purchasing. If the first was done in the dark, make sure the second is in full daylight.

Oh, and never buy a car in the rain.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hey, Mr. Banker! Shovel your Walkway, Dude!

With the increase of Bank Owned Properties on the market right now, I send a plea to Mr. Banker...

Please, for the LOVE OF GOD, shovel your walkways and driveways.

And it wouldn't hurt 'ya any to buck up for some, let's say heat and electricity.

I set up showings for two bank owned properties that have been on the market for 90 and 185 days. The first property had no heat, and while my clients and I walked through with our breath puffing in the air, let's just say this: my clients weren't inclined to linger. We walked back to the gorgeous in-law suite only to find that the electric to that part of the house had been turned off. We think there was a jacuzzi in the completely dark bath. We're not sure.

As we entered the driveway to the second home, my truck slid sideways on the iceslick of a driveway midway up the hill to get to the home. My clients had made it to the top of the hill, but couldn't come down because I had closed off the driveway. I abandoned my truck and soldiered on up the hill, only to have my client wipe out getting out of his car and yelling down to me to forget it. There was no electricilty on - at all - at this house, so we couldn't see anything anyway.

It took me around 10 minutes to get my truck out of the driveway without sliding into a busy road, and I only did so by driving in a ditch and having pine trees rake the side of my car. I then had to park on the shoulder of the road with my hazards on and tell my clients when the road was clear, since they anticipated sliding down the drive into the road without being able to stop the car.

Since we haven't had any snow or ice since last week, I guess it's been that long since anyone, including the agent, had checked on the condition of the property.

Look, I get it. You're trying to minimize your loss. However, you're still allowing the house to be shown. In theory, you're still trying to attract a Buyer. All the basic tenets of showing a property still apply - even to bank owned properties. Lights are necessary. Access to the home is necessary. If you want people to actually take the time to look at the home, HEAT is necessary in the middle of winter.

Give me something to work with, and maybe I can actually sell your home. Whatever your pay for the minimal expense of basic courtesies for the Buyer will surely be outweighed by a shorter marketing period.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Interview with a Bucks County Mortgage Consultant - Carmella McGonegal

Through the magic of Facebook I've been reconnecting with a lot of girls from high school (I went to an all-girls high).

Carmella is a high school friend who now works with Mortgage Mobility. I asked her a few questions I thought were on everyone's mind:

Hey, when can I score that 4.5% interest rate I keep hearing about?

Looks like the end of January beginning of February. Right now it looks like its just going to be on purchases. They are working on it for refinances too.

Is there going to be any restrictions on income - either too much or too little? How about my credit score?

You will need at least a 660 credit score if you are not putting down at least 20%. There are no restrictions on income, you just simply need to qualify.

What can I do right now to lower my existing payment?

The only thing really to do to lower your payment is to refinance to a lower rate than what you currently have.

Can you show me what the difference might be in my mortgage payment?

Well today's 30 yr. fixed rate is 5.375%. On a purchase price of $200,000 with only putting down 5% your principle and interest payment would be $1082.56. On a $200,000 going FHA your payment would be $1151.94. That figure is principle and interest only. With 3% down. FHA rates today are 5.75%.

****Special footnote - Carmella wrote these answers on 12/12, and when I checked in with her yesterday the rates had DROPPED and the 30 yr fixed rate is 5% today and FHA is 5.5%.

I'm in danger of going into foreclosure. Help! What should I do?

Call your current mortgage company to renegotiate. They will help you. They do not want your house. They will help you by either lowering your interest rate or give you deferred payments for a couple months until you get on your feet.

There's so much happening on the mortgage front that I would really encourage you to call Carmella and talk about your options. Purchase or re-finance, you may be able to score a GREAT mortgage rate.

Here's Carmella's contact information:

Carmella McGonegal
Mortgage Consultant
Mortgage Mobility
Office#267-544-4000 x133
Cell# 215-901-8083

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Santa Visits Wrightstown, PA - Courtesy of Lingohocken Fire Company

Once again, Santa (and perhaps Mrs. Claus if we're lucky), will be touring Wrightstown, Pennsylvania on December 20th, courtesy of the fabulous members of the Lingohocken Fire Company.

You can find his tour schedule here.

Seeing Santa come by on the fire truck is one of my favorite memories of Christmas as a child (ok, honestly, probably second to the PRESENTS). There is something just so exciting about the lights and sirens and the neighbors all clustered outside cheering.

Last year, Santa's ride came to us as a surprise. We gave Santa, Mrs. Claus, and their helpers warm water and frozen Christmas cookies.

This year, we'll be sure to de-frost the cookies and chill the water.

Look for us, Santa! We'll have snacks.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Using Google Maps to Preview Homes

Remember when we talked about Acreage vs. Privacy?

You have a powerful tool in Google Maps that allows you to preview properties before you ever make an appointment to view them. Using Google Maps, or even Google Earth if you're feeling adventuresome, allows you to preview the area, assess the property, and locate any positive or negative features of the property.

Using my previous post as an example, I put both the addresses into Google Maps and selected the satellite image.

Here are the maps of the properties:

View Larger Map

View Larger Map

You can see where I'm going with this, right? It's a quick way to check out the area and lot, and in many cases you will be able to eliminate homes or consider others simply by doing this step. You can also be aware of some hidden surprises - quarries, air fields, community parks, etc. There may be things that will impact your decision (good and bad) that are not within eyesight of the home, but are readily apparent on the map.

Pretty helpful, isn't it?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Hey, Baby, What's Your Number(s)?

rbc1_11 'Tis the season to be wrapping up - not only my gifts but my year end stats. I've been going through my business this year, figuring out where my business has come from, what it looks like, and where it's going.

First, I want to thank all my family, friends, and past clients for all their referrals over the past year. I'm so proud and grateful that you've entrusted me with your own friends and family. Almost 70% of my business this year came from you, and it's a rockin' way to run a business. I work with nice people, do a great job for them, and they send nice people my way. Perfect!

Thank you.

Down to the nitty-gritty of my sales numbers. I think they show that you CAN sell a house in this market, and I know how to do it. The table below shows my average days on market and sale to list price vs. the averages for Bucks County through December 9th.

Days on Market

Sale to List Price




Bucks County



Thursday, December 11, 2008

These are a few of my favorite things...

No real estate today, just fun, random Christmas stuff.

Inspired by my friend Dana, here are 5 things that put me in the Holiday spirit:

P1010661 1. Andes Mint Cookies. I make Christmas Cookies for gifts and this year I'm making around 20 dozen. I usually follow a theme of make a cookie, stick a candy bar in/on it, and voila! This is by far the quickest, easiest, and yummiest of them all.

badsantaphoto2007_102. Bad Santa photos. I must be the meanest Mom in town, because when my kids cry on Santa's lap, I laugh and say, "Quick take the picture!" This is my favorite from the Ellen Show's gallery for the sheer, glorious chaos of it; the little girl hoping her brother doesn't ruin it for her, the throwdown tantrum, the clearly overwhelmed Santa. Fabulous!

3. Bath & Body Works Evergreen Wallflowers. We put our tree up on Christmas Eve, so these let me have a "Christmas-y" feel in the house, and keep our Christmas Eve tradition.

4. Having shopping marathons with my husband. We take off two or three days right before the holiday and have shopping marathons and get all our shopping done in a few days. We get the kids to school, go out to breakfast (a must!), and then hit the stores hard. I'm cranky after 3 stores, my husband has unlimited stamina. I complain, he pushes me on. We have a lot of fun.

1993-holiday-barbie-hallmark-ornament 5. Hallmark Ornaments. Read it and weep, suckers! I've got the ENTIRE Holiday Barbie series from Hallmark, starting in 1993. I don't know why I like these so much. The tradition of them? The feeling of remembering those Christmases as I put the ornaments on the tree? The thought that I'm investing in something unique that I can hand down to my kids? Not sure what it is - I just love them.

So, share with me...what are the things that get you in the holiday spirit?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bucks County Real Estate Inventory - November 2008

Thanks to one of my favorite clients Fabio for asking the question that spawned a blog. I've been having a bit of writer's block recently.

Anyway, Fabio asked how November turned out after reading my post showing the months supply of inventory on the market in October 2008.


The answer? Better.

We finished November of 2008 with 14.7 months supply of inventory of single family homes in Bucks County. Sure, it's up 53% from November 2006, and 34% from November 2007. However, it's down from our October number of 15.7. (Go us!)

Looking at the two year cycle, we're currently right where we had previous peaked in December of 2008. Since November and December usually carrying the most inventory due to seasonal buying patterns, I'm anxious to see how our December turns out. Stay tuned!

Regardless, I want to reiterate that we can still sell your home in this market. Even in this "down market" the average days on market for my listings this year was 43 days. The average for Bucks County was 72 days. We can get it sold!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

You Can't Win if You Don't Play

If you're a Buyer who is out there in the market, but not making offers, you're missing out.


You need to play to win.

I'm not one to advise people to make rash decisions, or to be risky with their money. Especially not with real estate transactions that can total in the hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars. I believe in taking the time to find the house that you are totally, unequivocally in love with. I believe in feeling comfortable with your price range. I believe in doing your research on an area, school district, and property before moving forward.

However, if you're ready to buy, you really need to jump in the pool and get swimming. Rates are down, inventory is high, Sellers are motivated, and the time is right.

I've been scoring some serious, serious deals for my Buyers (and myself) over the past few months.

Here's the thing...take a shot. Write the offer and see what happens. I'm not encouraging you to get crazy - offering pennies on the dollar only works on late night infomercials. Review my post last year on low-ball offers done right. However, this is definitely the market to start putting some offers on paper, and see what happens.

If you never put in the offer, then they won't be able to accept it.

You have to play to win.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bucks County Real Estate Inventory

In September, I told you about some seriously cool software that I learned that gives my clients and me some great tools to determine pricing, competition, and timing.

Below is the "Months Supply of Inventory" of single family residential homes currently on the market, as of the last day of October 2008. I warn you, it's grim news. We currently have 15.7 months of inventory on the market, up from 11.6 months in September. Over a two year period, the "Month Supply of Inventory" has increased 108%.


You can click on the image to enlarge it, or shoot me an email and I'll be happy to send it over as a .pdf file. I can also run this report for your municipality to give you even more specific numbers for your home.

So, what's a girl (or boy) to do?

What's I've been preaching so much, even I'm sick of hearing it.

Your home has to be either a spectacular value or in spectacular condition. It has to blow the rest of that overwhelming inventory out of the water. In order: get it staged, price it right, market the hell out of it.

Here are some links to additional information on staging, pricing, and marketing:

The Quickest Fixes to Get Your Home Show Ready

Five Things Buyers DO Give a Crap About

We Don't Need No Stinkin' Internets

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Bank Owned Property Conundrum


To put it delicately, many of the bank owned properties need...

a little work.

However, there are wonderful deals to be found for the courageous Buyer. I currently have a home under contract around $130,000 UNDER comparable properties. Now, the home needs work, and some (but not all) of that built in equity will be eaten up by rehab costs. At the end of the day, my handy Buyer got a great deal on a home.

But, here is the conundrum...

It's very difficult to get financing for a property that is in bad condition. A tarped roof, broken windows, missing appliances, etc. will make getting a mortgage difficult. Your agent should be able to give you an idea if the property is "Mortgage-able" or not.

If the property is in such disrepair that you cannot get a traditional mortgage, you can pursue what's called a rehab mortgage. In this scenario, the mortgage company will loan you the purchase price + rehab costs, up to 80% of the estimated, post-rehab appraised value. These loans are pretty involved. You'll need a signed contract with a licensed contractor who can provide a resume and references to the bank. The bank will be involved in your rehab process, and may need to inspect the work prior to releasing the contractor's payment, etc. They may require permits be secured for the work, even prior to closing on the property.

You need to assess the viability of a regular mortgage vs. a rehab mortgage BEFORE placing an offer on the property. Due to the more complicated process in securing a rehab mortgage, you'll need to build in additional time to obtain the mortgage commitment and settlement.

Are you a courageous Buyer? If so, I'm your girl. I'll find you the deals AND the financing for them.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

When Does it Make Sense to Fix a Home in an Estate Sale?

RVIN0267 Selling a beloved family home after the death of a parent may be one of the most emotional real estate transactions you will go through. On top of the obvious difficulty in dealing with the death of a parent, the family home is often in some disrepair and dated.

When working with estates, I counsel the family to take an honest look at the home. If the home has generally been maintained, and has been updated throughout the years with new mechanicals (heater, roof, etc) as needed, then it may make sense to do a light rehab. What's a light rehab? Paint and carpet. Perhaps a kitchen. Now you have an updated, well maintained home that should be a very sellable product (as long as you price it right).

If however, the home has been neglected, and many of the major components need repair or replacement, then it doesn't make sense to rehab the home. You would have to do a full-scale rehab at that point. It rarely makes sense for an estate to invest that significant amount of time, energy, and money. At that point, I suggest that it's better to sell the house "as-is" and let someone else invest the money, time, and energy to bring the home up to speed. It doesn't make sense to paint and carpet a home that is only going to undergo a major rehab, and you'll be throwing good money away.

How about if the home is marginal? Paint and carpet, neaten up the kitchen if possible, maybe with new flooring and countertop, and price it to sell.

Although difficult to do, you need to take an emotional step back from the home in order to see its true condition, then move forward from there in a way that makes sense: financially and emotionally.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Which Group Shall I Put You In? Are you an A or a B Client?

The ultimate goal of most REALTORS is to have a referral based business; one where clients come to you by word of mouth, and you are able to run a successful business just by answering the phone and getting fabulous clients. I'm on my way there, as 78% of my business this year came from past clients or referrals. It's a fabulous way to work, and I thank each and every one of my past clients who were so kind as to entrust me with their family and friends.

There are many training programs for REALTORS that focus on getting referrals from past clients. rbc3_06

Wanna know how?

By begging for them. By calling people up with thinly veiled "Oh by the way, do you know anyone who might be buying or selling real estate?"

There was a rather extensive article in a trade magazine, which actually encouraged agents to group their friends, family, and past clients into Groups A and B. They go on to tell you to treat everyone you know as a Group A for one year. No referrals from you in that time? Well, then, you get demoted to Group B. I guess then you only get four "Oh by the way" calls each year, rather than the thrill of getting one each month.

Let me tell you why I think MY business is mainly referral based:

I do a good job. I work hard (and smart). I care about my clients. I care about you when you hire me, I care about you as we go through the process, and I care about you after the deal closes. (And I care even if you don't send any referrals my way).

I would never disrespect a client so much as to group them by their worthiness of my attention, based on how much business they feed me.

Yet, amazingly, I'm still running a referral based business.

No grouping necessary.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

'Tis the Season - to buy a fix and flip investment!

73470 As our market dies down for the winter, now is the best time to start thinking about picking up a fix and flip investment property.

The general inactivity of the market creates a situation for very motivated sellers, particularly for vacant properties. Few people want to pay to heat a home all winter with today's oil prices. Additionally, the general fall-off of Buyers means a greater negotiating power for those who are ready, willing, and able to purchase.

The timeline for a winter purchase works out especially well for a fix and flip. Motivated Sellers are looking to unload their property before the holidays to free up some cash, and to dodge the oil heat bullet. If you settle in mid - December, and figure an eight week turnaround on the repairs, your rehab will be hitting the market mid-February. Our selling season ramps up in March/April.

Also, contractors are generally slow during the holidays, and you may be able to negotiate better pricing on the work you have done to the home.

This time of the year is a great meeting of motivated sellers, timing the market, and economic factors that make it a good time to purchase a fix and flip. Want to see some "possibilities?" Shoot me an email. I've got my eye on a few!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Don't Confuse Acreage with Privacy

Lookout_l I was out the other day with my super-fabulous clients, Jim and Kelly. We were checking out houses and started to talk about how acreage does not equal privacy.

When my husband and I were looking for our first home, I had strict guidelines about what I would look at. Nothing less than an acre. Period. In my mind, an acre = privacy. It was an acre, how could anyone see you in all that land? (I grew up in Levittown, so an acre sounded like a ranch to me). What I really wanted, though, was a private lot. I didn't want anyone living behind me. I wanted a treed property line. I wanted secluded privacy. Because I was focused on the wrong thing, my agent fruitlessly showed us home after home, with no chance of making us ( happy. I finally "got it" and loosened my standards a bit, and was better able to articulate what I wanted.

On my home shopping trip with Jim and Kelly the other night, we saw 5 houses. One had a huge lot. The bulk of the property was located to the side of the home, which was a corner lot. Here's a picture of the yard. Note that the corner of the front of the home is in the right corner of the picture, and if you look closely, you'll see the street outlining the yard:


Although this home had a smaller property, you'll see the difference in the yards immediately:


If you're really looking for a private back yard, make sure you don't lose focus by concentrating on acreage.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Hey Ma! Look what I can do!

rbrb_1892 I took a webinar today on some seriously cool real estate data software. Exclusive to Prudential Fox & Roach for Bucks County, this software can do all sorts of neat tricks that will help my clients and me navigate the market. I'm really excited to start giving you, my blog readers, some information that will help you understand the real estate market today, and identify trends for moving forward.

As a special little treat, I'm giving you this...

Our median price of sold homes (meaning 1/2 of the homes sold for higher, and 1/2 of the homes sold for lower) in Bucks County has RISEN 2% over the past two years.


Don't get too excited, since some of the other news isn't so rosy. Months supply of inventory has risen 75% in the past two years. However, in general, I'm finding that the information supports what I've been telling my clients. Most of Bucks County isn't seeing precipitous price fallouts, but rather we're seeing lots of inventory, resulting in longer days on market.

Much more to come as I continue to play with my new toy. Want to see what your local area is doing? Shoot me an email! I'd love to send you some spreadsheets reflecting YOUR real estate reality.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bucks County Buying Season? You bet. Get Serious Now!

46311_tns Here in Bucks County, we do have a Selling "Season."  Take a look at the table below, and you'll find that May, June, July, and August are our strongest months, while November, December, January, and February are our slowest months.  Remember that these are sold properties, and that the properties actually went under agreement prior to the sale date (most likely 30-60 days prior).  So, following this, our heavy selling season ramps up in March/April and peters out again in September/October.

What does this mean if you have your house on the market right now?  It means get real, get aggressive, and get sold!  Now is not the time to be testing the market or clinging to a certain price point.  It's the time to attack the market aggressively before we lose more Buyers to holidays, bad weather, and the general "settling in" of winter time. 

What if you don't have to sell your home right now?  You might want leaves to think about taking it off the market for the winter months, making any repairs that came up as concerns to Buyers who looked at your home, and re-list in the Spring with a fresh perspective. 

Numbers don't lie, and there are fewer properties sold in the winter months.  Good pricing, marketing, and easy showings can give you a fighting chance at grabbing those Buyers who are still looking during this time.

Residential Sales per Month in Bucks County*

  2008 2007 2006
January 325 405 463
February 349 442 396
March 422 573 543
April 469 530 557
May 500 659 753
June 608 820 880
July 580 736 704
August 584 756 752
September   525 558
October   507 554
November   514 542
December   404 512

*Information from TREND, our local Multiple Listing Service. Information is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Day of School!

P1010384  Ahhh, Summer. 

Swimming in the pool, day trips to the shore, and lazy afternoons suddenly turn to bored whining, sweaty kids, and fighting siblings mid- August. 

After a rushed two weeks of buying school supplies, getting haircuts, and yelling ... a lot ...we started school today.  My younger son starts Kindergarten, and he finally admitted today, over his bowl of strawberries, "I'm a little nervous, but really excited."

When I met them getting off the bus today at school, I could tell he was still a little nervous, but SO EXCITED.  All the kids were so excited.  Excited by their new backpacks and notebooks, excited to see their friends, excited to see the teachers out front.  It's a beautiful this to watch.

I'm excited too.  I'm excited that our routine will be back in place.  I'm excited for the kids to be with their friends, and to learn from the wonderful teachers at Wrightstown Elementary.  If I can't honestly say I'm excited about sports starting up (they aren't my deal), I can say I'm glad to see the kids involved in them again.

I'm also excited to re-focus on my work.  I've been busy getting the kids ready for school, and haven't been able to blog as frequently as I would like.  I have a  lot of ideas for posts running around in my mind, and I'm excited to get them out there for you to take a look at.  I have some great clients who are really jumping in there.  I'm throwing the idea around of doing another flip project. 

So, it's back to work, kids!

And back to work for this Mom.

I'm excited!

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Quickest Fixes to Get Your Home Show Ready

Everyone is sick to death of my preaching about how important toiletkitchens and bathrooms are to Homebuyers.  I know, I know, I know. 

I harp on it, don't I?

I thought I would share some ideas on some quick fixes to remodel your kitchen and bath if they need a little spruce up before hitting the market.  A little money now will save you a lot of money in carrying costs and pricing.


  • If your tile is horrific, re-glazing is probably the cheapest option.  I only recommend white.  With re-glazing, they spray one color, so if you choose blue, the grout lines will also be blue and it screams "This has been re-glazed."
  • If you're up for a little bit of a challenge, tile is cheap.  You can buy some 12 x 12 for $.60 and re-tile your floor and tub surround.  You have to be handy (or have some money to pay for the labor), but it's a showstopper to have a "new" bathroom.  Keep the tub to avoid a lot of plumbing costs.
  • Putting in a new toilet and sink, and repainting can often be enough to give the illusion of a new bathroom. 
  • Don't try to hide bad tile, work with it.  As I've said before Brown/Pink and Brown/Blue are the new hot colors, so you may be able to salvage those 50's bathrooms.


  • Paint your cabinets a crisp white and change the hardware.
  • A piece of granite thrown on top of any cabinet is going to "wow" a consumer.  Call granite suppliers and try to find a leftover slab that they can give you cheap.
  • Peel and stick tiles are your friend.  Upgrade to the dollar ones that have "grout lines" in them.  They look a million times better than the others.
  • Your appliances should match.  If you have a stainless refrigerator and dishwasher, you need to buy a stainless stove.  The reason is that the "odd man out" might as well get up and scream "I'm old!" DON'T OFFER A CREDIT!

Want some more tips?  Or recommendations for tile guys, plumbers, etc.  Shoot me an email and I'll be happy to help.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Real Estate Market Statistics for Bucks County 1/2008 through 7/2008

SBU_062C Below are the Residential Real Estate market statistics for Bucks County, through July of this year. This information was pulled from Trend, our local Multiple Listing Service and is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed.

DateUnits ListedUnits PendingUnits Sold
July 20081022434565
June 20081136564607
May 20081252558499
April 20081303583469
March 20081190484422
Feb 20081012471349
Jan 20081176425325

You'll notice the increase in listings and sold units in April, May, and June. Some of this may be attributed to our seasonal market trends, but overall the statistics indicate a healthy, stable market.

For Sellers, the statistics show a growth in sold inventory, as a percentage of the available inventory. For example, in January the sold units only represented 30% of the inventory on the market. In July, they represented 55% of the inventory on the market.

Want more information on how the market statistics for your area? I can break these down for any township/municipality in Bucks, so shoot me an email and I'll be happy to send them along to you!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Why Short Sales Aren't a Good Deal for Everyone

Here's the short answer:

tired Because NOTHING moves quickly with a short sale.

Some banks will take up to 60 days to get back to you regarding whether your offer has been accepted or not. So, picture this: you fall in love with the house, you submit an offer (perhaps even a full price offer), and the homeowner submits it to the bank for approval.

Then you wait. Months go by and you're still waiting for an answer from the bank. Life is going forward while you're in a holding pattern. Sixty days later, the bank responds to the offer, and instead of accepting it, they reject it or counter at a price that either a) you can't afford or b) doesn't make sense to pay.

So, when is a short sale NOT a good deal?

  • When you have children whom you want settled before the school year starts, and time is running out.
  • When you have a settlement date on your current home and have no where to go - except temporary housing.
  • If you're the type of person who is going to stay up late at night agonizing over this deal.

When does a short sale make sense?

  • You're a first time homebuyer and have a flexible lease.
  • Your home isn't on the market, and you can afford to move forward without selling your current home.

Also, a little head's up - most times the price listed for a short sale listing has not been approved by the bank. What many REALTORS are doing is pricing the home so that it's a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime, unbelievable deal. The hope is to get several offers on the table so that they can generate multiple offers and submit the highest to the bank. Because the homeowner isn't getting any money back from the home sale, they don't care how low the home is priced. However, the super low price hasn't been approved by the bank. In reality, you've never been able to purchase the house at that unbelievably low price.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Yeah! My house is sold! (Not so fast...)

happy dance kid

It's one of the best phone calls I get to make as a REALTOR: the call that we've got a deal. It's especially nice to give that news to Sellers, since they're getting beat up just a bit in the current market.  Be it a full price offer (yeah, they're still around) or a negotiation marathon, it's a huge relief to get that baby under contract.  We all do a happy dance, the Sellers disconnect emotionally from the house, and we all look to move forward.


That's the sound of your home sale careening out of control and crashing.  Home sales do crash, and it's heartbreaking for all involved when they do. I wrote a post back in January on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.

Prudential Fox & Roach did a study of the fall-throughs (home sales that never made it to the settlement table) in their Bucks County offices.  I expected inspection issues to dominate the results, and they did account for nearly 40% of the fall-throughs.  What were some of the other reasons home sales fell through?

7.5% Were Short Sales that never got bank approval.

8.7% were Home Sale Contingencies where the Buyers' home never sold.

12.5% were Mortgages that never came through for one reason or another. (Incidentally, none were from our in-house mortgage broker)

16.2% were Buyers or Sellers who simply changed their mind and backed out of the deal.

15% were "Other."  Nebulous reasons lingering out there that can compromise your home sale.

So, what can you do to avoid the frustration and heartbreak of a angry kidbecoming a fall through statistic?

Honestly, some of these things you can't control. 

Can you control a Buyer losing their job, and subsequently their mortgage?  No.

How about them getting cold feet?  No.

How about them losing a spouse, child, mother or father and deciding they just can't deal with buying a home?  Nope.

What you need to do is control the things you can.  Get your U&O early.  Jump on any title issues that crop up.  Make sure you want to move before you list your house. Be emotionally ready to let your home go. Make sure you take care of your own side of the deal, and reduce your chances of a failed settlement by 50%.

Have your Realtor touch base with everyone involved in the transaction...frequently.  A little email nagging never hurt anyone, and often will catch little problems before they careen out of control.  Get involved in solutions.  There is no "not my job" in getting a deal to the settlement table.  The Buyer needs some documentation for their mortgage company?  I'm getting it, if their agent isn't.  I'm making sure it gets done so that it doesn't impact MY Seller's chances of closing the deal.

Sometimes, through sheer force of will (and creative team playing) you can get control of the car and get it back on the road to settlement. 


Friday, July 18, 2008

"It's Tricky, Tricky, Tricky, Tricky" ~ Beastie Boys

clip_image002My dear Sellers in Bucks County, while educating yourself on how to get a quick sale, you're going to find a lot of articles that tout "creative" ideas for getting your home sold. 

Offer the Buyers a Car!  A boat!  A vacation!

Getting tricky isn't the answer.  There are only three things a Buyerclip_image002[6] really cares about:  price, location, and condition.  That's it.  Every other scenario is encompassed by those three concerns.  A car isn't going to address any of those concerns, is it?  So it's not going to impact your home sale. 

Now, there are several things that you can offer that do address some of those concerns (namely price, since money is always going to be the primary concern for a Buyer).  I wrote of some strategies back in February entitled "7 Creative Ways to Appeal to Buyers." Check out the first word in each sentence - it's PAY. The way to a Buyer's heart is through their pocketbook and their emotions. 

Getting tricky with Buyers is inviting a big, fat, tricky mess.  Let's take the vacation example.  The Buyers decide that they don't want the vacation - they want the money deducted from the home sale.  Their opinion of what the trip costs doesn't match your own.  Now what?  Or, they want the trip, but they want you to upgrade their airfare and rooms.  Now what?  You're not only negotiating your home sale, you're negotiating hotel rooms and airfare.  Seriously, who wants to do that? 

I believe in keeping it simple.  Price your home right, do the right marketing, make it clean and easy to show, keep a level head and the end result in sight.

The process is complicated and emotional enough without adding trips and cars into the equation.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Free Summer Fun - Kid's Castle in Doylestown


For another of the "Gotta Get Out of the House" days that seem to proliferate my writing, take a trip to Kid's Castle in Doylestown. Located in Central Park on Wells Road, this wonderful park offers all sort of activities: tennis, soccer, picnic pavilions, and walking trails.

The crown jewel of this park, however, is the 8 story wooden castle located in the biggest, baddest, most age-range-pleasing playground I've ever been to. My 7 and 5 year old scrambled through the castle, went down the enormous twirly slide, and completed the scavenger hunt, while my one year old ran around the farm themed toddler playground. There is also a HUGE toddler playground, but,'s got sand as the base and it didn't feel like dealing with sand that day, so we stuck to the farmyard.P1010089

There's also a cute little stream, with big fat toads, where the children can wade and splash. Boys....can't resist....dirt and mud...

Honestly, though, a hot day with sweaty kids, and this looks like nirvana - toads and all. We packed a lunch and there were plenty of picnic tables available (even with two school groups).

Bring the kids' bikes because they have 1.5 miles of walking and bike trails. The one walking trail is a real challenge - it's a huge hill and would make a great once a week "tough test" for someone looking to kick up their walking or running.

Take a look at this gorgeous trail that loops around a pond. There are various stations that tell you about plant species, native birds, invasive plants, etc. You can see in the background that there are townhomes (Doylestown Station - Cornerstone Court)that back to the park. Now, I like my privacy, but how wonderful would it be to have this park, with all these amenities, right out your door? There are a few on the market right now, priced below $400,000. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions or want more information on them.


Totally free, and impressive to even the most hardened playground connoisseur, keep this in your arsenal for a way to burn off all that extra energy.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hermit Crabs, Houses, and Happiness - A Parable

Once upon a time, there were two relentless children who nagged their mother and father for a pet. They wanted a dog, but since the mother and father had cleaned up as much poop as they intended to clean up in their lifetime, Mother and Father said "No." During a camping trip, the children, desperate for any pet, convinced their Mother and Father to let them buy hermit crabs, "With our own money." Sure, the children didn't really like the hermit crabs, in fact were a actually a little afraid of them, but a pet's a pet, right? So they settled. But the children weren't really happy.

When they got home from their trip, Mother had the bright idea to read about hermit crabs. Mother quickly realized the folly of an over-educated child. The list of necessary hermit crab paraphernalia was overwhelming, and hermit crabs lived in groups, so more hermit crabs were necessary. A $60 trip to PetSmart ensued. At PetSmart, the children saw some cats for adoption, and quickly started a new campaign for a cat, before the "crabitat" had even been set up. Sure, it was fun setting up the "crabitat," but the children really weren't happy.

So, here they sit, with animals that, while growing on the children, really aren't what they wanted. They're certainly not what Mother wanted - the things are pretty gross. Everyone should have waited until they were old enough to get a dog or cat. Everyone likes dogs and cats. But, no. Here they sit with hermit crabs, and nobody is happy.

Get what you really want. Don't get something sorta/kinda/almost what you want, invest a bunch of time and money into it, only to end up with something that still doesn't really make you happy.

If you've read my blog before, you know I love me a junker house, but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about getting frustrated, getting impulsive, getting rushed. Really think about what you want and wait for it. Don't buy something that's almost what you want. Short of cosmetic fixes, the yard/location/size/function of the house isn't going to change. If you buy a house that backs to a busy road, you can invest $35,000 on landscaping, but you'll stick be backing up to a busy road.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Average Days on Market for Bucks County from Jan. through June 2008

"How long will it take my house to sell?"

This is probably the most difficult question for a REALTOR to answer. So many factors play into days on market: pricing, how much competing inventory you have on the market, even seasonal buying trends. However, I've compiled the following data from our MLS system to show you the AVERAGE days on market by township in Bucks County through the first half of the year.

Here were my parameters:

  • Residential listings
  • Priced $1,000 through $9,999,000
  • Sold January through June 2008

We're not looking too bad, Bucks County.

The average for Bucks County is 74 Days on Market.

TownshipAverage Days on Market
Bristol Borough93
Bristol Township67
Chalfont Borough55
Doylestown Borough65
Doylestown Township88
Dublin Borough72
Durham Township132
East Rockhill Township74
Falls Township58
Haycock Township89
Hilltown Township98
Hulmeville Borough60
Ivyland Borough92
Langhorne Borough72
Langhorne Manor Borough111
Lower Makefield Township78
Lower Southampton Township60
Middletown Township67
Milford Township81
Morrisville Borough69
New Britain Borough87
New Britain Township75
New Hope Borough116
Newtown Borough144
Newtown Township53
Nockamixon Township74
Northampton Township60
Penndel Borough32
Perkasie Borough65
Plumstead Township75
Quakertown Borough78
Richland Township93
Richlandtown Borough53

Riegelsville Borough

Sellersville Borough69
Silverdale Borough60
Solebury Township108
Springfield Township110
Telford Borough100

Tinicum Township

Trumbauersville Borough95

Tullytown Borough

Upper Makefield Township111

Upper Southampton Township

Warminster Township63
Warrington Township78
Warwick Township85
West Rockhill Township113
Wrightstown Township124
Yardley Borough69

**Information from TrEND MLS and is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed.

One caveat, there is a way to "reset" days on market, so if a home has been relisted, the days on market start over. We are working on a way to calculate the total marketing days on our reporting for the MLS.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Free (or Nearly Free) Summer Family Movies

I have the best save for all the Moms out there who need a little break this summer. Many area movie theaters are running free or $1.00 movies, which will come in really handy during those "Gotta get out of the house" days where the neverending pleas for "something to do" turn into neverending bickering to pass the time. Enjoy a cheap two hours of peace and quiet at the following...

AMC Theaters are running $1.00 movies. Go to AMC Summer Movie Camp to find the theater nearest you...

Families, schools and organizations alike are invited to see great kids' movies during AMC Summer MovieCamp. Available at select AMC theatres, this fun-filled program brings you:
  • $1 movies from June 25 - August 6
  • Shows starting at 10:00 a.m. every Wednesday
  • Great field trip opportunities - groups can purchase tickets one week in advance starting June 18 at the box office or online at participating theatres

Regal Entertainment Group is running a FREE FAMILY FILM FESTIVAL. There is a G and PG rated movies showing every Tuesday and Wednesday at 10:00 a.m, and admission is free on a first come, first serve basis.

For another "The kids are driving me nuts and I gotta get out of here" idea, the Wrightstown Village Library is running Movies by Moonlight. Held on Fridays at 8:30 p.m., bring your own blanket or lawn chair and enjoy the following movies under the stars:

July 3rd (THURSDAY) Spiderwick Chronicles

August 8th Nim's Island

September 5th Speed Racer

October 3rd Iron Man

These are a great way to break up the boredom, get everyone out of the house, and can come in especially handy on a rainy morning.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Things Buyers Will Just Have to Overlook...

My good friend Kim Brown suggested that I title this post "Crap Buyers Will Just Have to Learn to Overlook," but I'm trying to clean up my image (well, maybe just my language), here...

So, my previous two posts were some tough love posts for Sellers, outlining some of the things Buyers don't give a crap about, and several things they DO give a crap about.

It's your turn for a little tough love, Buyers. Don't worry, though, I'll be gentle...

In light of the touted "Buyer's Market", some Buyers are going a little crazy. They feel that they should get any house they want, for any price they want, and the Sellers should make any repairs they want done. I've seen offers come in on properties, asking for the property to be painted colors of the Buyer's choice, and appliances to be replaced. Drunk with power, some Buyers are asking for the moon, and fully expecting the stars to be thrown in for free.

Understand that, with a typical resale purchase, you are purchasing a home as you see it, not as how you want it to be. If you want to put on a larger deck, or want the bedroom painted red to match your linens, or hate the new pink carpeting, well, those are things that you are going to have to take care of on your own. You may make adjustments to your offer price for them to see if the Seller will make concessions that way. However, submitting a list of requested "upgrades" with your offer is the wrong tactic to take.

No house is going to be everything you've ever wanted. You need to have a little vision. Don't even look at paint and carpeting, because it's the cheapest fix around, and you're going to have to replace it at some point anyway. Look beyond their brass faucets, ugly chandelier, and gaudy mural. You can update the home however you like after the purchase. Asking the Seller to update the home to your liking isn't feasible. They're not going to do it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ringing Rocks - Really!

Today, the kids and I visited Ringing Rocks, located on Ringing Rocks Road in Upper Black Eddy, Bucks County. What a neat trip to take! We walked a wooded trail that opened up into a field of boulders. It looks like a hidden lake - of rocks.

Armed with small hammers, the kids started scuttling across the rocks like monkeys, banging to find the ones that sounded like bells.

They really do! They sound like a bell being rung when you strike them with a hammer or small rock. My oldest quickly racked up 160 "ringers." Not all the stones ring, but here's a hint - look for the one with obvious gray areas from hammers being struck against them. They usually are good "ringers."

While scientists don't know exactly how this works, we had fun making up excuses: aliens being number one. If you go, wear sneakers. My kids had no problem scurrying over the rocks, but I seem to have lost my agility in my old age. We did take a baby stroller for my toddler, but it was rough going, and we had to carry the stroller at certain points. It was definitely workable, though.

Need more information? Shoot me an email, and I'll be happy to tell you more about it. You can find directions here, and on my GPS, I just used the street name and it took me right there.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Why Wrightstown? Hortulus Farm

Stunningly Beautiful.

Those are the only words I have to describe the Hortulus Farm located on Thompson Mill Road in Wrightstown. I wrote about it previously in this blog, but finally got a chance to take the tour yesterday with a few girlfriends.

Our fabulous guide Mary, a landscaping architecture student at Del-Val College, was extremely knowledgeable, personable, and a lot of fun. She graciously tolerated our chatter and answered all our questions. She trecked us through the fern and hosta lined woodland walks, the yellow garden, the herb garden, the pool (This is actually the pool! You can just make out some white lounge chairs towards the left of the pool.) and other beautiful gardens. It is a treck, so be forewarned that you'll be hiking. It's totally worth the huffing and puffing though.

Part of an original land grant from William Penn, this gorgeous farmhouse and gardens have been lovingly restored and built over the past 30 years by Renny Reynolds and Jack Staub. I can't imagine possessing a) the knowledge or b) the artistry to build these gardens, let alone the stamina to maintain them.

If you have the opportunity, please find some time to take this tour. Tours are offered May through October for groups of 8 or more. If you can't organize a group of 8 or more, LUCKY YOU, they are having two public open houses in the coming months, when you can take self-guided tours of the gardens.

July 19th - Summer Open House

October 4th - Fall Open House

Thursday, June 12, 2008

5 Things Buyers DO Give a Crap About...

As promised, here are a few things that Buyers really do care about:

Curb Appeal

The first impression when a Buyer pulls up in front of your home gives them an initial "Ahhh" or "Ewww" to start off the showing. Even if the house is beautiful inside, it's hard to combat the initial "Ew" factor. The good news is that an initial "Ah" lends itself to Buyers looking a little more kindly on any interior fix ups. Set the tone. Your house should look happy and cared for. Grass should be cut, trash cans hidden, landscaping trimmed and mulched.


A house that has good maintenance records is golden. It screams to a Buyer "There are no hidden surprises here - I've taken care of everything." If you don't have good maintenance records, a flurry of upkeep can also communicate the same to the Buyer. Have the heater, chimney, and A/C units serviced prior to listing. Have your septic system pumped. Have a contractor come and make the multitude of minor repairs that you've learned to live with: leaky faucets, bad hinges on kitchen cabinets, ripped screens. Attach all your receipts to the Sellers Disclosure. Give the Buyer a sense of security that things in your home have been maintained.

Kitchens and Baths

Yeah, I know that you've heard this a million times, but I cannot stress it enough. Kitchens and Baths sell homes. The difficult part of this is that kitchens and baths get the most use (and dirt) and they need to show the cleanest. They have to be clean. Ruthlessly clean. They also need to appear spacious, even though they collect the most clutter. Here's the minimum of what you should do: clear off counters and sinks, invest in new towels for the bathroom, CLEAN.

Did I mention they should be clean?

(As an aside, I've got a great tip for an outdated bathroom: chocolate brown is the new hot neutral and chocolate / pink and chocolate / blue are hot combos. This covers a variety of outdated tile: brown, pink, and blue. Shoot me an email if you need help trying to figure out how to make your 50s tile look a little more contemporary)

The Schools

Maybe I just work with a lot of families with children, but almost all my Buyer clients search by school district rather than town. There's not much you can do about this. I'm just telling you it matters.

An Emotional Connection

Buyers are looking for "the one." They have to fall a little in love with your home. How can you help that emotional connection? The house should feel happy and well maintained - no kicked in doors from angry teenagers, no divorce papers lying around, no trashcans filled with beer bottles. Even if some not so happy things are happening in your home, the Buyers shouldn't be able to tell that.

Make your home inviting. Remember the things you fell in love with and highlight them. A great backyard? Stage a seating area under a tree with a fire/conversation pit. Was it the bright kitchen? Set the table with some cookies and a note for Buyers to sit down and help themselves.

I've got some recommendations for Buyers as well. As my friend Kim Brown put it "Crap Buyers will Just Have to Deal With." Look for that coming next...

Sunday, June 8, 2008

5 Things Buyers Don't Give a Crap About

How much you paid for your house

It has absolutely no impact on the Buyers at all. How much you are making or losing on your house is your problem. Just as a Buyer can't limit your profit, neither is he/she responsible for covering your losses.

How much money you need to move into your next home

Again, see above. YOUR finances are never the problem of the Buyer. A lot of Sellers will say, "What's another $5,000 over 30 years?" It's $5,000 more than the Buyer wants to spend on your house. That $5,000 is just as important to the Buyer as it is to you.

The special tile imported from France in your powder room

Unless you are rehabbing for resale, there are things that you have done to your house that are specialized. Things that you are absolutely in love with and for which you waaaay overspent (C'mon, admit it. We've all done it.) The Buyers? The probably aren't going to love it as much as you do, so they aren't willing to buck up for how fabulous it is.

The sentimentality attached to certain things in the house

I'm a sentimental gal. I have trees planted in my yard in honor of my first Mother's Day with each of my babies. I found an engraved Christmas tree ornament from the previous owners that I hang on the tree each year in their honor for building this great house. If I ever sell? I know that new Buyers will take down my first born's tree (it's, quite frankly, ugly). I doubt they'll care about the ornament. Buyers don't care that you spent 3 weeks restoring a mantle - they'll paint over it if they want. Your sentimentality is your own, don't expect the Buyers to share in it.

The "Possibilities" in the Home

You have to price your home as it is, not how it could be. Yeah, maybe you can finish your basement, but you can't expect a Buyer to pay you for a finished basement just because it could be one day. Same goes for unfinished construction projects, scarred wooden floors, closets with rough-in for plumbing, etc.

What DO Buyers give a crap about? Stay tuned for my next post...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Inspection Series - #5 The Septic Inspection

It's the discussion you've all been waiting for! Hope back your excitement, people, today we're talking about

Septic Systems

Fun! A septic system is an on-lot waste water disposal system, meaning everything that goes down a drain: kitchen sink, washer, showers, toilets, goes into the septic system in your back yard. A typical septic system is made up of a tank, distribution box, and drainage field. Waste water goes into the septic tank. Solids fall to the bottom, while any grease or oil floats to the top. The remaining liquid is sent into the distribution box, which then disperses it into the drainage fields or a sand mound. The water then seeps out into the soil surrounding the drainage fields or sand mound (all underground)and clarifies as it trickles through the soil to the underground water table.

Sounds gross, right?

Well, it is kinda gross if you're used to flushing and forgetting with public sewer, but you get used to the idea. As long as the system is working properly, you won't really need to think about it except to have the solids and oils pumped out regularly (Wrightstown Township requires every two years). When a septic system fails, THAT'S gross. You may see effluent on top of the ground, smell the system (gag), or have a backup in your toilets and sinks.

A good septic inspector is critical, since a new system can cost $25-30,000 (you read that right). I have two great inspectors that I can recommend, just shoot me an email.

Here is the EPA's Homeowner's Guide to Septic Systems. It's a great resource, and the diagram will explain the system much better than I ever could.

Have any questions? Shoot me an email. I know enough to be dangerous about different problems with the systems, alternate systems, etc.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The Inspection Series - #4 The Water Inspection

This inspection is usually done when there is a well located on the property. You will have a water testing company come out, take a sample of your water, and test that water for potability. They'll test your water for all the nasties that may be there - choloform, bacteria, and other gross stuff. The water testing will indicate if these factors fall within safe drinking guidelines.

If the water tests come back with high levels of one or the other (or all), there are many different treatment systems available. UV light, shocking the well, filtration - there are many different ways to treat the water, and there are specialist who can devise the best route of attack for you.

Ok, so I feel like the inspection series is getting a bit dry (and boring), but stay tuned folks...

Next, we're talking about

duh, duh, duh....

Septic Systems!
You certainly don't want to miss THAT discussion! I have the unenviable title of "Septic Queen" since I've had many of my personal purchases fall through during the septic inspection. I know more about poo than any suburban girl should know, and I'm going to share the wealth of knowledge with you next time.
Stay tuned for the poo talk - it's an important one.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Inspection Series - #3 Radon Inspection

Radon gas is a scary thing. It's a naturally occurring, cancer causing gas that is odorless and colorless. However, it is an easily remedied problem, with radon remediation typically costing between $1,000-2,000. So, what does a radon inspection entail?

A house will be under closed house conditions during the test - no open windows or doors. (Sellers may have to kick on their A/C during this time - no fresh air for you!) An inspector will place radon detectors on the lowest floor of living space. Living space includes any area that can be finished in the future into living space. Full Basement? Living Space. Crawl Space? Not living space. The testing equipment will be in the home for 48 hours and the tests will be averaged to come up with the average radon reading in the home.

If the radon reading comes in at 4.0 pCi/L or higher, you should install a radon remediation system. If the test comes back at 3.9 pCi/L or lower, no remediation is necessary.

The EPA has some really good information on radon on their website. Here is the link to their Home Seller/Home Buyer guide to radon:

Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon

Want a referral to a reputable radon testing company? Shoot me an email or give me a call. I'll be happy to share my top 3 with you.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Inspection Series - #2 Wood Destroying Insects

We're going bug hunting today, people! Most people associate this inspection with termites, although it does look for any evidence of wood destroying insects - there are other insects that attack the wood structures of your home.
An inspector will look for evidence of insect activity. For termites, she'll look for mud tubes on the surface of the walls, which indicate activity within the wall. Now, here's where some of this gets tricky:
An inspector cannot see into the wall, so she won't be able to see activity within the wall, or any damage done by the insects.

If you have evidence of activity, you will typically ask the Seller to treat the home. Certain mortgages require a clean termite cert (namely VA and FHA) so the Seller will need to treat the home.

Once a termite treatment is done, you will typically get a one year guarantee on the treatment, and a reduced rate if you decide to do a yearly treatment of the home.

Need a recommendation for a great bug guy? I've got one! Shoot me an email and I'll be happy to pass on his contact information!